New to the ARE 5.0? START HERE | The BEST order to take your architect registration exams
Congratulations! You're about to start your challenging and rewarding ARE® journey!
With several exams, knowing where to start can be confusing and stressful.
Fear not. I got you!
As a new exam candidate, there's one question that’s always coming up:
"WHICH EXAM SHOULD I TAKE FIRST?"
Today, we will explore factors to consider which exam to tackle first, two reasons you should, and how to pivot when things don’t go your way. At the end of this post, check out all the awesome ARE® resources available.
Facing a new challenge to become a licensed architect can stump ANYONE. Still, with the valuable insights to help you confidently navigate this step, you’ll build the foundation for a successful ARE® journey in no time!
I know I'm not the first to talk about this, and you've probably already heard dozens of people tell you which exam is the best or easiest to take first. So, before I reveal which exam I believe you should take first, I want to talk about two things I always hear from fellow architects on how they decide on their first exam.
"IN MY JOB, I WORK ON . I'LL START WITH BECAUSE I HAVE THE MOST EXPERIENCE IN IT."
In all fairness, it DOES make so much sense! If you’re working on something every day and understand the ins and outs of it, taking the related exam first would be the most logical thing, right?
Well… Not to burst any bubbles here, but the AREs are scholastic exams and are not always based on the actual practice and what we work with daily. I know ACTUAL work experience is one of the best teachers, but NCARB doesn’t always base its questions on fieldwork. It can be ridiculous to hear sometimes, but these exams aren’t just about the know-how and how we’ve navigated through work. These exams are more about figuring out and understanding what answers NCARB wants.
This brings me back to when I was studying for PA (Programming & Analysis); I honestly felt like I got it in the bag. At that time, I was running my own business WHILE working on this fantastic ocean-side house just a block away from the cliffs. There were so many things to consider for this project: the coast, the cliff, the sun, and even the steep topography. Working on the analysis and diagrams day in and day out for this project was a handful, but it made me feel confident to take on PA.
You can only imagine my reaction when I learned I failed the PA exam. I couldn’t even put into words how confused and shocked I was. “How could I have failed an exam about what I’m doing every single day?” That whole experience knocked me down, but it taught me that even if you have experience in something, it doesn’t mean the exam will be a breeze.
Real-life experience is a HUGE plus for our career growth, but it isn’t technically what we should be studying when it comes to the ARE®. So if you were like the past me who thought it would be an easy win just because of your work experience, I highly recommend that you take a step back and try to understand what NCARB is looking for instead of solely relying on your work experience for knowledge.
“I WANT TO START WITH THE HARD EXAMS."
This was my mindset going into the AREs, which is such a typical architect mindset! “We can do hard things, so let’s just do it! Come at me!” But I quickly learned that this wasn’t the way to go when I started studying for the AREs and heard the previous exam passers' advice.
The AREs are a complex set of exams, and everyone will have their own opinion on which subjects are easier and which are hard. But the exam's content isn’t the only thing you should consider when studying for them; it’s the WHOLE PROCESS of the exam.
SO WHAT EXAM SHOULD YOU TAKE FIRST?
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT (PcM)
Why? Well, I have two reasons.
As I mentioned a few seconds ago, it's not just the exam's content that’s important. The PcM exam isn’t technically “easy,” as some might believe. In my honest opinion, it's pretty difficult. But what you need to study for the exam is more focused and not as broad as the other exams.
Starting with the pro-practice exams is a great way to dip your toes in the water. Besides starting your ARE® journey with a subject that isn’t as demanding as the other subjects, you’ll also be giving yourself the liberty to get a better feel of the whole process of the AREs. Like being familiar with the testing center, familiarizing yourself with what the exams look like, sitting for hours, and even seeing the results. Starting out with PcM is a great first stepping stone to starting the AREs comfortably and CONFIDENTLY.
The other reason PcM is the best exam to start with is that it’s a BUILDING BLOCK. Think of the whole process like architecture: begin with the foundation and move up. You have to nail the basics and cement that foundational knowledge in your mind before you go to the more technical exams.
In what order should you take the exams?
Practice Management (PcM)
Project Management (PjM)
Construction Evaluation (CE)
Programming & Analysis (PA)
Project Planning & Design (PPD)
Project Development & Documentation (PDD)
This is the exact order I recommend you take your exams.
As I said earlier, the exams are building blocks, and you’ll need to lay the foundation before proceeding to the next step. In PcM, you'll learn fundamental concepts such as contracts and business operations, providing essential knowledge for PjM topics. In PjM, you'll delve further into specific areas like contract details, project roles, and entrepreneurship. Continuing with CE, you'll explore PjM topics even more intricately.
The same principle applies to the technical exams. Starting with PA and progressing through PPD and PDD, you'll delve deeper into the details of each subject, studying and gaining more in-depth knowledge.
What to do if you fail...
As I said in my last post, failing the AREs is not rare. The average is only 55%. Heck, I even failed a couple of them, too! So if you fail an exam, I have some advice.
If you fail PcM, you should continue studying for it and schedule it for 60 days out; Right when you're eligible to take it again. The key word is “schedule.” I know there are a ton of emotions right after finding out that you didn’t pass, so it can be difficult to process everything and focus on rescheduling your exam. But while the information is still fresh in your mind, take advantage of it. Use the 60 days to heal, pick yourself up, and study.
If you happen to fail PcM a second time, I recommend you move on to PjM. Give yourself a week or two to relax and get back on your feet. Then, set your PjM exam for six weeks from now and your PcM exam for two weeks after PjM. Trust that you’ve studied enough and that your knowledge is enough. Plus, studying for PjM is also like studying for PcM, too!
If you fail PjM, move on to CE and retake PjM after two or three weeks.
If you’re done with PcM and PjM but fail CE, I suggest you retake CE after 60 days before moving on to the technical exams. The technical exams are another beast! They dive into a lot more topics. Completing the pro-practice exams before facing the technical exams is a great way to keep you focused on the topics of the technical exams.
It isn’t a make-or-break situation, but deciding which exam to take first can set the tone for your entire ARE® journey. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, understanding NCARB’s requirements, the whole process, and your strengths can help you make an informed decision. Whether you go with your gut or be more strategic, remember that each exam is an opportunity for growth and development, pass or fail.
I hope this post cleared things up, helped you decide which exam to take first, and motivated you to work confidently towards that license!
Indeed, you’ll never feel 100% ready for the ARE®, but don’t let that hinder you!
Take the leap and go for it.
You’ll be done before you know it!
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