Evolution of the Exam

Prior to 1997 the ARE was a much different beast than it is today. Many people refer to this as “the good old days” when the tests were offered once a year and everybody was in the same room – 4 days of testing for 9 sections on paper with a 12 hour drafting session. This was how they came up with the ARE 3.1 with 9 sections, later to be reduced to the 7 section of ARE 4, and now continuing to reduce the number of sections down to 6 with ARE 5.  I once heard that an architect who took the old style ARE on paper, was able to go back and re-take part of the exam.   The drawback to this was that if you didn’t pass, you had to wait until the following year to complete the tests you failed.

Big changes came in 1997 as testing went computerized – we are now 20 years into computerized testing for architects, and as ARE morphed from 3.1 to 4.0. 9 sections became 7 with the drafting session being divided into vignettes that accompany each of the 7 sections. Some people took part of their exams on paper and finished on the computer. People now schedule their exams in any order and time frame that works with their lifestyle and study schedules.  Which some would say has its draw backs.  That there is no structure any more, and taking 7 Saturdays, or 7 days off work, 33 hours of testing, is a little excessive. Less comradely, less study groups, and pretty soon, passing the ARE was a small part of culture in architecture offices.

There was a rocky beginning to the new computerized method, and many older architects who did not get registered in the old days consider this to be an insurmountable challenge. It is sage advice to begin preparing and taking your exams as soon as possible – even while you are beginning your IDP hours or before if you can/your state allows it.

In Oregon, the new computerized exam format impacted the number of students taking the test. In 1997 – the year the computerized exam took effect – only 10 individuals earned new licenses by exam.  In 1998, the number doubled to 20. And in 2005, the number was 37. These numbers continue to grow, as the computerized 7 test system becomes the standard, and the previous testing environment is forgotten. For more updated details you can check out NCARB by the Numbers.

Liscensure and Academia:

In Indiana, there are only like 20-30 new architects per year, but an average of 200 graduate with NAAB degrees each year. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what is taught in academia and what is required to study for NCARB. Most architecture professors I know of have no clue about the ARE computerized exams, and schools just don’t teach for the exam. What is taught is more general, and content of classes is not specifically generated from any set of standards that coordinates with NCARB testing standards or any State Registration board standards. Architecture candidates are left to their own devices and continuing education to pass the exams. Hopefully more schools and professors will begin adding in some information about NCARB and exam preparation into their curriculum, so that people leave school feeling confident that they can make it over the final hurdle to becoming a registered architect.

Specifically, NCARB is concerned with preparing architects to be competent in training for health, safety and welfare, and architecture schools are primarily concerned with design and eye candy, not that that is a bad thing.  We just need more focus in educating architects on health, safety and welfare.  Design is great an you could argue that health, safety and welfare are inherent in good design.  Some Colleges and Universities have started to integrate NCARB process into their curriculum, which we discuss below. 

NCARB announced in 2015 that 13 architectural programs (now 17 and growing) have been accepted for participation in its Integrated Path Initiative (IPAL) to allow students to begin the licensure process as a part of the academic curriculum. Each selected school, accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), developed a proposal to restructure its academic program to allow students the opportunity to complete Intern Development Program requirements and take each division of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) before graduation. 

The full list of accredited architectural programs offering IPAL is as follows:

  • Boston Architectural College, Boston
  • Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.
  • Drexel University, Philadelphia
  • Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Mich.
  • NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
  • Portland State University, Portland, Ore.
  • Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.
  • The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
  • University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati
  • University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit
  • University of Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  • University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.
  • University of Maryland; College Park, Md.
  • University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Charlotte, N.C.
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Woodbury University, Los Angeles (two programs)

[source: http://www.architectmagazine.com/practice/13-architecture-schools-to-bring-path-to-licensure-into-curricula_o]

ARE 5.0 and AXP

NCARB is very up to date with ARE 5 including their software and testing environment, there are no more vignettes or NCARB clunky software.  The new ARE 5 exam concentrates more on how architects practice in the field.  NCARB is also streamlining the licensure process by working with schools to create curriculum.

They have also streamlined the new IDP program that is now called the AXP. It allows AXP candidates to log hours via their mobile device and keep track of their working hours. They have also updated the AXP categories to reflect more how architects work. [source: https://www.ncarb.org/gain-axp-experience ]

NCARB ARE 4 Practice Vigette Programs: 

The ARE practice programs service is now available to all My NCARB account holders. Included with the My NCARB account, the new service offers easy, and unlimited online access to the practice programs for ARE 4 and a demo exam for ARE 5.  

In addition the ARE 4.0 practice programs remain available for free download on NCARBs website here: https://www.ncarb.org/pass-are/are4/prepare

To complete the vignette sections in ARE 4.0, you will need to familiarize yourself with the NCARB specific software. Unfortunately their practice software still runs only on 32-bit. So be prepared to run a “Virtual Machine” emulator or use an old laptop if you have a 64-bit machine like most architects running lots of software do. 

On Testing and Registration:

There are many reasons to become registered.  Architects who want to strike out on their own stand to gain by becoming licensed. For architects working in large firms, where principals will be stamping drawings anyway, the benefit is less clear.  However it is inaccurate to think “I don’t need it. I’m not ready to open my own office anyway.”  Preparation for NCARB helps you to understand the full process of building, and design not only for aesthetics but also the health, safety and welfare of the people inhabiting your buildings.

It certainly won’t hurt your career to become registered, and it shows you have a willingness to learn new things.  And it allows you to apply for more jobs, with less applicants.  Plenty of good reasons to get registered.

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