4 Questions to Help Save Up For the ARE 5.0 Exams

I think we all got sticker shock when we first found out how expensive it would be to take these exams. For those of us with student loans, it can sometimes feel like adding insult to injury. A couple of my initial questions were:

$235 per exam? Every time? Even if you Fail? With a 50% pass rate? For Each of the 6 Exams? In this economy? With student loans? Not including study materials?

Me, in my head

But at a certain point in time, you realize that if you’ve committed to this process, you’re just going to have to get over it. If you want to be an architect, this is unfortunately the current price of entry.

So how can you save for your exams in a way that meshes with your study speed, and inclusive of possible fails? Here are the 4 important questions to ask yourself:

1. How Frequently Do You Want To Test?

How long do you think it will take you to study for each test? This will vary per person, some people willing to do it once every two weeks, and some giving themselves 1-2 months to study for each exam. My original plan was to study for 6 weeks for each exam.

There is a recommendation to study for a longer period if it is your very first exam. This can mean that you study for 2 months (8 weeks) instead, which can be great in that it allows you more time to save. You can find more information in helpful forums such as the NCARB ARE 5.0 Community or the ARE Facebook Group, that can give you more insight into how long you should study for your specific exam.

If you know that you aren’t planning to test right away, it can also be a good idea to save up a nest egg of testing funds. That way, when you finally decide to start testing, the financial aspect of it will be less of a stressor for you, and allow you to schedule retakes faster.

2. How Often Do You Get Paid?

This will vary from person to person. I personally get paid every 2 weeks. If I take an exam every 6 weeks, that gives me 3 paychecks to save up for each exam. This breaks each $235 exam into much more manageable payments of $79 per paycheck (I always round up to avoid missing some cents).

I would also recommend that you continue to keep saving even after you’ve saved enough for 6 exams. I found this very helpful video from Pluralsight when I first started testing, that explained that due to the high fail rates for the ARE, you should mentally take the cost of 3 exams and throw it away. That comes to around $705 based off the current exam fees.

This seems like a lot, because it is,. However, I think it makes a lot more sense to plan for, and save for, losing that money instead of becoming paralysed with guilt and worry when you eventually fail. Michael Riscica of Young Architect has written several great articles on dealing with failing your exams (here’s one), but just remember that the financial burden of it is something you can plan for now.

3. Will The Money Be Safe In Your Checking Account?

I don’t mean safe in that your bank may lose your money, I mean safe in that you might spend it all by accident. If you know that you struggle with financial management and personal finance in general, one of the best things you can do for your exam funds is to put it a completely separate account, ideally at a different bank.

This may seem like overkill, but I think that using this method has been one of the main reasons that I have been so successful in my exam savings.

Currently I use a separate online banking savings account, with no monthly fees, that has a 3 day waiting period before the money can be transferred back into my account. I can’t think of a better way to nip impulse buys in the bud. It is also a great feeling, when you finally take that money out, and you know you’re putting it towards something important.

4. Does Your Office Reimburse You For Passing An Exam?

Different offices have different levels of incentive for their exams. At my firm, they do not pay for the exams up front, they only reimburse you after you have successfully passed an exam that you paid for. This makes things much easier for me, in that I can take any money that I get back for a passed exam, and immediately reinvest it in a new seat credit.

There can sometimes be a temptation to go out and spend this money as a celebration for having passed, but trust me, putting it back into your NCARB account immediately is a much safer bet, and can help insure you against any hiccups in your budget down the line.

Find out what your office is willing to finance and what their policies are, in terms of sponsoring exams, books and other digital study materials. Collaborating with other people taking the exams within your office to get all the supplies you need is a great strategy to maximize your dollars spent on materials.


I hope these questions were helpful to you. For budget conscious candidates, I’m still offering my ARE 5.0 PcM Study Guide for free until the end of April, so make sure to download your copy before May 1st 2020.

If you have any further questions, hit me up in the comments.

My Number One Rule for Buying ARE Study Materials

When you first decide to take the ARE, you will normally go into full research mode. You treat it like a site you are doing analysis on, combing the net for study materials, handy guides, YouTube tutorials and practice questions, exam focused blog posts (guilty!), everything you can get your hands on. You assemble a treasure trove of PDF documents and a wish list full of textbooks and online courses, and you start reading. Fast forward a few hours, and you are completely overwhelmed.

The ARE is full of SO MUCH CONTENT and the sheer amount of information that you need to not just absorb, but be able to use for problem solving, can be extremely intimidating. What can be even scarier, if you’ve been working for a while in the field, is the practice of unlearning what you thought you knew, and memorizing the way that NCARB wants you practice. This can make you second guess your own memory and possibly your own professional judgement.

I got to this same point after ordering my Ballast book. I love to read, like LOVE to read, but this seemed like taking a good thing too far. There’s a difference between sitting down with a nice thick book and reading for pleasure, and sitting down with a thick book and being expected to memorize and analyze its contents.

The study guides, contracts, online resources, and the other miscellaneous PDFs I had collected and bought as part of my search for information, were also confusing. With this much data, how is it possible to prioritize and process all that I read?

This lead me to my number one rule for ARE Study Materials:

AHPP (Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice) First! No New Study Materials Until It’s Finished!

I created this rule for myself for a few important reasons:

  1. I have a habit of collecting a lot of data for the sake of saying that I have the information, then not reading it. This will save me a lot of wasted time in gathering studying materials that I will actually not use. 
  2. The AHPP is frequently considered required reading by those who take the exam. I’ve seen many people mention just this textbook, along with the contracts and rules of conduct, as their only required materials for passing the PcM (Practice Management Exam).
  3. You have help in determining what is essential! Namour Wright collaborated with Wiley publishing to create very helpful guides regarding which elements of the AHPP were critical reading for each specific ARE exam. 
  4. If I can’t commit to finishing this book, there is no reason for me to be flushing additional money or time down the drain looking at less comprehensive content. The AHPP is a big book, but the information it contains is crucial information for all 6 ARE exams. It is the only reference listed in the ARE 5.0 Handbook which has content used in the development of all 6 of the exams. Check out this references page from NCARB which illustrates my point. 
NCARB Reference Guide for AHPP

So even though it is important to cross train with other materials, use multiple references, and understand and read through other documents, I still put the completion of this document as my number one priority, and until you finish it, I wouldn’t put another cent into buying anything else. You can buy the AHPP on Amazon, or directly from Wiley Publishing. 

There are also pre-owned copies online, and often you can already find a copy at your architecture firm, as people who have studied in your firm like to keep it around as a reference in their practice.

What text would you consider an essential item for this exam? Let me know in the comments! Happy studying!