The Ultimate List of ARE 5.0 Study Materials: Part 1

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Welcome to The Ultimate List of ARE Study Materials Part 1. In this blog post, we’ll take a broad look at the study materials available for ALL the ARE 5.0 Exams.

In Part 2 of this series, we zoom in to individually examine each test and list all the resources available for each exam. I highly recommend reviewing Part 1, before you get into the details of Part 2. Below are links for each 5.0 Exam.

If you are looking for information about ARE 4.0, here are links to the Ultimate List of 4.0 ARE study materials for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

The Ultimate List of 5.0 ARE Study Materials Part 2:

(The links will be added as each post gets published.)

The ARE 5.0 Era Is Here!

We’ve waited for ARE 5.0 for a very long time. Immediately after it was launched, everyone started asking me, “Where is the Young Architect 5.0 blog content?” I received dozens of emails from everyone wanting to know:

  • What book should I buy?
  • How do I study for 5.0?


  • C’mon, Michael Riscica, just tell exactly what I need to do to pass ARE 5.0!

I could have started blogging about ARE 5.0 over a year ago, but it would have all been solely based on all the data that NCARB provided. I was never interested in doing that. I watched many of the publishers do exactly that.

I became reluctant about sharing my insights about 5.0 right away. I wanted to see how this thing played out, and I wanted to write about ARE 5.0 from a realistic, opinionated point of view.

So I decided not to worry about 5.0 or get caught up in all the hype that NCARB was creating. I have gotten a lot of pressure from the YA audience to provide this information, but I needed to slow down and let it come out organically. Only time will tell, what is going on with these exams and how to study for them.

I wanted to talk to at least 50 people who actually took ARE 5.0, before I started writing about it. That way, I could see several rounds of people passing and failing ARE 5.0 exams.

At this point, I have worked with about 20 different ARE 5.0 Candidates in The ARE Boot Camp, preparing for the PcM, PjM and CE exams. I have learned more by helping them study, than by anything else NCARB has provided.

It’s time for Young Architect to start blogging about ARE 5.0.

I want to start by discussing study materials. But before we begin, we need to chat about how…

No ARE Study Guide Is Perfect.

Every person is different.

I like to read the news online and listen to audio books, but you like to listen to podcasts about the news and read newspapers and hard-copy books.

My favorite professor in architecture school was your least favorite professor.

I only use PCs, and you swear by Macs.

I like vanilla, but you like chocolate.

The ARE study materials that were extremely useful to me, may not be as useful to you.

I wish I had a quarter for all the emails and times people have asked me which ARE book they should study. Everyone just wants to know exactly what they need to do, so they can just get this thing done.

It reminds me of frustrated first-semester architecture students, who want to be told exactly what to do and are mad when their professor won’t give them a straight answer. The professor hopes that they will take the initiative to figure it out, be experimental, or possibly even be creative.

There is no straight answer or formula for studying for the ARE’s. The answer I give is:

Uhhh, study all of them until you figure out what works for you.

No single study guide is a magic bullet.  It never will be or can be, regardless of what the publisher tells you. To effectively prepare for the ARE, you really need to use multiple publishers and cross-train with study materials, that way all the gaps in your knowledge get filled in.

Even then, the publishers that were really helpful for the first few exams weren’t that helpful to me for the later ones.

The Worst Part

Frequently, people get frustrated with a publisher and write them off because…

…they trick you during the practice questions.

…they are boring.

…the material isn’t reader friendly.

Here’s what I experience and see happening: The materials that challenge you and push you outside your comfort zone, can often be the most effective study materials for you to use.

It’s actually a good thing if you get the practice questions wrong while you’re studying. For each question you get wrong, there is an opportunity to figure out why you missed it.

My advice is to never write off a publisher, and to always be open to any information that will help you get ahead.

Information Available for All Exams

The purpose of this post is to help you get a feel for the general information that is available to help you study for all the exams.

I start with discussing each of the publishers and players who are creating content in the ARE world. Then we’ll discuss different resources that are available to help you study for multiple exams.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll zoom in to take a detailed look at each exam individually, and discuss the specialized materials available for that exam.


The ARE Publishers and Resources For ALL exams

Young Architect

Since this is my website and I call the shots around here. I’ll shamelessly promote myself as the first publisher.

Since January 2014, I have relentlessly blogged about all things Architect Registration Exam and anything else to try to help the future of the architecture profession be more successful. All those blog posts can be found at

As a response to watching so many people have unrealistic expectations about the ARE or have absolutely no idea how to study for these exams, I got real serious and wrote a book called How To Pass The Architect Exam.

Based on the success of the ARE Book, people started contacting me. They wanted to hire me to help them as they prepared for their exams. I created a group coaching program called The ARE Boot Camp, which guides and helps you get started with making progress on the ARE. It’s kind of like a design studio, but everyone is studying for the same test, instead of designing a building.


During the summer of 2018 I created The Young Architect Academy, which provides quality ARE 5.0 video content at an affordable and accessible price for all ARE Candidates. No gimmicks or overpriced monthly memberships.

I also run The Young Architect Podcast, which features conversations with many leaders in the profession. The Architect Exam is a frequent topic of conversation with almost every guest. It is also available on iTunes, YouTube and Stitcher.

I have also gotten heavily involved in public speaking about the exam and the profession at architecture schools, conferences, CSI, and AIA chapters. I love meeting people and talking about this stuff face to face about the exam and the profession.

My goal and the Young Architect mission is to help architecture students, ARE Candidates, and design professionals be more successful in the profession of architecture.

Whew, glad that’s outta the way. Let’s move on! 

Architect Exam Prep
Architect Exam Prep

I am a HUGE fan of Architect Exam Prep. When it comes to ARE Study Materials, these guys nailed it. What I love is the convenience, variety, and thoughtfulness of their study materials. For $100, you download a giant zip file, which contains:

  • A really well-done study guide
  • Flashcards to print and cut up
  • Audio MP3s of the study guide
  • Practice questions in their Online Multiple-Choice Simulator

I have purchased all of AEP 5.0 content and have been reviewing it creating a very long blog post with opinions and insights. At this moment I am still waiting for practice management to be released. I am about halfway through this massive undertaking.

Generally speaking I’m very impressed with their 5.0 content. I wrote a review of their 4.0 CDS information and much of what I wrote in that blog post carries over to 5.0.

Click here to visit Architect Exam Prep

Also checkout the excellent podcast interview I had with Eric Corey Freed.

Designer Hacks

Designer Hacks is ARE practice-question software that basically simulates the exam. It is a web-based app, so you log into their website and start working on practice questions.

I love Designer Hacks, and here’s why:

Their questions are sometimes a little bit basic. People have criticized Designer Hacks, saying that the questions are too basic. They also say that there are a lot of questions based on memorization—when the real ARE questions want you to make decisions, rather than remember facts.

I personally think that when all of this information is new, there is absolutely nothing wrong with questions related to memorization. In fact, these questions are stepping stones to gaining a deeper understanding of the information. It’s also good to get used to answering questions in the early stages of studying for the ARE and not waiting until later.

After people get over this hump and start to grasp the information, Designer Hacks starts to feel elementary. We use Designer Hacks in the ARE Boot Camp until we outgrow it (which is a good thing).

Designer Hacks is a powerful tool to help you get started studying, answering questions, and learning the information. Designer Hacks doesn’t write the official questions on the exam, so you should never act like they do.

Here is a link to the review I wrote all about Designer Hacks.  

Here is a link to Designer Hacks 

The ARE Review Manual from PPI (aka Ballast)

David Kent Ballast has been a staple in ARE Prep since the beginning of time.

It’s no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with the ARE Review Manual. I wrote a detailed blog post “reviewing” The ARE Review Manual. EVERYTHING I wrote about 4.0 books pretty much applies to the new 5.0 books.

Long story short: The Ballast book is a must-have for everyone studying for the exam.

Back in 4.0 world, Ballast published The ARE Review Manual (the bible), as well as a separate book for each exam with practice questions and vignettes.

In 5.0, they also publish The Review Manual, except now they have 2 separate books with all the questions for all the exams.

This makes your life soo much easier, since you don’t have try to track down 7 different exams.

The 5.0 ARE Review Manual is about half an inch thicker than the 4.0 ARE Review Manual. I have confirmed that, 95% of the information that is in 4.0 has been republished in 5.0. On a rainy Saturday, I sat down with both books and found the locations of all the 4.0 content in the 5.0 books.

The last thing I want to say about Ballast, is that David Kent Ballast doesn’t write exam questions for NCARB. In my personal opinion, I think ballast’s questions can be frustrating and annoying, while at the same time be really good. He is very skilled at tricking you, but worse, he sometimes finds really weird, obscure details in the study materials and writes a question about them. So he forces you to study harder, become more knowledgeable, and ultimately become a better Architect.

The Ballast books are expensive, but I couldn’t imagine studying for any exam without them. Shop around and get the best price. PPI recently gave me a 15% discount code (YARCH) to be used on their website, which can only work if another discount isnt applied.

Here is a link to the PPI’s website use discount code YARCH for 15% off

Here is a link to Amazon for the The Ballast 5.0 ARE Review Manual.

Here is a link to Amazon for the The Ballast 5.0 ARE Practice Problems.

Here is a link to Amazon for the The Ballast 5.0 ARE Practice Exams.

Here is a link to Amazon for the The Ballast 5.0 ARE Flashcards.


Pluralsight is one of the newest publishers to be offering ARE Study Materials. They offer excellent video courses for several 5.0 exams and will ultimately cover all of them. Whats cool about Pluralsight is they offer a 2 week free membership before you get charged. You and I know damn well a lot can happen in 2 weeks when there is a serious deadline like an ARE exam.

Here is a link to Pluralsight's ARE Video Courses

The Amber Book and Website

Professor Michael Ehrman is a breath of fresh air in the architecture profession.

I really enjoyed his hard copy book The Amber Book when I was studying for the MEP portions of my exams. He has an excellent talent for explaining complex topics in very simple terms.

When I was studying, he had just starting utilizing YouTube to make simple animation videos as teaching tools. Due to the success of his YouTube videos, Michael kept creating more and more video content. On his website, Amber-Book, he now has videos for all of the exams, which require a viewing fee.

Michael gave me free access to check out all the videos, and I was really impressed. I wish he had provided this information when I was studying for my exams. I’m excited that they exist.

If you can sign up with a friend, he offers a big discount on his products. They also offer a discount for being a Young Architect reader. Make sure you use my last name (RISCICA) as the discount code.

Here is a link to the Amber-Book Website with the video content.

Here is a link to The Amber Book on Amazon

Here is a link to Michael Ermann’s Building Accoustics Illustrated book

Also listen to Michael Errmann on The Young Architect Podcast


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Gang Chen

Gang Chen is King!

He is an Architect from California, who ran for the Mayor of Irvine in 2016. He is also very passionate about singing, and there is no shortage of YouTube videos of him singing karaoke.

For 4.0, he published a book for each exam called the Mock ARE exam, and I directly credit him with helping me pass my building systems exam. His practice questions are really tough, and he is great at tricking you when you already know the answer. However, his books are excellent for getting better at reading the questions.

I highly recommend Gang Chen, and wrote a lengthy review of his 4.0 books. At the time of this writing, he is still in the process of releasing his ARE 5.0 content.

Here is a link to my review of Gang Chen’s ARE 4.0 Mock Exam

Click here for Gang Chen’s Mock Exam Books for ARE 5.0

The ARE Facebook Group

The ARE Facebook group continues to be the best community on the internet for discussing an exam. In this group, there are people talking about it 24/7, so it has become a very active, supportive community of people all over the country. Many people get to know each other really well while discussing their ARE successes and struggles.

Very frequently, people delete their Facebook account because it’s a huge distraction. Then they create a completely new account with zero friends, so they can use the ARE Facebook Group.

I maintain and manage the ARE Facebook Group. There are a large number of member requests from people all over the world, who have no idea what the ARE or NCARB is. So you need to answer the screening questions before you’re accepted. I don’t even look at the requests from people who didn’t answer the questions.

Here is a link to the ARE Facebook Group.

The NCARB 5.0 Community

NCARB manages and maintains their own communities as well, which are really well-done. I highly recommend that everyone spend time using this community to search for helpful information about your exams.

You’ll need to login to My NCARB to access the 5.0 Community.

The Old ARE 3.1 and ARE 4.0 Materials

Since ARE 5.0 came out, I have been telling everyone in the 5.0 camp that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to develop an understanding of what the 4.0 (and even 3.1) exams contained.

About 20 years of study materials were created for 4.0, and 3.1 (the exam before it) wasn’t much different. If you can take the time to learn about what was tested on each 4.0 exam, then that information will be extremely helpful when studying for ARE 5.0.

Lots of people in the ARE 5.0 camp act like they’ve dodged a bullet because there are no vignettes on ARE 5.0. NCARB got rid of the vignettes because ARE Candidates were spending a significant amount of time learning how to use the software, which wasn’t making them better architects.


All NCARB has done is just eliminate the software. They created new question types (drag in place, hot spots, and case studies), which essentially allow them to use graphics WITHOUT having to learn  bullshit software.

I wouldn’t completely write off the vignettes if you’re taking 5.0.

We can all agree that the vignette software was stupid. However, the vignettes tested a lot of really important topics, which I could see being very easily rehashed in ARE 5.0 with the new question formats. I speculate that NCARB has sat around and had this discussion:

“If we get rid of the vignettes, how do we test the same concepts with the new question types?”

Do I think 5.0 people need to practice drawing vignettes??!?

No. Definitely not.

But it wouldn’t hurt to learn what each vignette was about, and what was being tested. I’d recommend watching the NCARB YouTube Videos explaining each vignette, just to see what each vignette was about.


Along those same lines, YouTube has become a huge publisher of ARE Study materials.

The ARE has sooo many reading materials, but using the amazing database of videos on YouTube can be very powerful for helping you study. As a rule of thumb, for any ARE topic you are studying, you should be querying it in the YouTube search engine.

I’ve used YouTube sooo much that I recently subscribed to YouTube Red, which eliminates all the commercials. It always allows the video to keep playing if you turn off the screen on your smart phone. That way you can listen to YouTube, rather then only watch it.

Another option is converting the YouTube videos to MP3, so you can listen while you walk your dog or travel on an airplane. I like the website and use it frequently, but the site is super-spammy and is constantly trying to get you to download questionable software. Use at your own risk and don’t download anything unless it ends with .mp3.

The Flashcard Apps

I always made my own flashcards the old-fashioned way and wrote a blog post about how I used to do it.

However, in this day and age, there are several flashcard Apps for your smartphone on the iTunes and Android stores. There are soo many of them that I can’t keep up. Some of them have existing content for the ARE, including Brainscape and GFlash+.


These are some general resources that are available for all ARE 5.0 exams.

In the Part 2 of this blog post, I will zoom in and take a much closer look at the content of each exam and discuss specific resources for that exam.

The Ultimate List of 5.0 ARE Study Materials Part 2:


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, and the creator of Young Architect, an online platform and community dedicated to helping the next generation of Architects become the most successful generation of Architects. 
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Hi there!

I’m Michael Riscica, the guy behind Young Architect. I write to help Architecture Students, ARE Candidates and Young Architecture Professionals be more successful at school, work and life!


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