You can take NCARB’s ARE 5.0 exams in any order you would like.
In my opinion, the best ARE 5.0 exam order strategy and the one most commonly used, is to complete the 3 Professional practice exams first, which are:
- Practice Management (PcM)
- Project Management (PjM)
- Construction Evaluation (CE)
BEFORE moving onto the 3 Technical Exams, which are:
- Programming and Analysis (PA)
- Project Planning and Design (PPD)
- Project Development and Documentation (PDD).
The Pro-Practice exams and Technical exams each contain 2 very different types of information to be studied.
The Pro-Practice Exams (PcM, PjM and CE) all contain many overlapping topics and information.
Likewise, the Technical Exams (PA, PPD and PDD) also share topics and information,
But a Pro-Practice and a Technical Exam have little in common with each other. In the name of efficiency, it's easier to group these exams together when studying.
Focusing on the Pro-Practice Exams is a better way to start the ARE.
The PcM, PjM and CE exams are smaller in scope and generally a better option for people at the beginning of the ARE.
During Technical Exams, sometimes questions will also assume ARE Candidates have basic contract knowledge and understanding of the roles, relationships and responsibilities between an Owner, Architect and Contractor. Lacking basic knowledge of Pro-Practice topics could become a fatal error on a Technical Exam.
What is the Best Exam Order of the Pro-Practice Exams (PcM, PjM and CE)?
The sequence of PcM, PjM and CE doesn’t really matter a whole lot. It usually boils down to personal preference and your experience with these topics.
PcM is all about running a firm and the business of architecture.
PjM is all about project management and AIA Contracts.
CE is all about bidding and construction administration.
All 3 Pro-Practice Exams are equal in scope. Your personal experience will usually decide if one is more challenging than another.
A strategy I recommend for choosing a testing sequence for PcM, PjM and CE is to study for all 3 pro-practice exams together for a few weeks until you understand the differences between all 3 exams.
After you understand the scope of what each exam is about, use that knowledge to then decide which order to take them in and then study for each Architect Exam individually.
What is the Best Exam Order for the Technical Exams (PA, PPD, PDD)?
The sequence of the Technical exam IS important! This is the strategy that is most commonly followed:
After completing the Pro-Practice Exams, most people move onto Programming and Analysis (PA) next, before moving onto Project Planning and Design (PPD) Project Development and Documentation (PDD)
PA is all about understanding the problem the design is going to solve. It contains lots of code, site analysis and programming, but the scope of PA ends when the design phase starts.
PA is a very difficult exam. Oftentimes if people do not pass PA the first time, they move onto PPD/PDD and focus on completing both of those exams before retaking PA as a last exam.
Studying really hard for PA is a fantastic way of getting warmed up for PPD & PDD, even if you didn't pass it.
Passing PPD/PDD is a fantastic warmup for coming back and completing PA as your last exam.
PPD and PDD both test many of the same topics, however each exam looks at a different phase during design.
PPD is all about everything that happens during the schematic design phase of the project. Topics include: code, building systems, structures, materials, costs and many more technical topics.
PDD is all about everything that happens during the construction documentation phase of the project. Topics include everything listed above for PPD
Now, when it comes to PPD & PDD, there are basically 2 common strategies for taking these tests:
- Study for PPD first and then study for PDD later.
- Study for both exams and take them within a few days of each other.
After watching both of these strategies verifiably work for many different people, I don't have a strong opinion of one way versus the other.
I will say that, because of how ARE 5.0 is organized, PPD and PDD are really the only 2 exams that you can study for at the same time.
More ARE 5.0 Exam Order Questions?
Keep reading if you would like to learn the answers to these common questions around ARE 5.0 exam order:
- Doesn't it make more sense to take the Technical Exams first?
- Does architecture experience make a difference in the ARE?
- Should I take Programming and Analysis (PA) as my first exam?
- Would it make sense to study for all the exams and take them all at the same time?
- How long should I study for each ARE 5.0 exam?
Doesn't it make more sense to take the Technical Exams first?
I’ve heard it so many times. People say:
I’ve got lots of experience with construction documents, therefore the construction documents test (PDD) should be the easiest for me, so I'll do that first.
Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.
The roles, relationships and responsibilities between an Owner, Architect and Contractor will come up on every single exam. Every exam also requires a good understanding of how AIA Contracts work. These topics are a huge part of the Pro-Practice Exams.
The Pro-Practice Exams are also smaller, more manageable exams and most people need to use only a few key references and study materials to pass them.
The number of topics tested on the Technical Exams is substantially greater than the Pro-Practice Exams and they are much more complicated to study for. Completing the Pro-Practice exams first is a fantastic warm up for more complicated Technical ARE Exams.
Does Architecture experience make a difference in the ARE?
Yes, experience on real design and construction projects will be helpful with the Architect Exam, however I wouldn’t say it always gives people a big advantage.
One thing to be aware of is that often the way things are done every day in the architecture office is not necessarily the right answer when it comes to the ARE.
Having experience is helpful, but it often requires people to relearn many topics, so they can choose the right answer on the exam.
More importantly, after coaching thousands of people for ARE 5.0, I've repeatedly learned that the ability to focus, concentrate and not get distracted has always been more valuable than having many years of architecture experience.
I have worked with many people who have very little experience, but quickly completed the ARE’s because they were efficient with managing their time and their ability to get things done.
Should I take Programming and Analysis (PA) as my first exam?
PA is probably the worst out of all six exams to take first, because it is a very complicated, wordy and technical exam. Many people often take PA as their LAST exam and say it was their HARDEST ARE exam to pass.
Ironically, taking PA as a first exam is often a very common mistake people make and I think I know why.
I think when people read the ARE Guidelines from NCARB to learn about the different exams, the scope of PA comes across as being friendlier and more manageable than most of the other exams. People say to themselves:
I know a little bit about this stuff; I learned a lot of this stuff in architecture school. PA seems like a logical first exam for me!
Instead, finish completing the Pro-Practice Exams first and by that point you’ll have already learned a ton about how to study and take the ARE.
Moving onto PA will be a natural next step.
Would it make sense to study for all the exams and take them all at the same time?
I do not recommend it. I have repeatedly seen this strategy not work for almost everyone who has tried it.
Before I explain why it doesn’t work, there are 2 exceptions:
1. I often recommend studying for all 3 pro-practice exams (PcM, PjM and CE) until you understand the scope of each, in order to make an educated decision to choose one. Then focus exclusively on that particular Pro-Practice Exam.
2. PPD & PDD can be studied together at the same time. Both exams contain most of the same topics, however each exam focuses on a different phase in the project.
Okay here’s why studying for all ARE exams at the same time is not a good approach:
It's just information overload.
Imagine trying to learn how to play piano, guitar, drums, harmonica and violin all at the same time? Yes, they all make music, but each instrument is very different from the next. It might be easier and more effective to allow yourself to at least become competent in 1 instrument before trying to learn the next instrument.
The same thing is true when it comes to the AREs.
Sure, there is overlap between the different exams. However, each exam has very specific detailed information exclusive to that exam which will take focus and dedicated time to wrap your head around.
If the goal is to save time, I want you to know you will move more quickly by doing a very thorough job of studying for each exam, one at a time.
Trying to shortcut the AREs doesn’t work and will actually make the process take longer than if you just take the time to study thoroughly for each exam the first time.
Lastly, I've learned that trying to hack your way through the ARE, never works.
Instead. try focusing on studying, so you can apply this knowledge on your projects and with your clients.
For me personally the knowledge that I acquired studying for the ARE helped me massively understand how the profession works, get a better job and uplevel my life, LONG before I passed all my exams.
Being a Licensed Architect isn’t about passing tests; it’s about protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public and so many more things. The best thing you can do is use the ARE as an educational opportunity to advance your career.
This little mindset shift will help you pass your exams as a by-product of becoming a great Architect!
How long should I study for each ARE 5.0 exam?
Study for as long as it takes for you to feel confident.
Often, whatever is going on in your personal life will dictate how fast you complete the ARE.
I disagree with anyone who says it only takes a month, or whatever arbitrary amount of time, to study for an exam. Because, we’re human beings, not robots or machines.
Someone who studies 35 hours each week for a month is very different then someone who studies 5 hours each week for a month.
All of us have different skills, education and preferences. Let your ability to synthesize and learn the information dictate how long you should study for an exam. Often times people say,
If you spend too long studying for an exam, you’ll forget what you learned when you started.
My response is, if this is a concern then you never really learned it in the first place.
The ARE isn’t testing your ability to memorize information. No, it goes much deeper
The ARE is testing your ability to interpret lots of different pieces of information and then choose the right decision, which makes studying a much bigger project then trying to memorize something.
Most importantly, understand the timeline for accomplishing this work isn’t the same for everyone, so figure out what works for YOU and not some arbitrary timeline.
The Bottom Line
I strongly suggest completing the Professional practice exams first (PcM, PjM and CE), BEFORE moving onto the Technical Exams (PA, PPD, PDD). This ARE exam order is the most common and has repeatedly proven to be successful. It is a proven and reliable method to get the most out of your study time and help you move confidently through studying for the AREs.
Want to know more about strategy for getting started with taking the Architect Registration Exam? Join my next webinar: How To Confidently Pass ARE 5.0 in 2022: Online Webinar with Q&A where I go into more detail on this approach, while sharing many practical study methods and answering any questions you might have!