By: Samantha Szeszulski, AIA Detroit
The Architectural Registration Examination can be daunting. With six exams in the 5.0 series, it can be overwhelming to decide where and how to begin. It can be tempting to delay starting until you “have the time” to focus on it, but busy people tend to only get busier, and it is unlikely that an ideal time to focus on the exam will arise. I would advise not to wait, and to get started on the exams as soon as possible. The ARE starts to feel a little less daunting once you dive in and get that first test under your belt. Below are some tips on how to get started:
It is important to approach the ARE with a plan. Will you follow that plan in its entirety? Probably not. Will it change over time? More than likely. But a plan helps to set goals, long and short term, to set your personal expectations for how frequently you plan to study, and deadlines for when you need to be scheduling and taking your exams. It also helps plan for study methods and accountability tactics (both of which I’ll discuss later). It’s important for this plan to be realistic, so consider important work deadlines and life events to the best of your ability. We all know both our work and our personal lives tend to throw us surprises every now and again, hence the need for flexibility in your plan.
Accountability helps to keep you focused on your plan. If possible, it’s ideal to identify a friend or colleague, preferably starting to test at the same time as you, to be that main method of accountability. By identifying someone you see or speak to often, it becomes a frequent reminder of this goal you’re trying to achieve. If there is not a person who immediately comes to mind, think about others from your firm or from school who should also be testing but may not have started yet. You might be the push they need to get going. In the long run, both they and their firm will thank you for it.
If you’re not able to identify one single person as your accountability partner, find another way to hold yourself accountable. Or better yet, have both! Maybe that second form of accountability is a group through your local AIA chapter, a work place based group, or a social media based group.
Whichever way you find it, accountability is key to keeping focus. It acts as that constant reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish. With accountability comes comradery. Even better than the reminder to study, it gives you an outlet to celebrate victories throughout the journey, because only those in the profession can truly understand what exactly this journey entails.
The next important step is to gather the resources needed to study—the study guides, practice tests, resources manuals, textbooks, flashcards, class notes, videos, blog entries, and courses. To this, let me add a major caveat: do not drown yourself in study materials! This is where people begin to overwhelm themselves. If you sit down in front of a stack of textbooks and papers, you begin to feel like it is an impossible task to conquer all that content—and it is!
Start with what you have available to you. That is likely old textbooks, notes, and handouts from school if you’re a recent graduate. Focus on the notes and handouts, as those already translate the more in-depth information provided in textbooks down to a more succinct, digestible selection, focusing on the most important points.
After you identify only the most valuable resources, expand your scope to any other resources that are most conveniently available to you. This might be resources at work, free phone apps (such as Quizlet), or resources available through your local library or AIA chapter. Again, pick out only those that are going to be the most valuable use of your time. When it comes to books, focus on things that already begin to convey more complex information as rules of thumb, such as Architectural Graphic Standards or The Architect’s Studio Companion.
After you’ve explored resources that are already available at your convenience, then begin to look at what else you need to fill in the gaps. I recommend using at least one of the major study resources for each of the tests, such as Brightwood, and at least one practice exam for each test. Again, it is important to be deliberate as to how many different study materials you try to use, and to what extent you use them. Don’t try to learn every aspect of every topic that might be covered on the exam. If you approach study resources in this more focused manner instead, I’ll wager you can save yourself a lot of time and stress.
As you begin studying, know what study tactics work for you. Again, be realistic with yourself. However you study best, give yourself the opportunity to study that way. This includes time of day, location, how long, and how often. Will you study alone, with one other person, or in a group? If there are times of day that studying isn’t productive for you, don’t force yourself to try to study at those times. You’ll tire yourself out and be less productive when you do have the right study conditions.
Schedule your first exam and take it! As I mentioned before, the whole process seems much less daunting once you get one test under your belt…pass or fail. While the tests can be quite lengthy, they aren’t infinite, meaning they can only fit so much content into one test. This means you can do well, and even pass, an exam without knowing every bit of content from the study materials. You might surprise yourself on what you do know.
Don’t be afraid to fail! While the expense might hurt, a first look at the exam is likely a better learning opportunity than most of the study materials out there, and you’ll only be more prepared the next time around. Schedule fails into your plan! Count on having to take at least one or two of the exams more than once. That way, if you pass them all the first time around, you’ve exceeded your expectations. If you do have to retake a few, you’ll be right on schedule!
Everyone tests differently, and everyone’s experience with the exams will be different. So preparing for the exams should be handled differently for everyone as well. Hopefully, the guidelines above can help you get started, but the most important piece of advice would be to know yourself and know what will and won’t work for you. Most of us have been through many, many years of school to get to this point. You have at least some idea of what works for you and what does not. You also know that to do well, these exams must be a priority. The ARE exams are just the next step in your architectural education. If you carry the same mindset toward the exams as you maintained through school, you’ll likely perform similarly!