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What is the ARE?

 The Architect Registration Examination (ARE®) is a six-division exam developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Completing the ARE is one of the biggest steps in becoming a licensed architect. In this introduction to the ARE, we'll break down what it is, how long it takes to complete, how much it costs, and much more.

+ Purpose of the Exam

NCARB designed the ARE to assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities of those seeking a career in architecture and design. 

Passing the ARE is an important step in earning an architectural license in the United States, as it’s the official registration exam for those seeking architectural licensure in U.S. jurisdictions.

+ The Exam's 6 Divisions

The ARE is broken down into six distinct “divisions,” each designed to test your understanding of important architectural concepts.

  • Practice Management
  • Project Management 
  • Programming & Analysis
  • Project Planning & Design
  • Project Development & Documentation
  • Construction & Evaluation

Each division consists of a proctored, timed test that must be passed in order to complete the ARE.

Why Take the ARE?

While it’s true that you can still practice architecture without taking the ARE, passing the ARE is a crucial step in becoming a licensed architect. The keyword being “licensed.”

There are many benefits of becoming licensed. As a licensed architect, you can:

1. Advance Your Career

A license gives you an instant competitive edge, both for clients seeking trusted architects and firms seeking distinguished partners with accreditation. Considering over 2,700 individuals completed the ARE in 2020, it may even be a disadvantage not to have licensure when being considered for a job in the industry.

2. Earn More Money

Securing more esteemed positions and projects comes with undeniable financial perks. In fact, according to the AIA Compensation Survey Salary Calculator, the average licensed architect can earn $6,000 more per year than the average unlicensed counterpart.

3. Build Your Legacy

With licensure, you can finally sign off on drawings, officially add the word “architect” to your email signature and present that prestigious NCARB credential with pride. 

All that sound good? Great. Let’s explain the path to becoming a licensed architect.

How to Become a Licensed Architect

There are three key aspects to obtaining an architecture license: education, experience, and examination.

1. Education

Typically, the career path to becoming an architect starts with finding a school that offers a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Along with achieving an undergraduate degree from one of the 120 NAAB-accredited schools, aspiring architects often seek out a Master of Architecture (MArch).

2. Experience

As with many modern-day professions, a college degree alone is often not enough to set you apart in the field. In many ways, your portfolio will speak for itself, but going from textbook to the field can be hard without mentorship. That’s why those pursuing licensure are required to gain experience under the supervision of a practicing architect. The Architectural Experience Program (AXP) is designed to teach you the ins and outs of architecture by continuing your learning, shadowing a professional, and building a portfolio. Licensure candidates must record a total of 3,740 AXP hours with NCARB.

3. Examination

During or after completing your AXP hours, your next step is assessing your competency to practice architecture independently, without relying on another architect. You must demonstrate your individual knowledge and skills by passing NCARB's ARE 5.0. This is what we're here to talk about.

If you have achieved your degree, completed the AXP, and are here to learn about the ARE, you are at step number three of the five necessary milestones to achieve an architecture license, although steps and requirements may vary by jurisdiction. Because the ARE is such an important accomplishment towards furthering your career in architecture, it’s no surprise that 16,173 candidates participated in testing in 2021, according to NCARB. Will you add to the count in years to come?

The 6 Divisions of the ARE 5.0

 

To pass the ARE, you must pass six separate divisions, which focus on different subject areas:

  • Practice Management
  • Project Management 
  • Programming & Analysis
  • Project Planning & Design
  • Project Development & Documentation
  • Construction & Evaluation

While there’s debate over the most efficient order to take the divisions, they can be studied and tested in any order. If you're looking for guidance on testing order be sure to bookmark our ARE Live episode on the topic. Now let's take a closer look at what each division covers:

 

Practice Management

Should you ever wish to open an architecture practice, this portion of the exam prepares you for all things business structure and development. 

The Practice Management (PcM) division of the ARE contains 65 questions and is a 2-hour and 40-minute test with 30 minutes of break time allowed. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Business Operations
  • Finances, Risk, & Development of Practice
  • Practice-Wide Delivery of Services
  • Practice Methodologies

Want a further breakdown of the PcM topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about PcM here.

 

Project Management

This division of the ARE is all about managing architectural projects, from contract management and project scheduling to beyond. 

The Project Management (PjM) division of the ARE contains 75 questions and is a 3-hour test with 30 minutes of break time allowed. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Resource Management
  • Project Work Planning
  • Contracts
  • Project Execution
  • Project Quality Control

Want a further breakdown of the PjM topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about PjM here.

 

Programming & Analysis

All architectural projects have requirements, constraints, and opportunities. This section of the exam will test your abilities to analyze and evaluate them.

The Programming & Analysis (PA) division of the ARE contains 75 questions and is a 3-hour test plus the 30-minute break. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Environmental & Contextual Conditions
  • Codes & Regulations
  • Site Analysis & Programming
  • Building Analysis & Programming

Want a further breakdown of the PA topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about PA here.

 

Project Planning & Design

Ready to focus on design? This part of the exam concentrates on the preliminary design of sites and buildings.

The Project Planning & Design (PPD) division of the ARE contains 100 questions and is a 4-hour and 5-minute test. For this division, you're allotted 45 minutes of break time. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Environmental & Contextual Conditions
  • Codes & Regulations
  • Building Systems, Materials, & Assemblies
  • Project Integration of Program & Systems
  • Project Costs & Budgeting

Want a further breakdown of the PPD topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about PPD here.

 

Project Development & Documentation

A safe architectural design needs to properly list the building systems, materials, and assemblies required to complete the project. This part of the exam assesses your knowledge of the civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and specialty systems of project development.

The Project Development & Documentation (PDD) division of the ARE contains 100 questions and is a 4-hour and 5-minute test with 45 minutes of break time. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Integration of Building Materials & Systems
  • Construction Documentation
  • Project Manual & Specifications
  • Codes & Regulations
  • Construction Cost Estimates

Want a further breakdown of the PDD topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about PDD here.

 

Construction & Evaluation

When it comes time to break ground, you need to know the proper steps to take. This part of the test covers construction contract execution, payment request processing, project closeout, and more. 

The Construction & Evaluation (CE) division of the ARE contains 75 questions and is another 3-hour test. You will be assessed on topics including:

  • Preconstruction Activities
  • Construction Observation
  • Administrative Procedures & Protocols
  • Project Closeout & Evaluation

Want a further breakdown of the CE topics you’ll be tested on? Learn more about CE here.

How Long Does It Take to Complete the ARE?

Unlike the college courses or job shadowing where you learned from a professional in the field, the ARE is a self-guided process, meaning the total time can vary by individual. Let’s consider a few important factors:

Study Time

To accommodate for the average person’s full-time work schedule, many ARE study programs develop a 90-day study plan per division of the exam. Oftentimes, these programs shake out to about 100 hours of study per division. When you do the math, you can expect to invest close to 600 hours of studying to ultimately pass the full ARE. With the right mindset and study materials, though, it is very much possible to complete an exam with a 60-day or even 30-day study schedule. Keep in mind that some material will overlap between divisions!

For those who cannot maintain as strict of a studying schedule, the good news is that you have wiggle room. Starting from the date you take your first passed division, you have five years to complete all divisions before your clock runs out.

Length of Exams

Test appointment duration for each division averages 3-5 hours each, which equates to over 24 hours of total exam time. You can find a breakdown of each exam division by the number of exam questions, test duration, allowed break time, and total appointment time in NCARB’s ARE 5.0 Guidelines.

Retakes

With an average pass rate of 55% per division, retakes are a very real possibility, especially if you have not leveraged the best study materials on the market. Candidates can retake a failed division of the ARE up to three times, as early as 60 days after the previous attempt of that division. A candidate may only take the same division of the ARE three times within any 12-month time frame.

How Do I Pass the ARE?

At this point, we've established that there are six divisions to study for and six corresponding timed tests to take before ultimately passing the ARE. But exactly what work do you need to put in to prepare for each division and ultimately pass the ARE?

Access the ARE Handbook

To study for the ARE, NCARB created a 173-page ARE® Handbook. In the Handbook, you will find the following:

  • Descriptions of ARE 5.0 and information on how the exam is structured to assess candidates
  • A breakdown of the sections and objectives of each ARE 5.0 division
  • Sample items for each section
  • Suggested resources and references you may refer to while preparing for the exam

Leverage Professional Study Materials

If you are like most people, sitting down and reading a behemoth book is a challenge, and typically not the easiest or most efficient way to learn. Luckily, with the right supportive resources, you can cut down on this time by studying the most relevant content for passing the ARE.

We recommend leveraging engaging resources that tap into multiple learning modals, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. In addition, you need materials that both explain the content (like video lectures and workshops) as well as test recall (like flashcards and practice tests) to ensure you are truly exam-ready.

For best results, we recommend sticking with study programs that are officially approved by NCARB, such as Black Spectacles. On average, individuals who engage in certified study programs have higher pass rates, and in our case, are backed by a guarantee. If you use Black Spectacles test prep to the fullest and have met our Guarantee Requirements,  but still don't pass an exam division we’ll pay for your retake.

How Much Does the ARE Cost?

You’ve already invested a lot of money and time into pursuing your architectural degree. How much more would you be shelling out to take the ARE? Let’s take a look at the breakdown of how much you’d be spending to pass the ARE.

Examination Fees

You must pay a separate fee to take each division of the ARE.

  • Examination cost per division: $235
  • Total cost for all six divisions: $1,410
  • Retake fee per division: $235
  • Rescheduling fees: range from $0-55 per division depending on how many days in advance you have to reschedule.

ARE fees can really add up. Fortunately, some AIA chapters have found ways to assist with exam fee relief programs to reduce the overall cost. 

NCARB Record Fees

In order to take the ARE, you must have an NCARB Record.

  • Application fee for licensure candidates: $100
  • Annual renewal fee for licensure candidates: $85
  • Lapsed Record: $85 annual renewal fee for each year or partial year lapsed, up to $185
  • Transmittal: $385
  • Paper processing fee: $20

(Optional) ARE Test Prep Resources

ARE test prep providers such as Black Spectacles develop in-depth test preparation courses for each division of the ARE. Here are some of the study resources we provide to our members:

  • Video Lectures
  • Practice Exams
  • Quizzes
  • Digital Flashcards
  • Virtual Workshops
  • Practical Application Videos
  • And more!

You can access Black Spectacles ARE study materials for as low as $124.17 a month!

Where Should I Start?

Here at Black Spectacles, we offer the first and only NCARB-approved online test prep resources for all six divisions of ARE 5.0. In addition to our test prep memberships, we also have an arsenal of free content at your disposal - including our monthly podcast, ARE Live. Listen to past episodes to learn more about passing the ARE and sign up for the next live broadcast to kick start your journey to licensure!

LISTEN TO ARE LIVE