Updated: Oct 21, 2020
#1 Don't Freak Out
You have 5 years to pass these exams and you can take each exam 3 times a year. That is 15 attempts for each exam. YOU WILL PASS eventually.
#2 Just Breathe
I get anxious before exams. I may even start hyperventilating, which is not a normal thing for me. So I make it a point, as I sit in the waiting room of the testing center, to close my eyes, go to my zen place, and breathe. Slowly and calmly. I am a fan of yoga, and yoga is about making your chest BIG and FILLING IT WITH AIR. I advise breathing in deep for 3 seconds and out for 5. This oxygenates your brain, calms your body, and awakens your mind. This simple act of breathing will take your mind off of the 90-120 questions that are ahead of you. Back to breathing. In...out.
#3 You have a day off!
You are not at the office today! And most offices give you a compensated day off. So taking your exam is like a bonus. Whether you pass or fail, you still have friends and family. People will still care about you and value you. Soon it will be tomorrow. Another day. And you will still be alive and well.
#4 Cramming is useless
How much time have you dedicated to studying, learning, repeating, questioning, studying, learning, and re-repeating all the information for the exam you are about to take? How much of the “hail mary” last-minute studying do you think will stick? Likely, not much. It's a little known fact that unless you "sleep on it", you won't learn it. Cramming before the test is a waste of mental energy and the benefit will never outweigh the damage. Just trust us.
#5 The testing center is a sterile, aseptic facility
Testing centers are Not designed for the architecture exams. As a matter of fact, you are likely the ONLY person there for the ARE. I have encountered another ARE tester only ONCE in all the times I have tested. The employees work for a generic testing company and are not employees of NCARB. They have no direct knowledge of architecture, or what questions you are trying to answer. They are not there to judge you, and they do not care if you pass or fail. Likely, they want you to pass because they are people and if they were in your shoes they would want to pass (and not come back to the scary testing facility ever again).
#6 Computers break!
At least the ones at the two testing centers I've visited. The computers seem to be the same ones you used in middle school, with the same old mouse and keyboard. It's slow. The calculator is ancient and I will be honest...you are going to HATE it.
During my last exam, the screen went completely BLACK for about 30 seconds. I freaked because I knew I was doing well on the exam and feared losing my score or having to come back another day. I raised my hand, told the attendant what happened, and by the time we went back to my computer it had turned on again. It happens. The staff at the testing facility will do everything they can to make things go smoothly.
#7 If you know the material...you should PASS.
The best way to ensure you pass these exams is to KNOW THE MATERIAL. These are not tests with answers you can memorize from a book and select on the exam. You have to KNOW the material and understand the concepts. You should understand the topics. These questions are designed to make you think. When you are an architect, you are going to need to use understanding and creative thinking to solve problems. Dare I encourage NCARB to make things difficult, but some critical thinking skills are necessary to be an architect.
Those are my thoughts and tips about testing day. I remind you to BREATHE! Everything will be okay.