Just studying harder isn’t always better.

Pushing Harder studying for the ARE Exam isnt always better.

Running a marathon and studying for the are exam both have a lot in common.

This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architecture Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architecture Registration Exam Series.

Slow and Steady

Burnout is frequent.
They both  involve many long hours of unglamorous work.
Many people do not meet their goals or finish.
Both involve many small victories working towards the big one.
Slow and steady usually finishes the race.

I ran two marathons in 2010 and became a licensed Architect in 2013.

Halfway through training for my first marathon, I decided one day to try my first yoga class. I was frustrated with running and thought it could help my stiff legs. I walked in with a “what the hell, why not” attitude.

Little did i know that yoga almost immediately changed everything about running for me.  It stretched out my legs and opened my hips more than they ever had been. This allowed me to get past the 18 mile threshold I kept hitting with my runs. Yoga quickly became my secret weapon with my marathon training.

When I was studying there were a few things that I did when I needed to take a break from the massive amounts of reading text. None of which involve doing yoga, although that will also help if that’s your sorta thing.


Use the practice exams to study rather than practice

When I needed a break from information intake I would study the practice exams. I would typically answer 2 or 3 questions at time and then look up the answers in the back of the book. This allowed me to quickly correct myself if I got the answer wrong rather than waiting until I finished the exam. They are also a great way of getting into the rhythm of answering questions just like they are on the test.   I worked the practice exams mostly during my lunch break. They are also easier to carry around then that awful Ballast book that weighs 10 lbs. Practice exams brought much sanity. Checkout my recommended list of study materials for links to practice exams for each exam.


After my second test I started to keep all my notes on flashcards, rather than notebooks.  I used blank 3 x 5 flashcards. I punched a hole in the corner and kept them together with 3″ metal ring. Anything that I needed to know for later became a flashcard. I would review my flashcards several times a week. Constantly add new flash cards and changing out old ones. I would typically begin each test with making flashcards of all the vocabulary from the Ballast and Kaplan study guides for each test.


YouTube has a ton of stuff to watch for the ARE, that won't make you feel like you're studying. Start searching it for whatever you are studying. Here's a good one and so is this. Just start seaching YouTube and you'll definitely find something cool that's related to the exam. There also tons of videos for the vignettes.

 Read the Forums

I would read the forums every day, while I was preparing for an exam. Forums are mostly used to post vignettes but typically there would be great conversations and insights being shared about the exam. As people reply to each topic it pushes it the top of each subject. Often really helpful forum posts get buried in the archives due to lack of comments so I would recommend going back several weeks or months in the forums to see what has been discussed on each test.

The forums are a great resource and if you have a question about something you studied this is a great place to go looking for help. Although you must with how you discuss the exam as NCARB is monitoring everything posted making sure no one discloses what they encountered inside the exam

Marking up what I read

If I didn't mark up, highlight, underline, draw stars, boxes, diagram and sometimes even make fun of or rude comments at the material if I couldn’t absorb it. I needed to draw all over my Ballast book to pull out the key information from the fluff. I marked up almost everything I read, unless I was planning on reselling it on Amazon.  Later reviewing my marked up notes always went a lot faster.


Review older materials from previous exams when feeling defeated

ADA, AIA Contracts, Building Codes Illustrated, practice questions from other exams,  are all things that you be seeing time and time again. Sometimes I went back to the basics and reviewed older stuff from exams i had already passed.  Check out this comprehensive list of study guides that are used for ALL the exams.


Read the full series This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architect Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architect Registration Exam Series.


Michael Riscica

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

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