The Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) is currently a progression of seven exams that focus on different elements of the architectural field. This is an incredible achievement in the profession and allows one to progress in their career. Preparation and drive to succeed are essential in completing this undertaking. The approach is different for every individual, and below are accounts of taking the ARE from the perspective of three individuals at various points in their career.
The recent graduate just beginning: Josh Westerman, Associate AIA:
As a student at Oklahoma State University, overcoming sleep deprivation and maneuvering tedious deadlines were all difficulties of studying architecture. I know for myself that the everyday challenge of school was to prepare myself for the possibility of becoming a licensed architect after graduation. Becoming licensed was an undertaking that had always been encouraged by my professors and sought after by my peers. School provided the basic information and tools for success, but actually achieving that task is open ended once school had ended.
Upon graduating I knew I wanted to expedite the process of licensure but was truly lost as to where exactly to start. In a time where life is adjusting swiftly and acclimating to a new job is top priority, having a plan of action to study for the ARE fell short. I was active in logging my IDP hours by completing entries on a weekly basis alongside my firms work timesheet, but for a two month period, preparing for the ARE was nonexistent. Thanks to my firm and its interaction with the local chapter of AIA Eastern Oklahoma I was introduced to an initiative that welcomed emerging professionals to learn together on the road to becoming licensed.
Having the ability to meet on a weekly basis with other likeminded individuals with similar goals has been a tremendous learning experience. Providing guest lecturers, insight from peers with different work experience, and availability of shared study resources, the program has been an incredible means to reaching that ultimate goal of licensure. The study group is very convenient with pizza and beer provided at the weekly meetings. I generally try to study an hour a night and four to eight hours on weekends, along with the weekly group setting. Having only been involved with the program a short time, and taking a brief hiatus due to life, I am still looking for my first pass on a test. I am continuing to log my IDP hours, slowly but ever so getting closer to the ultimate goal, a license. I am only at the beginning of the process, but know I have a good foundation to build upon with the support network provided by the study groups.
The family man at the cusp of completion: Josh Kunkel, Associate AIA:
My ARE experience so far does not fit any real “traditional experience. Through my year and a half of testing I have experienced the birth of my second son, switched jobs, sold a house, and purchased a new house which I (with a tremendous amount of help from my contractor dad) have gutted and rebuilt. I have worked 60 hour weeks and 40 hour weeks. I have gone on vacation. I have served as committee chairs and been on other committees. Needless to say, I have also lived a full life while studying and taking my exams.
First and foremost, this would not have been possible without the love, support and sacrifice from my beautiful wife. In addition to being a full time mom, she has also had to cover for my absence at home while I have been studying and preparing for my exams. I am pretty sure that she is ready for me to be licensed even more than I am.
For me, getting licensed was really about finishing what I had started. I didn’t go to five years of school at Oklahoma State University just to get out and not be able to call myself an architect. After graduating in May of 2012, getting a job at Dewberry, having the birth of my first son, about a year had passed by and I was really getting the itch to start testing. I discovered early on that my enthusiasm to get licensed was contagious, and that if I was going through all the effort, I might as well do it with my peers. After some conversations with my design director, we set out to create a beta test program that could be used for the basis of an official AIA Eastern Oklahoma sponsored ARE study group. Our first meeting we ended up with ten people in attendance, which was a good size group.
The study group was to be set up as two months per test, meeting every Tuesday for six weeks and then two weeks for rest and testing. We chose to use this order for taking our test based on many recommendations from those who have taken it before: CDS, PPP, SPD, BDCS, BS, SS, and SD. Week one is an intro and taking the NCARB practice test cold turkey. Week two is watching vignette videos. Week three and four is related content guest lectures. Week five is taking the Ballast practice test. Week six is flash card speed dating. This proved to be overall successful. It was the right amount of time to be motivated in the beginning, slack off and let life happen in the middle and then push it out at the end. It was not a sprint like so many other offered study sessions, it was a marathon.
After several months, and multiple tests, I and a few others had passed every one of our tests to this point. At this time, I had received an offer to join another firm, Selser Schaefer Architects, which after much consideration, I obliged. It was also about this time that an official committee, which I led, formed to start the groundwork for the official AIA Eastern Oklahoma ARE study group. Also, I found out that my wife was pregnant with our second son, so I now had a new timeframe for finishing testing.
After passing a few more tests, the opportunity came to purchase a house in our ideal neighborhood at a price we couldn’t refuse. The only catch was that it was a gut job and would require me to work on the house every day for four to six months straight. We decided to buy it and thus began my “break”. Also during this time we sold our old house, the official ARE study group was launched with 20 people, I failed my first test (building systems), and the birth of my second son was imminent.
I knew that if I was to become licensed in any reasonable amount of time, I would really need to work on testing and IDP concurrently (my state allows for this). I made sure to ask for hours in categories I was not getting in my day to day. Some were still definitely harder to get than others, even with asking. I used a design competition to help with some of my hours and then by the luck of the draw NCARB approved the five year rolling clock back logging of hours. This last item put my hours to a close in September.
The next six months were difficult, to say the least. I was working 70 plus hour weeks between my job and my house project. I was getting no sleep because of the newborn. All of the momentum I had going for my testing was gone, but the mental nagging was still there, especially since the last test was a fail. So after my house was completed, I took a week “break” and then started back on re-taking building systems. Surprisingly, I gained all of my momentum from before back. I had only failed the vignette, so I spent two weeks refreshing to retake. I passed. I then started on structures and planned about six weeks of studying. I have taken the test and passed. I am now only taking about four weeks to study for schematic design. You can see my momentum has quickened here. The first five tests I took approximately two months between tests and the last ones are much shorter. The desire to be finished is really pushing me now. We will see how that turns out in the next month or so.
I will be finished and licensed shortly before my third year out of school. To many this seems to be lightning speed, but of my graduating class of 30, two have already finished and three more are in the same boat I am in. After completing my license I plan to spend more time with my wife and two sons and I plan to start reading real books (not study guides!). I guess my point is that the licensure process can be completed through any amount of circumstances; you just have to decide that it is important.
The experienced and licensed architect: William Mills, AIA:
I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree in May of 2007. I knew that I wanted a career in architecture, not just a degree in it, so I interviewed with and was hired by Jaeger Nickola & Associates (JNA), a full-service architecture firm just outside Chicago. Since I viewed licensure as a critical step to advance within the profession, I began logging IDP hours immediately after starting work. In 2009, Illinois’ architecture board passed ARE concurrency, allowing me to begin testing while still completing a number of difficult-to-acquire experience areas (namely Construction Observation and Bidding & Contract Negotiation).
I decided on my preferred test order and began studying, primarily by myself so I could set my own pace, but occasionally with a partner when a coworker was preparing for the same exam. JNA kept a library of older but still highly useful study materials, including flash cards and study guides for each test. I purchased a new ARE Review Manual to use as an overview, and also supplemented with exam-specific resources like MEEB and AHPP that I owned from school. I especially focused on the vignettes, since failing any of those would lead to failing the entire exam and they required familiarity with NCARB’s unique software too. Posting my practice solutions for review online and reviewing others’ work as well proved to be a tremendous resource. Finally, a few days before each test, I took the Ballast division-specific practice exam, all seven of which were available at the Chicago Public Library.
JNA provided paid time off work to take each test for employees pursuing licensure, which not only proved helpful for scheduling flexibility, but also served as tangible evidence of the firm’s support for interns looking to further their careers. I took my first exam in November 2009 with the goal of completing all seven within a year. That proved too optimistic as I took a six-month break from testing to help plan my upcoming wedding. About six weeks after the honeymoon I started studying again and began taking a test roughly every two months. Fortunately I was able to pass all seven exams on the first try, completing the last one in June of 2011. Finally, I used the Emerging Professional’s Companion to help complete my remaining core experience areas of IDP by the end of 2011, and in January of 2012 I became a licensed architect in the State of Illinois.
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