Understanding the Reorganization of ARE 5.0

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Acquiring a Treasure Map

Earlier this month, I flew across the country to Washington DC and met with NCARB to discuss preparing ARE Study Material for ARE 5.0.

It was the first time NCARB had ever done something like this. In the past, they claimed ignorance about an ARE Test Prep industry ever existing. Until now, the publishers had no insight about effectively creating ARE Test Prep material.

But the times are changing. In the fall, NCARB contacted every ARE publisher and invited us all to a 2-day workshop, where we could effectively learn how to prepare ARE 5.0 Study Materials.

So what the hell happened?!???

OMG, I learned a ton about ARE 5.0. I took about 25 pages of notes, and I left Washington DC feeling like I had a treasure map—or better yet, a Blueprint!

The ARE 5.0 Blueprint

Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing everything I learned at this 2-day workshop with NCARB. My plan is to translate 25 pages of chicken scratch into some extremely valuable information, which will help candidates to:

  • More effectively prepare for each exam
  • More constructively understand the value of the study materials they are using to study. I am essentially going to give you all the information the publishers have.

While I share this treasure map with you, I will be giving these blog posts the overall name of The ARE 5.0 Blueprint. Apparently, Architects get weird about the word “blueprint,” but to me, it denotes a plan, design, map, layout, or schematic. And since we live in 2016 and this is a website for Young Architects, I’m going to embrace the new meaning of the word Blueprint.

Let’s talk about how ARE 5.0 is different then ARE 4.0

The Content Reorganization

Before I dive into the nitty gritty of this first post of The ARE 5.0 Blueprint, I need to discuss how all the exam content is being reorganized—in a way that makes sense to readers.

Until I went to DC, I felt like the content reorganization made no sense to me, and I asked many questions, which I’m sure you may also have.

The Decision to Eliminate the Vignettes

Vignettes were originally launched in 1997. The goal was not to give candidates an unfair advantage because not everyone knew how to draw on a computer back in the 90’s. The vignettes have been updated over the years, but the core structure hasn’t changed since it was created.

As a tool to assess a candidate’s knowledge, NCARB adamantly stands behind their vignettes.

After a lot of evaluation about moving into 5.0, NCARB decided to eliminate the vignettes altogether. Instead, they’re using new question types and software to assess candidates’ knowledge—that don’t require any practicing. NCARB wanted candidates to spend time building their knowledge base, rather than learning and practicing drafting on software that is terribly designed and is 20 years old.

At the end of the day, the ability to draft shouldn’t be a function of assessing a candidate’s ability to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. NCARB really wanted to get rid of drafting, so they found new ways to test the same knowledge without having to learn any new software.

Understanding the concept of “College vs Practice Areas”

There are many changes in ARE 5.0, but the biggest change is how all the content is organized.

ARE 4.0 is more closely aligned with how college is structured. When you take a Building Systems or Structures exam, you only study (and are tested on) those subjects. Sure, there is a little bit of overlap with other exams. But generally speaking, 4.0 is neatly organized into buckets of content.

ARE 5.0 is structurally different because the content is now organized like the typical progression of an architecture project. Each exam corresponds and is testing a candidates knowledge during a period of time in the timeline of an architecture project.

Let me repeat that:

The ARE 4.0 content is neatly siloed and broken down into buckets of content.

The ARE 5.0 content is reorganized into the timeline of a typical architecture project.

This change is what everyone is freaking out about. The more I learned about it, the more I started to agree with NCARB about making these changes.

Let’s take a further look at this timeline concept. NCARB likes to refer to it as “Practice Areas.”

The Practice Areas (aka the Exams of ARE 5.0)

The time of a typical architecture project is broken down into six practice areas. For 5.0, they are as follows:

  1. Practice Management
  2. Project Management
  3. Programming and Analysis
  4. Project Planning and Design
  5. Project Development and Documentation
  6. Construction and Evaluation

Let’s take a broad overview of how these practice areas connect back to this timeline of an architecture project.  In future blogposts, I will be breaking down each of these exams into very fine details, but for now, let’s do a quick, broad overview of each practice area.

1. Practice Management

If I was to assign one word to Practice Management, it would be Business. What does it mean to run an architecture practice?  NCARB’s description of the professional practice exam is as follows:

This division will assess objectives relating to the management of architectural practice, including professional ethics, fiduciary responsibilities, and the regulations that govern the practice of architecture.

It will focus on issues relating to pre-contract tasks, including negotiation, human resource management, and consultant development.

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, business structure, business development, and the development and protection of assets.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Applying the competent delivery of professional architectural services
  • Applying the laws and regulations of an architectural practice
  • Evaluating legal, ethical, and contractual standards in the performance of architectural tasks

Practice Management covers everything that surrounds the practice of architecture—all the way up to the point when a contact gets signed. Once the contract is signed, you now have a project, and you move into the next practice area: Project Management.

State licensing boards pressure NCARB to truly test this area because most disciplinary issues surrounding architectural licensing fall under the umbrella of Practice Management.

2. Project Management

Management is the keyword for Project Management.

What does it mean to run and manage a Project?  This exam is the only one that is all about general project management skills—that happen during the life of a project but aren’t directly tied to a moment in time.

The NCARB description for Project Management will help you get a better understanding:

This division will assess objectives relating to the management of architectural projects, including organizing principles, contract management, and consultant management.

It will focus on issues relating to office standards, the development of project teams and overall project control of client, fee and risk management

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, quality control, project team configuration, and project scheduling.

In addition, candidates must demonstrate the ability to establish and deliver project services per contractual requirements—in collaboration with consultants.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Administering contract requirements and the competent delivery of project services
  • Organizing a team to design and produce contract documents
  • Coordinating project team activities and a project budget
  • Communicating information to all constituents throughout the project’s delivery process
  • Developing a project schedule that defines tasks and meets milestones

3. Programming and Analysis

If I had to choose a keyword for the Programming and Analysis exam, it would be Investigation.

This phase of the project is about programming or pre-design. It also involves uncovering the problem and interpreting the data. What are the initial problems, site analyses, and client requirements? It’s about setting up the problem that you have to work within.

NCARB’s description for Programming and Analysis is:

This division will assess objectives relating to the evaluation of the project’s requirements, constraints, and opportunities.

It will focus on issues that relate to programming, site analysis, and zoning/code requirements.

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, the analysis of project types, the establishment of qualitative and quantitative project requirements, the evaluation of project sites and contexts, and the assessment of economic issues.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Evaluating qualitative and quantitative project requirements
  • Analyzing the environmental, social, and economic requirements of a project
  • Synthesizing project requirements, based on gathered information

I really want to stress that this exam is more about interpreting data than any other practice area.

 4. Project Planning and Design

Selection is the key word for this exam.

This phase of a project involves making decisions about the schematic design. It is also about selecting the proper structural and mechanical systems in the early phases of a project.

NCARB’s definition of the Project Planning and Design exam is:

This division will assess objectives relating to the preliminary design of sites and buildings.

It will focus on issues relating to the generation or evaluation of design alternatives that synthesize environmental, cultural, behavioral, technical, and economic issues.

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, design concepts, sustainability/environmental design, universal design, and other forms of governing codes and regulations.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Evaluating project design alternatives
  • Determining if a design meets project parameters, including those defined by the client, the environment, and society
  • Selecting the building systems and materials that appropriately meet project goals and regulatory requirements
  • Integrating technical knowledge and information to develop a design

5. Project Development and Documentation

Integration is the keyword for this exam.

This is the Construction Documents phase of a project. The Practice Areas skip right past the Design Development phase. In ARE 5.0, there is no “Design Development” phase between Schematic Design and Construction Documents.

This exam tests your knowledge of the following:

  • What does it mean to put together a project manual and set of construction drawings?
  • Do you understand the details of the Structural and Mechanical systems?
  • Can you coordinate all your disciplines within a set of documents?

Here is NCARB’s description:

This division will assess objectives relating to the integration and documentation of building systems, the material selection, and the material assemblies of a project.

It will focus on issues relating to the development of design concepts, the evaluation of materials and technologies, the selection of appropriate construction techniques, and acquiring the appropriate construction documents.

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, the integration of civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and specialty systems into the overall design and documentation of a project.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Evaluating project documentation for the constructability of a building and site
  • Integrating technical knowledge and information to refine a design
  • Integrating materials and building systems to meet the project design requirements
  • Translating design decisions into appropriate construction documentation

6. Construction Evaluation

Construction Administration is the keyword for this exam.

The Construction Evaluation phase starts when the documents have been turned over and are now out of the Architect's hands.

This phase covers the overseeing of the construction process, bidding, admin, RFI’s, agendas, evaluations, and everything else that happens while a project is under construction.

NCARB’s description is:

This division will assess objectives relating to construction contract administration and the post-occupancy evaluation of projects.

It will focus on issues relating to bidding and negotiation processes, support of the construction process, and evaluation of completed projects.

Candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, construction contract execution, construction support services (including construction observation and shop drawing or submittal review), payment request processing, and project closeout.

In addition, candidates must demonstrate an understanding of, and abilities in, the project evaluation of integrated building systems and their performance.

This division will test a candidate’s ability to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare by:

  • Delivering professional services during project construction
  • Translating construction documents and specifications to communicate and bring clarity to design intent
  • Coordinating construction activities to meet design intent
  • Evaluating completed projects

The Realignment

As I said earlier, ARE 4.0 is more aligned with school. The content was broken down into buckets or silos and tested separately.

In ARE 4.0, those were:

Structures, Building Systems, Building Construction, Site planning, Contracts, and Programming

In ARE 5.0, they cover:

What type of knowledge do you need during the various phases (i.e., the timeline) of a typical architecture project? This content reorganization is the major change in ARE 5.0.

In Practice Management, you’re setting up your architecture business before a contract is signed.

In Project Management, you’re managing the project.

In Programming and Analysis, you’re investigating the problem.

In Project Planning and Design (Schematic Design), you’re investigating and selecting different systems and understanding the bigger implications of these decisions earlier in the project.

In Project Development and Documentation (Construction Documents), you’re understanding and integrating detailed information about each of the systems, including how to coordinate a set of documents across disciplines.

In Construction Evaluation you’re understanding everything after the documents have been turned over and encompasses everything during bidding and the Construction Administration Phase of a project.


ARE 5.0 makes a lot sense to me. As I mentioned earlier, in future blog posts, I will be ripping apart and breaking down each one of the 5.0 exams. I have a ton of information, which will greatly facilitate studying for ARE 5.0 and that I am very excited to share with you.

I highly recommend joining the Young Architect Email List. Each week, I email out the latest blog post, and I often share important information that’s not posted. Sign up below, and I will send you my PDF of the 5 Tricks to Accelerate Studying for the ARE.




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 (at a variety of price points) PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

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