Friday, October 16, 2009

Three rules for studying for the ARE

Someone recently asked me how I went about studying for the ARE. It's a good question with (of course) no simple answer, but I feel qualified to answer it due to my shared ARE experience. As I've mentioned before here, I took the ARE simultaneously with my husband, so I got to experience two types of studying.

First, I should explain the method to our madness: knowing how many interns procrastinate and delay taking the tests, my husband and I decided on what order we were taking the tests and then booked two tests two months in advance for subsequent Mondays. For example, if we were taking tests now, and we were booking the tests today, October 16th, we would book one test for Monday December 14th and the next test for Monday December 21st. After we finished each test, we would book the next one for two months out: right there at the Thomson Prometric testing center, we'd book the next two tests for Mondays February 15th and 22nd. What this helped us do is set a time table for getting off our butts and studying instead of saying "oh yeah, when we get home, we'll look online and make the appointment then...."

Our study methods were very different. I studied each night, five to seven nights a week, every week before the tests. My husband would read occasionally for an afternoon, but he wouldn't get really serious until three or so weeks before the tests, and then he was a crammer. I learn through repetition, by reading things more than once. My husband, God bless him, will literally fall asleep if he reads any kind of study material or heavy learning stuff for more than five minutes. He'd carve out an entire Saturday morning, where after sleeping all night, he would go layo nthe sofa, read the study book for five minutes, fall asleep for two or three hours, and then wake up and read the entire books straight through. What we learned from this process is that we had to study the way we studied in college, which I think is generally good advice (unless you went to a cruddy college). As adults, you likely know by now how you learn best--by cramming and using the recency effect, by learning it over and over, by reading it and discussing it, whatever. What was also helpful about taking it with someone is that not only did we each have someone to keep encouraging the other to keep going, but we also had someone to discuss the study material with. I found this expecially helpful when it came to the Construction Documents test--the study material talked about a bunch of contracts and CA documents that I'd never seen before due to my limited experience, but my husband had dealt with all of the documents and was able to enlighten me further.

As for study material, we read mostly some books that my office would loan its interns for studying. I think they were Kaplan or someone like that. If you get books that talk about any of the graphic sections, look for the name Norman Dorf--he used to do lots of study materials on the old graphic sections, and he would occasionally check out the graphic forums at and give people advice. We also bought a set of the flash cards and studied those extensively. Sometimes, we would see a question on those flashcards that was straight off the flashcards. Nice.

My primary suggestions for taking the ARE are:
  1. Be disciplined. Book your next test as soon as you're finished with the last one, and actually study for it.
  2. Study the way you studied in college (and passed).
  3. Discuss what you're studying with others, such as fellow ARE takers and other architects in your firm.
Notice I said to discuss what you're studying, not what the test is on. People who have taken the test before you can only talk in generalities about what the tests ask you, but they can't give you specific questions. For example, someone who just took the MEP test might say, "I had a few questions about home security systems," but they cannot say, "I had this one question that asked where should you put sensors if the house is here near a whatever blah blah blah." When my husband and I took the test three-plus years ago when it was six multiple-guess sections and three all-graphics sections, we found that we got the same test on half the multiple guess tests and at least one of the three graphics ones. There is more than one version of each test section floating around out there, so sharing information about exams is not only illegal, but it also might be plain out useless. Some interns in Nevada were recently barred from ever seeking licensure due to posting possible solutions to one of the test sections on a forum.

Do you still have questions about the ARE? Do you have questions about anything regarding the profession? Feel free to ask in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. This was most helpful... I have a few questions.
    1. I just finished B.Arch at University of Oregon. And now I'm back in Newcastle, WA where I live and know practically nobody. Can you think of a source to find study buddies? And maybe what the best forum to work with?
    2. Books, Visuals. I know you mentioned two sources up there, I'm going to try to look them up, but any other recommendations?
    3. How did you go about choosing your order of the exams?

    Thanks. cheers!