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Work experience may never teach you everything you need to know to pass the #AREs.

A long long time ago, future architects were trained by older architects in studios. If you wanted to become a registered architect you had to appear before a licensure board in your state and prove that you were worthy. In 1919 NCARB was formed to sort of standardize the licensure process in the United States. In 1970, Pennsylvania (where Ben and I are registered) adopted NCARB's standard testing process. Before that, candidates had to have a degree and pass an oral exam, or have 3 years of experience and take a 4 day written test.

The larger point to that short incomplete history lesson is that the tests have varied over the years and by state. It took a lot to get to the point where every candidate for architectural registration must pass the same number of exams in the same time frame with the same level of experience.

Today to become a registered architect, NCARB requires a candidate to accumulate 3,740 hours of work experience, across 6 divisions that for the basis of the 6 Architecture Registration Exams that candidate must pass.

In case you did not know:

The 6 divisions of Architecture Registration Exams are:

1. Practice Management 2. Project Management

3. Construction Evaluation 4. Planning and Analysis

5. Project Planning and Design 6. Project Development and Documentation

There are two points I want to make with this article.

  1. DO NOT THINK you will learn everything you need to know through working practice

  2. DO NOT WAIT to start until you think you have learned everything you need to pass the Architecture Registration Exams

We do not know your work history or the specialties of the firms that you have worked for. This is a general assumption. But I have worked in 5 firms for over 13 years and encountered many people in different stages of their architecture career journey. I doubt that there are any two registered architects who went through the same career development path to earn their registration.

Here's a Fun Fact - I never had an internship during my college years (instead I chose to work in the construction, building maintenance, and building material supply industry). I will give you a pointer - Not having interned made it more difficult for me to find a job after college. It also delayed my progress towards my registration experience and the knowledge needed for the exams.

When I finally requested my authorization to test (In Pennsylvania) I had worked in various firms for over 9 years with almost 8,000 hours of experience logged. These hours do not include the hours I did not log, and this does not include any time that I was no longer logging between authorization and passing my tests.

I started my exams with MORE THAN DOUBLE the required experience hours!

The thing was - I had not learned everything I needed. It took me those almost 8,000 hours of experience to FINALLY FILL IN ALL THE BOXES to meet the experience hours requirements for every division.

I THOUGHT that I had to wait (to test) until I had all my experience hours, and then I would have all the answers. I thought that the AREs would be no problem once I "put in my time."

NCARB does not help. They more or less imply that in your 3,470 hours you should have attained enough hands-on experience in each of those 6 divisions to know something about architecture. Maybe they even think that would be enough to pass the AREs. But I think that if that was the case, they would not produce a handbook full of additional recommended reading and study references.

When I was granted authorization to test: I had NEVER READ AN AIA CONTRACT! I had never negotiated a contract fee or determined how many staffing hours I would need for a project. I had only barely started determining project schedules. Can you believe, I never schematically planned the most appropriate building placement and orientation on a site?

What I had done, is produce countless floor plans and building sections. All my projects included Low E windows and I kind of knew what that meant. I was lucky enough to have a decent amount of building and zoning code experience. I had put PTACs into a building once and knew that package units generally go on roofs.

If you did not catch what I am saying: The fact is, 6 years of full time working in several different architecture offices with exposure to different project specialties was NOT ENOUGH knowledge TO PASS the AREs.


*in most jurisdictions - check your state rules HERE

Ben agrees that it was absolutely necessary for him to read and study to accumulate all the knowledge he needed to pass the AREs.

You may NEVER FEEL READY to tackle the AREs.

The simple fact is - you will never know EVERYTHING there is to know about being an architect. That is part of why the tests are broken into divisions. That way you can focus on one piece of the greater puzzle that is being an Architect.

That is why you STUDY, read the primary resources, and TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS.

Do not let the unknown scare you.

NCARB is not out to get you. The Rolling Clock starts once you PASS your first exam. If you fail the first time, you are not doomed to start over 5 years from that date. If you PASS, then you have that great feeling and channel that motivation to go on to the next one! The testing center is not a scary place. Take the fear of the unknown and channel that into "what can I learn today." Replace the fear of the exams, with the knowledge you need to pass the exams.

Studying for the Exams Teaches you to be an Architect

It turns out that the giant list of primary resources that NCARB provides at the back of the ARE 5.0 Handbook - is comprised of information you need to learn and use in practice as a registered architect. You may not use all of it, but you definitely need to know about it.

So contrary to what I thought - The process of studying will teach you how to be an architect in practice!

If you truly have the goal to become a Registered Architect - YOU CAN DO IT!

It will take time, and it will take work. There will things you need to learn, and things you do not know. You may not pass all the exams the first time. You might need to ask other people for help. There may be that one thing that you "just never get." And the things that your boss learned 20 years ago have changed, and you may know new and different things than other architects.

That is why it is said to be "The Practice of Architecture."

Ben and I recommend


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