Recent Graduate’s Guide to the ARE

Recent Graduates Guide to the ARE Recent Graduate’s Guide to the ARE Architect Exam

Why Studying for the ARE Is the Best Thing for a Recent Architecture Graduate

“You really should wait a few years to start working on the Architect Registration Exam until you have some experience.”
-Someone Who Waited a Few Years before Working on the ARE

No. Stop. Don’t listen to this person.

I am a huge proponent of encouraging ALL recent Architecture graduates to immediately start studying for the Architect Exam, once they land their first job after college.  For many reasons, it’s the single best thing Graduates can do to quickly advance their careers.

Let me quickly explain why in terms I think you’ll understand.

How can I gently say this?

Everything you learned in Architecture school has absolutely nothing to do with what you need to know to pass the ARE.

The Architect Exam and Architecture school are two completely separate bodies of knowledge. Learning Design in architecture school is a prerequisite, to learning how to Practice Architecture. (When I say “Practice Architecture,” I mean making real buildings for real people with budgets, schedules, Contractors, Clients and Building Inspectors.)

Before anyone starts pulling permits and designing code-compliant assembly spaces for hundreds of people in mixed-use buildings, they need to learn the basics of design, including drawing, history, and other fundamentals (such as the art, beauty, and poetry of Architecture).

No, you didn’t you get ripped off when you got an expensive degree, but your degree is just a prerequisite (the first step) towards becoming a Licensed Architect.

An Architecture School’s job is to teach Future Architects how to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers in a safe, make-believe world full of projects that will never be built. So they can experiment and take risks.

However, once Architecture school is over, it is the job and responsibility of the Profession of Architecture to TRAIN, TEACH, and DEVELOP Future Architects about how to Practice Architecture, not Academia’s.

After we’ve learned how to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers for 4-6 years, it’s time to shift gears into the next phase of your development as an Architect, and start learning how to practice while working on real projects.

The first FIVE to TEN YEARS of your architecture career will be about learning how to Practice. That means:

  1. Learning the process.
  2. Following the rules.
  3. Being safe.

It’s no longer just about design. Those days are over. In the real world, Design is often only 10-20% of a project. The other 80-90% is about the execution. Execution, Execution, Execution. This focus is not taught in Architecture School. Up until now, you’ve just focused on learning how to become a designer.

The new game as a recent graduate is to learn the ins and outs about how to execute a project, without breaking the rules and while protecting the health safety and welfare of the public always first and foremost.

Without this knowledge, your design skills aren’t very useful as a Practicing Architect. But if you can learn how to follow the rules first, you can learn how to be creative with them LATER. This point brings be back to my original thesis statement, which is that studying for the ARE is the best thing you can do. PERIOD.  

The best way to learn how to Practice Architecture is to:

  • Practice it (Monday to Friday between 9 to 5).
  • Study How To Practice Architecture (every night and on weekends).

The BEST way to learn how to practice architecture is studying for the ARE while working in an office. You’ll never get this quality education in practicing architecture, simply by JUST showing up every single day to your cubicle year after year and NOT studying.  Which is why Recent Graduates should start studying for the ARE as soon as the dust settles after they land their first jobs.

If you can start learning how the business of architecture works, and how to manage projects, you will:

  1. Have more confidence working on projects in your office.
  2. Become more valuable to your company.
  3. Understand how to move towards a very successful Architecture Career.
  4. Justify why you should earn more money.

You will see these benefits long before you’ve completed all your exams. TRUST ME.

Working in an office is great, but it’s not enough. You need to study how to practice architecture, and see the whole picture. Pairing your day job with studying at night will change the rest of your career in a powerful way.

The Experience Myth

People with a lot of experience love to attribute their experience to giving them the knowledge needed to pass the ARE.  It’s a beautiful thing when what we’ve learned in practice is helpful to choosing the right answer on the test.


The way we do it in practice is not always the right answer on the exam. I see this situation in the ARE Boot Camp all the time. People who have practiced architecture for 25 years have to rewire their brains, in order to choose the right answer on the exam.

When it comes to passing the ARE’s, I’ve also learned that experience doesn’t really matter.

I’ve watched many many many Recent Graduates with zero experience rapidly overtake take people with 25 years of experience while moving through their exams.

Yes, all Recent Graduates lack experience and a portfolio of built projects. But as far as making fast progress on the ARE, one technology that everyone can access which will make all the difference…


The ability to focus without getting distracted and find the time to do the work separates the Licensed Architects from the rest of the architecture community (who all wish they were Licensed Architects). This ability to focus is profoundly more powerful than:

  • Experience
  • Your design skills
  • Where you went to architecture school, or what happened there
  • Where you work
  • What study materials you use
  • Having rich parents

You can very quickly become a Licensed Architect IF you can harness the ability to focus.

We Don’t Need Any More Shitty Licensed Architects

Before I teach you how to study for the ARE’s, we need to discuss something very important to the Next Generation of Practicing Architects: Focusing on becoming a Successful Licensed Architect, not just another shitty one.

Every single week, I preach to the ARE Boot Camp that studying for the ARE is not about becoming a Licensed Architect. It has EVERYTHING to do with using this opportunity to develop yourself into a knowledgeable, talented, and Successful Licensed Architect.

Everything you will learn on your journey through the ARE’s is IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE, which is directly applicable to the next chapter in Becoming a Successful Licensed Architect.

It drives me crazy when ANYONE marginalizes the work or knowledge needed pass these exams, and encourages others to just cram and not really learn the content. Studying for the ARE should be taken very seriously. After your family, it is your most important project. Having a strong command over this knowledge is more valuable to the rest of your career, than actually having the Architecture License with your name on it.

Focus on truly learning this content, not just doing the minimum to pass an exam.

Focus on becoming a Successful Architect, and use studying for the ARE to work towards that. Passing your exams will be a byproduct of focusing on excellence.

Everyone else is only cheating themselves and the rest of their careers—if they focus on doing the minimum to pass an exam, cramming, or not really learning the content.

If you have a bad attitude about learning the information needed to pass the ARE, find another career. The Profession doesn’t need or want any more minimally competent, dumb, shitty Licensed Architects. We DEMAND more Smart, Talented, Knowledgeable, Qualified Architects in the next generation.  These are the Architects who are going to succeed.

Okay, let’s talk about how to study for these exams…

9 Actionable Tips for Recent Graduates about How To Pass ARE 5.0

Studying for and taking the ARE isn’t like studying for or taking any other exam. If you’re going to study for the Architect Exam, I just want you to pass and become a Successful Architect. Let me give you some valuable insights that will ensure your success…

1. The First Rule of studying for the ARE is: You do not talk about the ARE. The second rule of studying for the ARE is: You DO NOT talk about the ARE.

The only people who you are allowed to talk about the ARE with, are the other people in the middle of this process.

You can tell everyone you’re studying for the ARE, but that’s it. They don’t need to know the details, such as when your exams are and where you are in this process. (and when I say talk about the ARE, it NEVER means disclosing exam actual content.)

Your boss who took the exams 25 years ago will not understand what you’re going through. I don’t care what they say, times were different back then, and getting through the ARE was a lot easier then than it is today.  Everyone will try to give you advice that isn’t applicable to you or the ARE 5.0 that’s being administered today. Don’t listen to them. Just smile and say thanks.

Nothing sucks more than telling 20 people in your office you didn’t pass your first exam. They don’t deserve to know the details. There’s nothing to celebrate until you’ve passed all the exams. You can celebrate it then. But until then, do not talk about the ARE.

Just tell outsiders your exams are “In Process.” That’s all they need to know. You can discuss the details with others who are also in the middle of taking the ARE.

2. Study and take the Professional Practice Exams First (PcM, PjM, and CE)

You need to understand the basics of Professional Practice before you move into the more technical exams.

The first tests you take should be the PcM, PjM, and CE. Get these three exams done before you move onto the PA, then take PPD and PDD. All of these exams build on each other. You will need the foundation of completing the Professional Practice exams, since they’ll help you move through the technical exams. The technical exams will ask basic questions about professional practice, and if you haven’t studied it, you’ll screw them up.

I don’t care if Michael Ermann or David Thaddeus was your structures professor, or how well you know the topic. The scope of the technical exams is too vast. There is no time to study professional practice. Get the Professional Practice Exams done first.

To pass PcM, PjM, and CE, you must use the Architects Handbook of Professional Practice (AHPP) Version 15. Yes, it has to be Version 15. The Student Version and previous versions are missing significant chapters that are being tested on ARE 5.0.

The ARE 5.0 Wiley Charts, which you can use as tools to help you navigate the AHPP.

By encouraging you to focus on PcM, PjM, or CE, I’m saving you from wasting significant amounts of time. I have no preference about what order you take them in. Just get them all done before you move onto the PA, and then PPD or PDD.

3. Know Which ARE Study Materials to Use

For starters, did you know that all the content created for ARE 4.0 is still applicable for ARE 5.0? Do not throw away any ARE 3.0, 3.1, or 4.0 study materials. There is no such thing as outdated ARE Study Materials. Yes, even the vignette stuff is worth glancing over for ARE 5.0.

Now more than ever, there are many amazing publishers working really hard to put out amazing content that will help you pass your exams. I highly endorse the Study Materials from the following ARE Publishers:

I highly endorse all the publishers listed above. They will help you become a more successful Architect and also pass ARE 5.0.

But if I were you, I would avoid study materials from Brightwood and Black Spectacles.

Brightwood purchased all the old Kaplan 3.0 – 4.0 study materials, but did absolutely nothing to update them to ARE 5.0. The content blatantly has nothing to do with what’s being tested on 5.0. It’s a big mess, and they’ve  caused a lot of problems. Here’s a letter I wrote the AIA Leaders, asking them NOT to promote Brightwood Architecture to ARE Candidates.

Brightwood Colleges is currently under many investigations across America for accepting millions of dollars from Nursing Students, then suddenly deciding to close up shop, leaving them high and dry with zero guidance about how to complete their degrees. I highly doubt Brightwood Architecture will still be around in late 2019. Good riddance.

Black Spectacles in my opinion is outrageously overpriced for what they offer. Many ARE Candidates are frustrated and often complain of feeling ripped off after making the investment into Black Spectacles. It’s unclear why they charge $200 a month for videos that seem to only be worth $30 a month, when you compare them to the other publishers listed above who are selling their content at 1/10 the price which is often superior in quality. How is an Unlicensed Recent Graduate supposed to afford $200/month or $270 an hour for ARE Coaching?!?? Unfortunately our National Organizations have never given a nod of approval to any ARE Publisher, besides Black Spectacles, which has only enabled Black Spectacles to further price gouge the ARE Community.

The good news is many ARE Candidates are passing ALL THEIR ARE 5.0 EXAMS without using any study materials from Brightwood or Black Spectacles. There is a ton of affordable quality information out there to keep you busy.

4. Take the time to really learn the AIA Contracts, inside and out.

Let me tell you a secret about passing PcM, PjM, and CE. Take the time to thoroughly learn ALL the AIA Contracts listed in the NCARB 5.0 Handbook. You don’t need to learn all 80 AIA contracts, just the 14 listed in the NCARB Handbook.

The most important are A201 and B101. Everything builds off these two documents. If you can learn them inside and out and backwards and forwards, it will make the rest of your studying for PcM, PjM and CE soo much easier.

I’ll tell you the secret to learning AIA Contracts. READ the Contracts themselves. People who don’t take the time to actually read a contract and learn how to interpret it are actually making studying 10 times harder for themselves.

For A201 and B101, read the Contracts with Commentary documents. (In these links, I share the redlined 2007 Contracts with Commentary I made for the Boot Camp, since the 2017 Contracts with Commentary have not been created, yet.)

We created AIA Contracts 101 – For PcM, PjM and CE for the Young Architect Academy, where we discuss every single 2017 contract NCARB listed in the ARE 5.0 handbook.

Also google Schiff Harden 2018 Lectures, and you can listen to Attorney Michael Hanahan discuss AIA Contracts with a bunch of Architecture Students.

5. Failing Is a Part of This Process

You’re probably going to fail the Architect Registration Exam. Regardless of how hard you study, there’s still at least a 50% chance you’re going to fail it.

It’s a game.  People are failing the ARE every single day. There are a million reasons why you might fail. The odds are stacked against you. NCARB’s rules aren’t fair, and they’ll NEVER admit they effed up (even though they do all the time).

It’s okay. At least we know the facts.

It isn’t about NOT failing. It has EVERYTHING to do with getting to the finish line. If you can handle failing like an Adult, you’ll get to the finish line and complete all your exams. But there’s no room for your ego in this process, since it will get its butt kicked left and right.

If you fail an exam, you’re NOT a failure or a loser if you can keep going and start working on the next one.

But you ARE a failure and loser if:

  • You fail an exam and get sooooooo upset about it that it takes you 6 months to recover.
  • You abandon the ARE all together and justify for the rest of your career that you don’t need to become an Architect.

Failing the Architect Exam is normal. That’s why we don’t shout the details of our ARE experiences from the rooftops. I personally failed 4 exams before completing the process, and I know several people who’ve failed 10, 15, or 20 exams before they complete all of them. IT DOESN’T MATTER. All that matters is that you complete all of them.

Which sounds better to you?

Failing a few exams, but completing them all.
Never becoming a Licensed Architect because you’re terrified of failing.

No one ever failed during Architecture School the way we fail during the ARE.  That’s why most Graduates aren’t prepared for the reality of taking them.

6. Don’t believe the hype. Everything is a Multiple-Choice Question.

In ARE 4.0 we had to draw vignettes on a silly cad software that was completely counterintuitive. NCARB retired the vignettes because candidates were spending a lot of time learning how to use this shitty software and it wasn’t making them better Architects.

For ARE 5.0 they created several new question types and made a really big deal about the new question types. At the end of the day, they are just simple variations on standard multiple choice questions:

Case studies Questions are nothing more then open book multiple choice questions.

Check all that apply Questions, are multiple choice questions with more then one answer.

Drag and drop Questions are interactive multiple choice questions that require you to arrange the boxes in a certain order. Its just easier to move boxes on the screen then have a million multiple choices to choose from.

Point to the right location questions are still multiple choice questions, its just easier to point to the right location then have a million multiple choices with different locations.

Everything is multiple choice question because that’s all they are. If you know the content, studied really hard and worked on as many practice questions as you can get your hands on, then case studies should be that hard.

Focus on practicing as many practice questions as you can get your hands on and you’ll get through them.

Last thing i’ll say about case studies is on exam day, DO NOT DO THE CASE STUDY FIRST. On test day its going to take your brain 20-30 minutes to get warmed up at reading through the questions and recalling the information.  Move into the case studies after your warmed up.

7. Help others figure this thing out, and become an NCARB Licensing Advisor.

I want you to know the fact that no one helped me understand the ARE or how to get through the convoluted process of becoming a licensed Architect is what inspired me to start this website and blogging to help the next generation of Architects succeed.

It has been deeply inspiring for me to watch the next generation of Architects work together and help lift up each other with figuring this thing out.

But i just want to remind everyone, that you don’t have to be an expert to start helping other people with understanding the basics of AXP or the ARE.

I have always been a huge fan of the NCARB Licensing Advisor Program. This wonderful program enlists volunteers to help NCARB by getting others up to speed with understanding the basics of the Education Requirements, AXP and ARE. NCARB does a great job of communicating information, but not everyone is listening when NCARB speaks so the more people who can answer questions the better.

I recommend that you become an NCARB Licensing Advisor so you understand how this process works and can explain it to others. It’s not a huge or unrealistic commitment. Looking back, I wish there was a NCARB Licensing Advisor to help me navigate the Licensing Process.

 8. My company won’t pay for my exams. Wah wah wah.

Life isn’t easy for Recent Architecture Graduates in their first Entry Level professional job. Trust me, I know all about it.

In the real world, not all companies respect or acknowledge Licensure as something that’s important, especially amongst lower entry-level staff. They want you to get their Revit drawings done for atleast a few years before they’ll consider investing in your professional development. This is business, so don’t take it personally.

From my perspective, it’s NOT a big deal if your company doesn’t care about your exams or offer to pay for them.

Its great if your company does pay for exams. But I’ve seen companies offer to pay for exams, then make it physically impossible to study for them (or even make any progress toward them) because they fill up all your time working on their projects. Once again, this is business.

In my opinion, it’s 100 times more valuable if a company doesn’t have you working crazy overtime. Then you can use your nights and weekends to make progress while you’re taking your exams.

I was recently discussing this point with a friend of mine, who told me his company will pay for passed exams. But they’ll only pay for it after all exams are completed, and you have to stay at the company for at least two years. Otherwise, they’ll deduct the cost of the exams from your last paycheck. Depending on your situation, the cost of the exams might be pennies compared to making more money at a new job as a Licensed Architect.

I know you’re broke, but the cost of the ARE is marginal, compared to what you’ve spent to get to this point in your career. And that brings me to my last point…

9. Understand the payout will be huge over the course of the rest of your life.

I don’t care what anyone tells you. After your spouse and family, the ARE is your most important project.

Yes, it’s significantly more important than your first professional Entry Level job in an architecture firm. You’ll have architecture jobs for the rest of your career. You’ll be more valuable to the Architecture Job Market if you’re a Licensed Architect.

Yes, it’s more important than that new project your boss landed that will probably be featured in the Architecture magazines. Clients will come and go. All of them are short-term, and they’re worth pennies compared to becoming a Licensed Architect.  

Yes, it’s more important than being apart of the board of your local AIA chapter. Your ability to change the profession will be more significant if you become Licensed first. Stop volunteering all your time to the AIA, and just study. You can become the AIA National President and give them all your free time—after you’re Licensed.

Yes, it’s more important than landing your first clients and being your own boss. Please wait to start your architecture business until you’re a Licensed Architect. It will make things significantly easier in the long run. You’ll be able to charge more, and take on more projects. And you won’t have these exams hanging over your head while you’re trying to pay your bills. TRUST ME!!!

Now listen to me you Recent Graduate Spring Chickens!

If your goal is to become a successful Practicing Architect, then I want you to accomplish that goal. I’m sure you’re an amazing Designer, but it’s time to learn how to practice architecture (…and make a lot of money) and not just draw pretty pictures.

The ARE is your most important project to your livelihood as an Architecture Graduate.  The good news is that you can definitely do this! A lot of people are, and I know YOU can, too! You just have to be persistent.

Persistence verifiably works with passing the Architect Exam. Everything else is secondary after persistence.


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

Hi I’m Michael Riscica.

My goal is to help as many people as I can PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

This is accomplished with the following offerings:

Free FB group that is 12k+ members strong
Low-cost, high-value upcoming webinar
Affordable and Quality ARE Study materials
Professional Development and Powerful Networking
Premium 10-week ARE study program