How Shame Pushed Me To Get My Architecture License.

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***This weeks post is a guest blog post from our good friend Steve Ramos at Buildings Are Cool! 

Getting my haircut was supposed to be peaceful.

I had just sat down in the barber chair.  This was one of my favorite lunch break activities.  When you get your hair cut there is nothing to do except relax and chat with the barber.  And if they use clippers on your head then it is like a mini head massage.

I always enjoyed this time but on this day, it was not as peaceful.  I left with more stress than I brought in.

That day the barber was new. Or at least I had never seen her.  Although I always go to the same barber shop, I don’t have a favorite barber.  I just go with whoever frees up first.  I have a very basic haircut and there is not much hair left, so it really doesn’t matter who cuts it.

The barber’s name was Kelly.  Shortly after Kelly started with the clippers, she asked: “What do you do?”

A pretty simple question, yet I paused for a couple seconds.  I had to think about how I wanted to respond.

“I work at an architecture firm down the street…….I work on the design of hotels and apartments mostly.” I said.

“So are you an architect?” Kelly asked.

“Well not quite.  I am training to be an architect.  I am an intern architect.” I responded.

“Is it like a summer internship?” Kelly asked.

“Haha…well no.  I am done with college.  I already have my masters in architecture.  Once an architecture student finishes architecture school, they need to work for about 4 years and take 7 individual exams prior to becoming licensed.  It is kinda similar to a doctor who begins as a resident.” I responded.

“Wow….that is a lot.” Kelly said.

In my mind I was thinking, “she probably thinks I fetch coffee all day and shine shoes.  And she definitely doesn’t buy my whole bit about being like an intern doctor.”

Intern Architect.  I hate you title!

It is true.  I hated that title.  I despised it so much that I tried to avoid telling people the title, like Kelly the barber.

I guess I had too much pride.  After spending so much time in school, earning a master’s degree, working for several years, telling someone that you were an intern was so deflating.

Most people make there own assumptions when you tell them you are an intern.

The truth is that intern architects are extremely valuable to a firm and contribute on various levels.  Some folks never even become licensed and it is very common for an intern to be more experienced and accomplished than a registered architect.

Shamed into becoming an architect.

I’m partially embarrassed to say it…but shame and pride were my greatest motivators to becoming licensed.  A bigger pay check would be nice, but saying that I was an architect would be better.

I had to escape that awful intern title.  And I don’t mean any disrespect to the interns of the world.

I couldn’t wait till I could go back and tell that barber that I was an architect.  It is much easier to just say “architect.”  And once you say “architect,” people are likely to say: “Oh….that’s cool” or, “my dad was an architect,” or “I always wanted to be an architect.”

You don’t get that when you say you are an ‘intern.’

When you say architect, it commands a certain amount of respect.  (Unless that person is a contractor or unhappy client.)

So how did I get my architecture license?

Michael Riscica had asked me to write about my path to licensure.   I have not talked about my licensure path on BUILDINGS ARE COOL because I never thought of my path to be very interesting.

The only unusual thing about my path was that I finished my exams before finishing IDP.  Although this sequence is now very common, back in 2010 this was an unusual feat.

This was around the time when NCARB first made it possible to begin taking exams prior to IDP completion.  Previously, NCARB required you to finish all IDP before starting your exams.

My Licensure Stats

  • Graduated with a Master of Architecture from the University of Maryland in May of 2006.
  • Began exams in 2009.
  • I took the 7 exams during a 6 month period.
  • I failed the very first test I took: Building Design and Construction Systems
  • Therefore, I technically took 8 exams, which extended my exam period to about 7 months.
  • One funny side note: This was when NCARB took a long time to return test results.  And for some reason a few of my results got hung up.  I took the first 4 exams before getting any results.  After calling and complaining one day I got my first 4 results all at once.  3 passes and 1 fail.  The positive side to this snafu was that I didn’t mind the failure that much because I had 3 passes at the same time. 3 for 4 is better than 0 for 1.
  • I used about 6 weeks to study for what I considered the hard tests: Structures, Mechanical and BDCS. The other 4 exams I took in 2 week intervals: Schematic Design, Site Design, Construction Documents, etc.
  • July 19, 2010. I received my license in the mail 1 day after my 29th  I was bummed that it hadn’t arrived a couple days earlier.   Then I could have said I got registered when I was 28.  Oh well.  29 is good also.

My Wacky A.R.E. Study Tips

There are a ton of great folks sharing valuable A.R.E. resources such as Mr. Riscica.  I don’t claim myself to be any sort of expert test taker or study guru.

This is just one guy’s wacky tips.  A weird guy too.  So take it for what it’s worth.

  1. Take the Practice Test First – One tactic I developed was that I would take the practice exam at the back of the Kaplan book before I began studying for the test. I did this for each of the 7 sections.

This did 2 things: It gave me an overview of what the exam would be like and it usually gave me confidence since I would get about 60% of the multiple choice questions right.  Getting 6 out of 10 wasn’t bad when you hadn’t even started studying.

  1. Kaplan vs Ballast? – The answer is both. I would first read the Ballast chapters since they were shorter and more concise and then I would dive into Kaplan.  Each book is valuable and neither is perfect.  So read them both!  I’m sure there are other options now, but this is what I had at my disposal.
  1. Take the practice vignette, take the practice vignette, take the practice vignette, take the practice vignette, take the practice vignette.

At least 5 times.  This had nothing to do with the content and everything about mastering that sh*tty drafting program that is part of the A.R.E.

I heard one person after another complain about the A.R.E. drafting program.  Rather than complaining, I decided that it would be more helpful to master the weird idiosyncrasies of that sh*tty program.

I wanted to have the mechanics of the program nailed so that I could let my brain focus on the problem at hand.  This is the same concept as putting your clothes out the day before or practicing driving to the testing center before the day of the exam.

Why get bothered by the minutia.

  1. Study in the morning. Let me guess:  ”But I’m not a morning person!”

My brain works the best in the morning and since the A.R.E.’s were my most important thing at that time, it was worth getting up 30 minutes earlier to go through note cards.

I would use the evenings for longer study sessions and use the mornings for quick 20-30 minute sessions.

  1. Study Every Day – I know…. Your busy right? Thought you were the only one?

Some days studying may be for only 20-30 minutes.  Other days, 2-4 hours.

For me it is easier to do something every day than to do it every 3 or 4 days.  When you commit to doing something for 3 days a week it is easy to say, “well….I’ll skip today and do it tomorrow.”

That rational doesn’t work when you commit to doing something everyday.  I did take a day or two off after each exam, but nothing longer.  Momentum was important.

Don’t Worry…You will get it!

I hope you have found my little story and tips helpful.  Architecture school, IDP and A.R.E.’s are a pain in the *%#?  But you can do it.  How much do you want it?

“The moment you accept responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you tap into your power to change everything in your life.” – Hal Elrod

Thanks Michael!

Michael Riscica is the man!  I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to provide this guest post for the Young Architect Nation.  The resources that Michael provides are a gift and we are fortunate to have Michael as a leader.


Steve Ramos

handwritten signature of Steve Ramos


a picture of Steve Ramos

About Steve:

Steve Ramos writes a blog called BUILDINGS ARE COOL.  As the title of the blog suggests: Steve is gaga over buildings.  In fact, he is a fan of all things art and design.  Steve is a project architect with LS3P in Charleston, South Carolina with a focus on commercial architecture in the heart of the city.  He believes he has the job of his dreams and lives in a place very close to paradise.  Although it has not always been gravy.  On BUILDINGS ARE COOL Steve shares the ups and downs of architecture with the goal of providing useful tips and lessons from his stories.  He also throws in the occasional book review, shares his artwork and makes unsuccessful attempts at humor.

And yes he really thinks buildings are cool. Check out:

You can contact Steve at [email protected] and connect with him on social media:
Twitter: @sramos_BAC
Instagram: @buildingsarecool
Facebook: Buildings Are Cool


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