After my recent ARE exam fail, I had a solid pity party for a few hours, then decided it would be more productive to write down what I have learned from my first failure.
Never Assume You Have Time Just Because You’re Moving Quickly
In the first half of the exam I was moving fast and doing good, I completed all of my multiple choice exams, and hit pause before going off to my break. I thought I had plenty of time. Fast forward to the end of the exam, with seconds left and still a few unanswered case study questions which I eventually just had to guess at. Time management is KEY to this exam. Don’t make my mistakes, make sure that getting through the test as a whole is your main priority and never think that you have it under control just because you made it through the multiple choice questions quickly.
Don’t Cram What You Don’t Know
Again, in studying for the exams, it is the same as taking the exams, time management is KEY. In the days before your exams, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of emotions and anxiety, don’t make this worse by trying to cram in a bunch of material you have never even looked at before. It will make you feel worse because:
- You’ll feel like you don’t know anything, even if you’re really strong on other topics
- You will get frustrated at your inability to retain this brand new information
- You’re dealing with exam nerves, and if you do badly on practice tests on the new material, your confidence will be shot
Make sure, well before you’re scheduled to take your exams, you’re making sure that all the topics that are going to be included in the test are a part of your study plan. Be intentional about what you’re reading, not just trying to read as much as possible. This guide on test-taking skills has a lot of helpful tips on getting prepared in advance.
Reinforce Your Weaknesses
While I wouldn’t recommend cramming new material right before an exam, I would recommend checking the information that you know that you are not performing well on. There’s a difference between trying to learn all the details of ADA clearances in one day, and having a look at your previous notes on contract documents. One involves completely learning new concepts, the other is just brushing up on what you already know.
I would say working on your weaknesses is especially important AFTER you’ve failed the exam as well. The study materials that got you a poor result may not give you success the next time around, so make sure that you are making changes to your methods or resources based off of what your previous exam was aksing you. This is part of the reason why the ARE’s are called “the most expensive practice exam you’ll ever take”. Failing is part of the process, and learning from the fails is part of the process too.
One thing I’ve done is to look at multiple posts of people who have passed each specific exam, and tried to change my method based on the different content that they used. You can find passing stories on the ARE Facebook group or in the NCARB ARE 5.0 Community.
Don’t be afraid to write your own questions
In my recent exam failure, I was very frustrated with some of the practice question providers, since I felt like they failed to cover some of the very technical and graphic aspects of that exam. I was also mad at NCARB for failing to properly specify the resources that were needed to pass that exam. However, being mad at external forces won’t bring me any closer to passing the ARE.
So my recommendation is, if you feel like the questions you’re seeing on the exam are not matching the materials you are studying, feel free to write your own questions. There is literally nothing stopping you, as long as you are not copying the questions that you’ve seen in your previous ARE exams. These questions can be at whatever level of difficulty you feel comfortable with, but I have the following tips:
- Use the source material. If you’re writing a question on contracts, use the actual contract to write the question based on what you’ve literally read in the contract, not what Ballast, Pluralsight or Hyperfine wrote about it. This is because a lot of study resources summarize instead of writing the actual articles, which may cause you to remember the phrasing or intent clearly later on.
- Write why the answers are correct and why they’re wrong. This will force you to explain exactly why you’ve chosen that answer, and helps cement the concept, not just the specific answer.
- Share your questions! Not only does this help other people who are studying, but this also allows them to let you know if your answers are wrong and why. If people have further questions. You can share in your personal study group, which you can join through the NCARB ARE Community, in the ARE Facebook group, or with your architecture mentor, and see if they can work through the correct answer based on their professional experience.