Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting licensed: the basics of the ARE

Regardless of how you gain your hours and experience as an intern (through IDP or through whatever process your state allows), at some point you’ll be ready to take the ARE.  When you have all your hours ready, you’ll submit your record to NCARB or the architectural registration board of your state of residence.  If you go through NCARB, they’ll submit your record to your state of residence, and then you’ll be sent a testing number that allows you to schedule exams.  In the U.S., the ARE is administered at Thomson Prometric learning centers, where tests can be scheduled during business hours and even on Saturdays (call and check on this kind of availability). 

With the advent of ARE 4.0, which I’m about 99.999% certain you’ll be taking if you’re reading this, there are seven sections to the ARE, compared to the nine that have comprised the ARE for the past umpteen years (and which I took not that long ago—yes, I know, I’ll tell you all about it sometime while leaning on my walker and drinking an Ensure).  The previous ARE format split up the multiple-choice tests and the graphic tests, but now each of the seven tests has a multiple-choice (or as I call it, multiple guess) section and a graphics section.  The sections are:

o        Building Design & Construction Systems

o        Construction Documents & Services

o        Structural Systems (used to be two separate tests under ARE 3.1 and previous AREs)

o        Building Systems (involves mechanical, electrical, and plumbing)

o        Programming, Planning, & Practice

o        Schematic Design

o        Site Planning & Design

The old ARE also had Building Technology as a graphics section; its subject material has been absorbed into four of the new tests.

You can schedule the tests in any order and at any time, but if you fail a section, you cannot take it again for six months.  When you take the ARE, you also have to agree not to tell others what exact questions were on the tests.  You can describe general topics, as I recall, but you can’t say, “There’s this one question where you have X joists and Y floor and the contractor says Z….”  Also, remember that once you pass your first test, you have five years to complete them all before the first ones you passed are voided and have to be taken again.  Five years sounds like a long time, but I know of people who have taken that long to do it.  To be fair, it also allows for a couple of dramatic things to happen to you, like having a baby, surviving a terrible illness, enduring a military deployment, or losing a close family member.  For some of these instances, I believe you can get a forbearance of your five-year clock—check NCARB’s website to be sure.

Once you pass all the tests, you may still have to take additional tests depending on your state of initial licensure.  Colorado used to require an open-book ethics test, but it was recently discontinued.  I had to take it in the summer of 2006, but a colleague did not have to do so in early 2007—when my colleague told me about this, I nearly spit out my Ensure.  When you have passed all the required tests and possibly paid some additional fee to your state licensing board, they’ll send you your official architect’s license.  Congratulations—you’ve made it.

But back to the mechanics of the ARE: it’s expensive, and chances are you’ll have to miss some work to take at least some of if not all the tests.  Ask your employer if they provide any financial assistance with taking the exam.  Examples of financial help would be interest-free loans to pay for the tests, copies of study materials that you can borrow, or even paid time off to take it.  Some firms will flat out pay for you to take the ARE—yes, they exist.  For most firms (or in my opinion any firm who has their priorities in order), having licensed architects in the firm is valuable, so it behooves them to help you get licensed.

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