Monday, September 19, 2011

Studying for the ARE: finding study buddies and materials

Recently, a reader asked in the comments on this post I did about ARE study tips:

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?

Let's start with the first question.  If you've moved somewhere after finishing your degree, did you move there for a job?  If so, get to know your coworkers and ask them if they or anyone they know are studying for the ARE.  If you've moved home because of a lack of work, check with your nearest AIA chapter about classes or ARE study groups.  AIA Denver (here in my adopted hometown) puts on low-cost classes to help interns prepare for each of the ARE exams.  Also, NCARB's website might have some good info on study groups (either existing ones or on forming your own).  As for forums, can be helpful, but by the end of my husband's and my time taking the ARE, we quit visiting it because it seemed like the only people on the site were those with extreme panic disorders.  Read the site, but take the OMG!!!?! THISTESTISSOHARD!1!!! tone of the comments with a grain of salt.  And a large margarita. 

NCARB also may have some resources for helping you study for the ARE; I haven't looked lately, but they've been getting more info on their website lately.  The interns around me are saying good things about both the Kaplan study guides and the Ballast study guides.  I've heard especially good things about the Kaplan ARE Complete Library, which includes 24 months of online access to additional online study supplements.  It's pricey at $1300, but if you go in on it with several friends/study buddies, you can offset the cost somewhat.  (Some folks sell their used study materials to other interns for less that what they paid after they've finished the ARE.)  If nothing else, get the flash cards.  I'd have to say that every test I took had at least three or four questions that came straight from the flashcards.

As for the order of taking the tests, bear in mind that I took them when there were nine tests: six multiple guess and three graphics tests.  My husband and I thought about what sounded easiest to us, i.e., what could we have the best chance of passing, given our work experiences in the last year or two?  For us, Construction Documents and Materials and Methods were the obvious first choices, since we both had a great deal of experience detailing buildings and working with the actual process of getting a project built.  We then reasoned to take the two structures tests together (General Structures and Lateral Forces), as the knowledge of studying one added to and built on the other.  We then took the last two multiple guess tests, which were MEP and Pre-Design.  Finally, we took the three graphics ones, starting with the toughest one (Site Design) and saving Schematic Design for last because it seemed like the easiest of the three.  By taking a couple of "easy" ones first, we were hoping to build our confidence up to take the tougher ones in the middle.  Taking the tough ones in the middle would hopefully give us time to fail a test and wait six months to take it again while taking possibly-easy-ish other tests.  While there are now only seven tests and they all combine multiple guess and graphics, the principle remains the same--start with the topic you think you might know best, then take the toughest ones so you have time to fail them if need be.  (Note: my husband and I didn't fail any of the sections, but it's no shame or crime to fail one or more.  It happens to the best architects.)

Got a question you'd like to ask or a topic you 'd like to see discussed here?  Ask me via email in the sidebar or in the comments, and thanks for all the questions and input!


  1. Great thank you, that helps a lot. I'll look forth with the advice you've given. Cheers!

  2. I'd suggest the Ballast book and the Archiflash cards before dropping $1,300 on Kaplan - Kaplan has A LOT of mistakes and errors that can really throw studying off - and these are errors that have existed in multiples version of the guides. If the office is paying for the Kaplan or you can get a good deal then they are good a good supplement to Ballast - but not something I'd study as my only source