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Order of Exams

Updated: Apr 2

In What Order should I take the Examz?



Everyone wants to know what is the best order to take the ARE Exams.

Well, the two of us took them in different orders.

(If you are just reading this to know the orders we took, scroll down )


I often tell the epic story of the reason I decided to start the exams. When I graduated, a candidate was not allowed to test until they had completed their approximately 3.5 years of approved experience (#AXP). My goal was always to attain my architecture registration by the time I was 33 years old.


Around 2009 the economy went downhill and architectural opportunities took a big hit. During what became a 4-year delay, I manufactured toothpaste, sold appliances, and had a daughter. I scraped myself back into the architecture world by surveying massive apartment complexes for a property management company. Took a consulting job on a project by project basis for a sole practitioner. Finally, got a full-time job as a consultant for a small firm (#architecture). And eventually got my approval to test.


Then 5 months passed until I scheduled an exam. During which time NCARB decided to go from 4.0 to 5.0. So I made the goal to take advantage of the (3) 4.0 + (2) 5.0 = Registered. But that did not work out for me. Basically, I tried to study to know the answer to individual questions. Turns out it takes understanding and not just memorization (see: If you know the material...you should PASS.) I passed the vignette, but did not pass the questions section. I retested as soon as I could - passed the questions but spent too much time on them and did not have time to pass the vignette. 2 tests, no pass.


At this point, I basically forgot about taking the registration exams. I had spent my time learning how to pass the 4.0 structure, and the change to 5.0 just seemed like such an undertaking - retraining my brain while deciphering what topic applies to what exam It seemed like such a huge undertaking and discouraged me, and I am sure many others from proceeding with #ARE 5.0.


Six months later... I was reading an article by Mark Manson. I am not sure which one, but the point it made to me was, stop wasting time and just do it. Then later that day I saw this:



That was it for me. 9 years after I graduated with my Architecture degree (#WeArePennState) I saw the signs and I scheduled my first ARE 5.0 Exam - Construction evaluation (CE). I figured, since according to NCARB - CE is entirely based on the information in the 4.0 CDs exam, that I would know the material.


My test taking order was:

1. CE - Construction & Evaluation 2. PcM - Practice Management

3. PjM - Project Management 4. PA - Planning & Analysis

5. PPD - Project Planning & Design 6. PDD - Project Development & Documentation


My reasoning was this:

Most of my actual #architecture work experience was in construction documentation so the CE exam should be the easiest and kick start my testing. PPD and PDD cover the MOST topics (and seem the hardest) so I would take these two last. Practice Management is something that I just had to study for and learn about. Eventually, I became a project manager and used that experience plus what I learned for Practice Management to tackle PjM. The standard going order of operations then is PA, PPD, PDD. The big picture planning down to the micro-scale systems and details exam.


(The Architecture Registration Exams took me 3 years in total, and I was 36 Years old when I passed the last exam.)


Ben's test-taking order was:

1. PA, 2. PPD, 3. PDD (technical exams)

4. CE, 5. PcM, 6. PjM (Professional practice exams)


Ben's reasoning was :

"I see PA, PPD, and PDD as ordered by scale. PA is the site scale, PPD is the building scale, and PDD is the detail scale. So it made sense to start broad and "zoom in". I wanted to start with the "technical" exams because I knew I'd burn out after a year or two. The technical exams seemed like the "big ones" and I wanted to get them done while I had the most enthusiasm and energy."

"Then I moved on to CE. I took CE next because out of all the "pro-practice" exams, it dealt the most with actual construction. So it bridged the gap between the technical exams and the pro-practice exams really well. And it was a great intro to the contracts. That helped me as I moved into PCM and PJM."


Turns out our reasoning was similar, but our focus order was switched. I wanted the confidence of a pass or two before tackling the more fearsome exams. Ben wanted to tackle the fearsome exams when he had the most focus and energy, then cruise to the finish line with the less technical exams.


Our ways may not be your ways.

However, we both recommend have a plan, and follow it.

  • Ben studied for all his exams, then systematically scheduled them 2 weeks apart.

  • I studied specifically by exam and scheduled them 2 months apart.

We both had a fail thrown in there that made us re-assess what we thought we knew. We both took it as the opportunity to learn more and come back stronger.

We both had a major setback / delay due to COVID-19, which I joke caused me "to forget everything I learned, re-learn it with enough time to forget it all again, and then learn what I could just in time for the test"

We both had major life events occur throughout our studying and testing duration.


Final word of advice - If what you have been doing is not working, try something different!


Ultimately, you will get through it. You can do it!

We are here to help you!


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