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.

Introducing the #ARE100Challenge

Need a fun way to stay motivated as you study for your exams? Join the #ARE100Challenge with other test takers to boost your study time and challenge yourself.

Some of the major challenges I’ve faced while studying for the ARE 5.0:

  1. Soooo much reading, from so many different types of resources, it’s hard to keep track of it all.
  2. No study group, and since everyone is taking a different test on a different day, it’s hard to create one with the people around you.
  3. It’s hard to stay motivated, and the materials seem like they’ll never end.
  4. It’s easy to get distracted by the minutia of the materials, and lose sight of the big picture.

To help myself and others experiencing these problems, I’ve created the #ARE100Challenge to bring together the ARE 5.0 test taking community, whether studying solo or with a group.

How to Participate

The main objective of the challenge is to complete 100 hours of studying in 60 days, regardless of which exam you’re taking.

For some this may seem like an easy target and will just provide an additional boost. However, for some test takers, this may be a serious challenge in terms of finding time to fit in studying. Wherever you are in your study plan, let’s challenge and push each other to make the most of the time we have!

The Ground Rules

1. Read all your required textbooks first! Minimum 30 Hours.

Check the NCARB Reference Matrix, NCARB ARE 5.0 Community, or the ARE Facebook Group for recommended study amterials for each test.

2. Take Practice Tests (Timed or Untimed). Minimum 5 Hours.

There are so many resources and content creators for practice tests and questions, again the forums are a great resource for recommendaitons on what will work best for the test you’re taking..

3. Take a Timed Mock Exam at least 3 times.

This can be one testing resource that you think works really well, or many different tests. The idea is that you take the completed, timed tests, review your answers, and identify the content you need to focus on.

4. Get familiar with the ARE Demo Exam provided by NCARB.

Even if you’ve taken the exam already, it is always a good idea to reaffirm the interface before you head back into your next exam. If you’ve never taken the exam, you should have an understanding of how answering all the question types work, as well as the tools available within the testing software. Did you know you can search documents?

5. Use the Study Objectives & Problems in the ARE 5.0 Handbook.

Make sure that you are covering topics within your study plan that align with the provided exam objectives within the NCARB ARE 5.0 Handbook for that specific test. Some practice tests can let you know which areas you’re weak on, so you should take the opportunity to review them.

6. Read 5 Exam Pass posts in the NCARB ARE 5.0 Community.

It’s always good to keep a positive mindset in these exams, which can have a large mental toll. A great way to do this is by reading the stories of other people who have passed the same exam recently. This has multiple benefits:

  1. You can see what study materials and methods other successful test takers used.
  2. It lets you know that other people are passing these tests, and that they’re not impossible.
  3. You can ask those people questions about specific problems you are having within that same exam, while it’s fresh in their minds.

7. Study financial and mathematical formulas. Minimum 5 Hours

The math and financial portions can be very challenging for people who may not have a lot of familiarity with it within their offices. Make sure to dedicate time to memorizing the concepts relevant to your exam, so when you step into the exam, you know exactly what the question is asking for.

8. Study terminology using flashcards or Quizlet.com.

The terminology needed to pass each exam section can vary widely, which is why some prefer to study using a separate flash card deck for each exam. Flash cards are also available as physical copies. I personally like to use Quizlet.com, as it allows me to check my familiarity with each card, turn the card decks into quizzes and games, and update definitions to make them clearer. A lot of people have used Quizlet in the past to study for these exams, so you can easily find premade decks that you can use for each exam section.

Track Your Progress!

I love using Clockify.com to keep track of my studying hours, mostly because of how simple their tracking and timekeeping system is.

Another great app for tracking your time while you study on the go is the Productivity Challenge Timer App, for another layer of gamification and fun. The free version is a bit limited, which is why I normally prefer to use Clockify to track everything.

Post Your Progress!

Share your progress using the #ARE100Challenge hashtag on Facebook or Instagram, and let us know when you pass a milestone! We’re all in this together, so let’s celebrate the wins, both big and small!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me here on the blog, or on Facebook or Instagram. Happy studying and good luck on your #ARE100Challenge!