The Worst Advice For The Architect Exam

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Trying to shortcut the architect registration exam just doesn’t work. Often, people end up wasting more time trying to hack the ARE, than they would have, if they just studied hard (and well) the first time.

The shortest route to completing the architect exam is to work really hard and to focus. I wish there wasn’t any advice out there that contradicted this reasoning, but unfortunately, that’s not true.  

I disagree with most of the conventional ARE Advice out there—because I know there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to taking the Architect Exam.  

One of the biggest problems with the ARE is that people follow advice and go down paths that simply don’t apply to them.

Let’s discuss the bad advice I’m talking about.

The Architecture Professions Top 10 Worst Pieces of ARE Advice

1. “Create a plan, and schedule all the exams before you start studying.”

More often than not, creating elaborate plans and study schedules before any work has been done, sets up ARE Candidates for failure, not success.  

We’re trained to be planners, thinkers, and problem-solvers. Naturally, it makes sense to “Make a plan and stick to it.” for attacking the ARE’s. Unfortunately, spending too much time planning before you’ve taken any action is like reading about how to ride a surfboard, without spending any time in the water. All the theory and planning will quickly go out the window once you start studying and realize all the unforeseen conditions.   

Better Advice:  

Worry about one day at a time and one test at a time. Some tests are much more complicated than others. If you can consistently show up and focus on what studying needs to happen for that day, you’ll have the flexibility to adjust your course as necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be sticking to some silly plan you created when you had no knowledge of the process.

2. “Just study enough to pass the test. Don’t bother studying too hard.”

In both architecture school and the profession, I’ve never chosen to surround myself with people with a “do the minimum” attitude. It’s not about being good enough. In architecture, good enough isn’t good enough. Architecture school was never about just getting a passing grade to get to the next level.

We didn’t pursue architecture because we thought it would be easy. We pursued architecture because we wanted to work hard.

Better Advice:

Treat studying for the architect exam like an opportunity to become a better architect. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives practicing architecture. The knowledge you’ll learn from this experience WILL make you more successful, and it WILL help you earn more money. In fact, the rest of your career is dependent upon the knowledge you’ll learn studying for the ARE. No pressure.

Focus on becoming a knowledgeable and highly competent Architect, rather than a “Minimally Competent Architect”, which ironically is all the ARE is looking to measure.

3. “It should only take 1 month (or 7 weeks or any other arbitrary amount of time) to study for that exam.”

1 month?!???

Okay, so does that mean studying 5 hours a week, or 50 hours a week?!???  

How much does a pair of shoes cost? $20 or $200?

Discussing time frames is completely arbitrary, unless we’re talking about hours spent studying.  More importantly, there are countless variables that come into play with success on the ARE. So a time frame that worked for one person won’t necessarily work for another person.

Better Advice:

Measure your studying by counting the hours, NOT the weeks or months. As a rule of thumb, give yourself 100 hours on the first few exams. You’ll find your stride after you pass a few exams, and you’ll be able to adjust your course accordingly.

4. “When you’re getting 70% or better on the practice tests, you’re ready to take the exam.”

The fine folks who write the ARE practice exams are NOT the same people who write the questions for the exams. Even worse, all ARE publishers tend to write practice questions that are exclusively catered to their own content.

So if you study the Ballast ARE Review REALLY hard, you’ll do pretty well on the Ballast Practice Test.

But let’s say you study everything except the Ballast book REALLY hard, then take the Ballast Practice Test. You’ll do awful, regardless of how well you know the content.

There’s no parallel between success on the practice exams and the actual exams.  They’re not dress rehearsals for the actual exams.

Better Advice:

ARE practice questions are nothing more than tools to help you learn the content. Use them to help you find the gaps in your knowledge, and inform you of what you need to study.

You may know the ARE Content really well, but it takes practice to recall all this information on a moment’s notice. And that’s no small thing.

So from the moment you start studying for each exam, always work on the ARE practice questions.

5. “Forget the reading. Just watch the videos, and you’ll pass all your exams.”

When you’re reading, watching videos, and listening to audio content, your brain digests information in drastically different ways. It’s great that you have access to all this video content, but you cannot and will not pass the architect exam if you avoid all the written content. You must read.

If you study for the ARE’s by only watching videos, it’s like showing up to architecture school and refusing to pick up a pencil or build a physical model, because you know how to use AutoCAD. It might work for a little while, but it’s not going to get you very far. Besides its just easier to pick up a pencil.

Better Advice:

When you first get started, the challenge in reading all the content is very real. I encourage people to embrace the challenge of reading at the very beginning of their ARE journey. The more you read, the easier it will get. TRUST ME. When you do push through, you’ll be devouring very technical documents with little intimidation, and reading faster than you ever have. But it takes work to get there.

60% of your time studying should be spent reading textbooks and other materials. The other 40% should be spent watching videos, working on practice questions, and anything else related to the ARE.  

I’ll be the first to admit that, too much reading is the fastest way to fry your brain or get burned out, so make sure that you supplement all the reading with other types of studying. Read when you’re wide awake, and watch the videos when you’re tired and had a long day.

6. “Immediately retake the failed exams while the information is still fresh in your mind.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

How many times are you going to reread the content that didn’t help you pass the exam? You’ve already read it 20 times. So will reading it another 20 times help it make more sense?

Better Advice:

Unless you’re working on your last exam, always shift your focus onto another exam after receiving a failure. The ARE’s builds on themselves, so the work you did for a failed exam will help you with the next one. And the work you do on the next exam will help you when you go back to retake the failed one.

7. “You have a lot of experience, so passing the ARE should be a walk in the park.”

There are moments when your 20 years of experience will help, and it’s beautiful when that does happen.  But we’re talking about moments.

When it comes to completing the Architect Exam, I wouldn’t say that having 20 years of experience or having no experience is a game changer. Just because you’ve been doing it the same way for 20 years doesn’t mean that it’s the correct answer on the exam.

Better Advice:

During the ARE, the ability to FOCUS and concentrate on the exam is 100 times more valuable than 20 years of experience practicing architecture.

Figure out what you need to do to find clarity. Maybe it’s exercise, meditation, waking up early, or drinking lots of coffee. It’s really all about focus and concentration.

8. “Just study XYZ publisher. That’s all you need to do to pass the test.”

No ARE publisher is perfect. All of them have errors, omissions, or other problems with their information. No ARE Publisher will ever be perfect, despite their claims to be exactly that.

Better Advice:

Luckily, there are more publishers and creators of study content than ever. My attitude is to try everything, and figure out what works for you. Some publishers will bore you and put you to sleep, while you’ll think others are fun and hilarious.  Decide for yourself, and don’t listen to other people’s opinions too much.

9. “Tell your friends, family, employer, and everyone else you know that you’re taking the ARE’s, so they can hold you accountable.”

Rather than hold you accountable, it’s just more people to tell when you don’t pass a division of the exam.

Regardless of how hard you study, the chances are very high that you’ll fail an exam. Yes, I just wrote that. A lot of people are going to get mad at me for writing that, but it’s the truth. Don’t get mad at me. Hate the game, not the player.

Failing the ARE isn’t a big deal. Lots of people fail the ARE every single day. It’s part of the process (or the hero’s journey) for becoming a licensed architect.  I failed the ARE FOUR TIMES. Frequently, I see people in my ARE Facebook Group fail more exams than they actually pass.

I fail. You fail. We all fail. However, you’re only a failure if you give up because you didn’t pass an exam.

Better Advice:  

Please stop telling everyone you’re taking the ARE. Grandma doesn’t understand what we’re up against. This process makes absolutely no sense to anyone who doesn’t live in the ARE world. People love to compare Architect Licensing to other professions, and it’s just a waste of breath.

Honestly, completing the ARE’s is such a bumpy journey that it’s really not worth talking about it until you’ve passed all of them.

Surround yourself with other ARE Candidates, support each other and discuss the exams with them only.

10. “You need to update your ARE Study Materials.”

No ya don’t.

Many firms, AIA Chapters, and people who aren’t in the know get royally screwed by following this advice. DO NOT THROW AWAY ARE 4.0 STUDY MATERIALS.

All the publishers have created new content, reorganized, and readjusted their 4.0 study materials. So everything is up-to-date with ARE 5.0, except for Brightwood (formally Kaplan).  Brightwood has made a fortune selling the ARE Community study materials that they claim are updated, even though they haven’t revised a damn thing.

Be careful with Brightwood (formerly Kaplan). They did a really bad job with their 5.0 content. So it’s easier to use their old 4.0 materials to study for ARE 5.0.

Practice Management (PcM) is the only exam that contains content that wasn’t previously covered in ARE 4.0. Use The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (15th Edition) to study for PcM.

Better Advice:

Even though ARE 4.0 carries over to ARE 5.0, spend a few minutes learning about the scope of each ARE 4.0 exam. When you use the “old and outdated” study materials, the time you invest will be worth thousands of dollars.

Okay, Enough with The Advice!?!!!

Just work hard, be thorough, become your own advocate, and help others that aren’t as far along as you. Focus on that and you’ll get through taking your exams. All this stuff is crappy advice and just noise.

About

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. 
Connect: Linkedin / Facebook / Instagram

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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