The logistics of beginning the testing process are tedious and can seem daunting, but if you treat it like a design problem, it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Here are the seven things I wish I knew before taking the AREs.
1. Decide which state (“jurisdiction”) you want to be licensed in; you can change states later if you move during the testing process. Each state has different requirements for starting the process. You’ll want to go here and follow the instructions for your state. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your state licensing administrators. The states’ websites are notoriously riddled with errors and out-of-date information; talking to a human can clear things up and give you confidence that you are on the right path. NCARB’s customer service operation is quite professional, even if your state’s is spotty: 202.879.0520 or firstname.lastname@example.org
2. While your state’s board will grant you the license to practice, NCARB is the organization that serves as the gatekeeper for the licensing process nationally, administering the six licensure exams and certifying your work experience. If you haven’t already done so, register with NCARB to track your work hours (the program that tracks your hours is called the AXP). If you don’t have one, setup an account with NCARB here. Setting up an account is free, but they will charge you an annual fee to maintain your record.
3. Most states require proof of an accredited architecture college degree before testing can begin. (Though not all states do: I’m talking to you, Wisconsin.) If your state says so, you’ll need to have your university registrar’s office submit your official college transcript directly to NCARB. Don’t send a copy of your transcript to NCARB yourself; they want to open an original, sealed, transcript mailed directly from the university. First, though, check your university’s website or call the registrar’s office to find out about online options for submitting the NCARB form & requesting your transcript. If there is an online option, it is usually significantly faster. Regardless, you’ll complete and submit this form to your alma mater’s registrar. If they don’t have a web-based option for submitting the form, you’ll have to print it out and mail it to their office. Know that this step may take weeks, depending on the speed of your registrar. You may have to follow up with someone if you think your request was lost in the process.
4. Once you’ve created an account with NCARB, established a record with NCARB, and started the AXP (if starting the AXP is required by your jurisdiction), the next step will be requesting approval of your eligibility to take the ARE from your state. Typically, this submission can be found under the Exams tab of your NCARB Record page in your NCARB account. NCARB handles all of this process for most jurisdictions, but in some cases there will be additional forms you’ll need to submit to your jurisdiction’s licensing body. You should hear back from NCARB on your request within a few days. See also NCARB’s official ARE 5.0 Guidelines document here.
5. Congratulations! Once you’re approved to take the exam you can book seats at the test center to take each of these divisions. We recommend booking all of your exams at once to fall in a tight cluster beginning 10 weeks from the day you are cleared to test. The order of the exams doesn’t matter to us. This is intimidating to some, but for most people scheduling the exams first and then studying is both the shortest and surest path to licensure. While there has always been a good deal of overlap in content between exam divisions, overlap is the defining characteristic of ARE 5.0, so better to take all of the tests at once after studying for all of the tests at once. And we are all deadline-oriented people: scheduling the exam first gives you a hard deadline. If 10 weeks sounds too short, you can pick another time window. Exam durations at Prometric testing centers vary between divisions, but fall in the 3.5 hour range, plus the 30 or more minutes it takes to get you queued, checked in, and booted up at the testing center. Each exam division will cost you $235. To sign up for your exams:
- Log in to My NCARB and click on your NCARB Record
- Go to “Exams”
- Click "Pay and schedule" to purchase an open seat
- From the list of ARE 5.0 divisions, select the “Schedule open seat” link for the division you would like to schedule
- Select the “Schedule” link for that division
- You will be taken to Prometric’s website, where you will select a testing location, date, and time from the list of available options
- The appointment will appear in your NCARB Record under the “Exams” tab
6. Enroll in the Amber Book online animated video course. We really do offer the highest likelihood of passing in the shortest amount of time studying. (Search for “Amber” on the NCARB Community forum to see what others are saying about us.) For most, we think that studying only Amber and taking all of your remaining exams at once is the shortest path to licensure. Does this mean that we guarantee that you’ll pass every exam the first time? No: the average pass rate for these divisions is 58% so, for an average ARE candidate, the likelihood of passing all six exam divisions on the first try is less than 4%. Failing some divisions is a feature, not a bug in this process. . . studying with Amber for two months and then taking all of your remaining exams back to back seems to work best for emerging professionals. We’ve helped more than 15,000 emerging professionals before you, and we’d love to help you too!
7. Failed divisions can be retaken after a 60 day waiting period. NCARB will send you a “Fail Report” when you don’t pass an exam: unless that fail report suggests that you failed spectacularly, schedule the retakes for the first available spot and take the test again. At this point, most people watch the Amber course videos again, but if you think that you understood the Amber content and don’t need a refresher, you can start pursuing other study materials specific to the exams you are retaking.
8. As long as you are not failing spectacularly, keep retaking every 60 days. For each of the divisions, there is a limit of two re-takes per year (plus the original exam), so no more than three attempts of any one division in a 365-day window. Once the year is up, you can re-test again. Don’t tell people or post that you are taking an exam because if you fail it sets up an awkward conversation when they ask you how the test went. Instead, tell everyone only after you’ve passed a division and keep the fails to yourself.
9. After you’ve passed all the exam divisions, go celebrate with the loved-ones you ignored while you were studying. Then let me know too at email@example.com.