Friday, May 1, 2009

Getting licensed: it's not that hard once you start

I’ve blogged before about how getting licensed is important for your professional as well as financial future.  You might expect me to encourage you not to procrastinate on submitting your record to NCARB or the architectural registration board of your state of residence, and you’d be right.  My tips for success on the ARE:

o        Don’t procrastinate.  Putting off filing your credits and paperwork are worse than actually taking the test, according to my own experience and that of newly-licensed architects. 

o        Once you start taking tests, don’t stop.  That five-year mark will creep up on you before you know it.  A good way to prevent this is to book your next exam in the Prometric testing place as soon as you finish a test section.  They’re generally quite happy to do it, and once you’ve paid for it and written it (right then) in your planner or on your calendar or on the back of a fast-food napkin (whatever system works for you), it’s pretty real.  Real enough to make you take a couple days off and then start studying again.

o        Study for the exams the way you studied in college.  I used to pass my midterms and finals by reading everything a couple of times over the course of the semester and occasionally discuss some of the material with others.  My husband was a crammer—he’d read and study like mad for a couple of weeks before each test.  Each of our methods worked for each of us when applied to the ARE.  If you got through college without ever cracking a book, you better make like Kool & The Gang and get down on it.  While the AIA provides some fairly affordable and generally good-quality classes on the ARE sections, you will NOT be able to take a class and then roll up in the Prometric office and bang these tests out.  Some of the test questions, I guarantee you, will be about things you’ve never done or seen in your life, and the study materials really help.

o        You do not necessarily need brand new study materials for the brand new ARE.  If you’re about to take ARE 4.0 and someone has study materials for ARE 3.1, you can use them.  The subject matter on the tests is the same; they were just rearranged and condensed.

The most important point I’d like to leave you with is this: Failing a test does not make you stupid, and passing a test does not make you smart.  The truth is that the ARE exams are to test candidates for minimal competence, and some of that competence unintentionally is regarding how well you take tests.  I am very good at tests, but I know perfectly competent architectural interns who just cannot pass some sections of the ARE due to test anxiety.  I knew a fellow who was an intern for almost 20 years and took each of the Structures sections at least four times each; as I understand it, he had a combination of math anxiety and test anxiety.  One of the partners at the firm at which I work passed every section of the ARE except Structures, which he had a hard time studying and learning because of his own personal objections.  He reasoned that since architects aren’t allowed to design structure, we really shouldn’t be tested on it.  He let his personal objections to being tested on particular material get in the way of simply studying and passing the test.

A pitfall that particularly affects interns with good design skills is that of trying to make designs in the graphics sections pretty.  The ARE is not testing your aesthetic sensibilities, just your minimal competence.  The buildings, ceilings, structural frames, etc. simply need to work, not be camera-ready.  If you find that you have any test anxieties or used to do poorly on things like the ACT, SAT, or GRE, take a class, get some therapy, do whatever you need to do: just fix it and pass the tests.  The fellow who failed each of the Structures sections four times had twice as much experience as an architect than I have, and I would trust him to work on my projects before some licensed architects.  Even schmucks pass the ARE; it’s only testing for minimal professional competence.  And if a schmuck can pass the ARE, so can you.

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