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What Order to Take the ARE 5.0

The age old question for ARE candidates remains: What order do I take the ARE in? We’re here to give you the classic, “It depends.” But we have laid out the varying strategies to help you decide which path will give you the most success. 

A few housekeeping notes to get out of the way first - 

  • Once you begin testing, your rolling clock starts and you have five years to complete all six divisions. 
  • If you fail (this happens to the best of us), you can dust yourself off and take the exam again in 60 days. 
  • Check out the ARE Handbook to see what objectives are covered in each division.

Taking all of that into consideration, we’ve talked to architects, learning experts and ARE candidates to come up with the five most common and effective approaches to conquering these six divisions: 

  • Like-Divisions Together

Killing two birds with one stone is a well known proverb for a reason - it’s the picture of efficiency. How this relates to the ARE is finding divisions with content overlap and double dipping your study efforts to master both topics at once. An example of this is Project Planning & Design (PPD) and Project Development & Documentation (PDD). These exams have enough similarities that candidates are apt to combine their preparation for both divisions to knock them out back-to-back. 

  • Experience and Expertise 

Do you currently work in an area that lends itself to a certain division? You might have more experience working in firm management so Practice Management (PcM) is a first choice for you. Take this approach in prioritizing the exam you feel is most passable based on your skill set, so you can get an “easy” pass under your belt and the confidence you need to propel you through the remaining divisions.

  • Traditionally Easier Divisions First 

We’re playing the odds a bit here. The pass rates for Construction & Evaluation (CE) are the highest of any division, with the 2019 NCARB national average at 70% and the Black Spectacles at 83%* in the same year. It doesn’t mean this exam is easy per se, but statistically, it’s passed at the highest rate. If you want to gain some momentum and get your feet wet with the process, this is a good place to start. 

  • More Challenging Division First

Conversely, you could get the “hardest” division out of the way first. We use quotations as a reminder that these qualifiers are all relative; what comes more naturally to you may trip up your colleague. Using the same data to determine the CE rates, the 2019 NCARB national average states the division with the lowest pass rate is PPD, coming in at 42%, with users only using Black Spectacles passing at a 50% rate. With a national average at less than 50%, taking this exam on first probably means you like a challenge, and so do we. 

  • The Order NCARB Lists Them

Maybe you're a traditionalist. Maybe you like following orders. All good traits. If so, you could conquer the ARE in the order the divisions are listed by NCARB: 

Practice Management

Project Management 

Programming & Analysis

Project Planning & Design 

Project Development & Documentation 

Construction & Evaluation

If this has given you the motivation or the knowledge you need to get started, see how a Black Spectacles Membership can help you pass each division. To chat with other ARE candidates on how they’re approaching their exam process, visit our ARE Community

*Black Spectacles pass rates are based on users who self report their scores and only use Black Spectacles material.