My Studytime Rules

Rules that I use to keep focused as I study for the ARE 5.0

I spend a lot of time studying for my exams, so you might be wondering how I stay focused and study effectively. Together with my accountability partner, I was able to come up with some concrete rules on ways to study effectively without wearing myself out. You don’t have to follow these rules yourself, but feel free to use them as a template if you think they’ll help your study process.

1. Phone in a Different Room

This was a major one, as my phone is a major distraction for me. It’s the easiest way for me to get derailed in my study sessions. So the method that I use is to leave it to charge in a completely different room on silent. It’s a simple method, but it really works.

Another method that I’ve started using recently for productivity tracking and distraction free testing is using the Flora app. This app has a variety of great uses including time tracking and locked in study time frames, that stop you from seeing your phone notifications and checking your feeds, as you will lose all your studying progress. It also allows you to set time goals for yourself, and track your total hours over time. Flora also has a very fun function that allows you collect plants, trees and flowers for each successful study session, so you can create a new garden every week.

2. Laptop: Only Music & Clockify

Even though I avoid using my phone, I still need to use my laptop for activities like Young Architect or Pluralsight videos, Hyperfine assignments, or looking up concepts I’m studying, so I still keep it with me when I’m studying.

However, when I’m not studying with it directly, how do I make sure I don’t get distracted? I make sure that I’m only using my laptop for my studytime playlist on Youtube, and for the Clockify app for my time tracking. I’ve talked about how I use Clockify for both my PcM and PjM passes.

3. One Architecture & Design Event Per Week

In one of my posts, I’ve described in detail why I’m trying to avoid architecture events. They are a big temptation for me because I love to learn, but they also take up time that I could be studying. So I’m only allowing myself to attend one architecture event per week, and that includes events hosted in-house at my company. It doesn’t matter whether it virtual (they’re all virtual at this point, lol) or in person.

Since I’m still wrapping up the last few hours of my AXP, I definitely value being able to use architecture events to earn AIA LUs (Learning Units) and CEUs. However, I feel like the AXP Hours will come eventually, but passing these exams may not happen without my deliberate effort.

4. One Personal Event Per Week

With a similar reasoning as for the architecture events, I’m trying to limit my interpersonal events and meetings. My state is currently in Phase III of reopening, so things are more relaxed and there are way more opportunities to interact than just a few months ago.

However, I realize that these social events take several hours out of my day, between the transport and the actual meeting. So until I pass these exams, I’m limiting myself to just one social/personal event or gathering a week.

5. Only 1 hour MAX of studying on site visit days or traveling days

We all know that work can get intense, which is why a lot of people recommend that you only start studying for the AREs if you have the time available. As I’m about to mention below, if you don’t have 3 hours a day free to study, you’re really going to struggle with this exam.

But sometimes we have those workdays that drain you and leave you completely able to function once you get home. That’s ok! Give yourself permission to take it easy, if you need a break. Your body and mind will thank you. Build this into your schedule, so if necessary, you can study for additional hours on the days you know you don’t have site visits or late nights. On days like that, I give myself permission to study for one hour or zero hours.

6. Study for 3 hours a day

So this is my goal for each studying day. I don’t always reach it, but it’s what I aim towards. One thing about my studying method is that I plan what I’m going to study weeks in advance, and sometimes it takes less than 3 hours. That’s still fine! I get that time back in my day if I’ve thoroughly studied everything on my plate for that day.

Normally I track my daily hourly totals through Clockify or through the Flora app on my phone. Clockify also allows you to see your overall study totals, and seeing that number go up is a big motivator for me. I have a goal to study 100 hours per exam, which I tried to capture in the #ARE100Challenge, which encourages people to study 100 hours for the ARE Exam. I also use the Study Material Tracker I created to help me figure out my overall hourly goal for each study resource.

7. One detail or document a day

This one is straightforward and is very helpful if you are taking any technical exams or CE, which I recently passed! It basically means that you are checking out or drawing or sketching a new detail or document every day.

You guys have gotten this far, so I’m pretty sure you know how to sketch. For the documents portion, it just involves going one step beyond your study materials. Cross train with real-world examples of your study content.

For example, if you were studying concrete and slump tests, watch a video of a slump test being conducted, or check out an actual test report. It really helps you with filling in the gaps of your experience, and help you better visualize the concepts.

8. No studying after midnight

This is as simple as it is effective. I know in architectural studio we prided ourselves on our long hours and thought that showed a level of dedication in our craft.

However, there are a lot of negative effects of studying late into the night, the most important of which for me is that I’m completely burned out by the next day, and I use my late night to justify studying less the next day.

Don’t fall for this cycle, it is a trap! Get the study hours you need in enough time to get to bed at a reasonable time (now I sound like someone’s mom), and your body and mind will thank you. I want my mind to be in top form for both my work and for studying again the next day.

9. All Notes need Title & Date

Do you take notes when you study? A lot of people do. I was against it at first, because it just felt like repetition to me, but I’ve been convinced of its usefulness over time.

But if you have a binder full of notes, on different subjects without labels, you’ll have no idea what you’ve studied, the relevant objectives, and whether or not you’ve covered this material before. So I try to make sure that every page is labeled with the title of the study material, the subject matter, and the date. This keeps my notes organized and let’s me see my level of understanding of the content over time, since I write my notes in my own words.

Another useful note taking tip for me is that I don’t write what I already know. Really basic information that I already know and will be able to remember for the exam, I don’t bother to write down. For example, what is the B101? I don’t need to write that down, I know that easily. As you start to absorb information, you’ll have to write less and less in your notes, making it easier to review materials.


If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, congrats! Thank you for taking the time to read it all, and I hope this explanation of my study time rules gave you some inspiration on things to add to your own routine. You can download the study time rules graphic as a PDF at my Downloads page or my Store for free.

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#ARE100Challenge Day 1: Starting My Challenge

Thank you to everyone who expressed interest and support in this challenge within the ARE test taking community, especially within the ARE Facebook Group. After introducing the challenge, I thought it would be a good idea to share my own journey with using it.

My initial plan was to start the #ARE100Challenge the same day that I released it, but I decided to push it back for a few reasons:

  1. My tests, like many others, were rescheduled. As soon as the notice from NCARB regarding the cancellations, I decided, with COVID-19, that I didn’t want the additional stress of an uncertain test date on top of everything else. So my next test is scheduled for July.
  2. I have difficulty retaining information from too far back in the past. Even if I started studying now, I’m sure that I would end up forgetting a lot of the concepts I learned back in April.
  3. I wanted to take a break to reassess my priorities and get in the right mindset for studying. Rescheduling my exams took a lot of motivation out of me, and my head wasn’t in the right space.

So I am starting my countdown timer from the first day: You can find the link to my #ARE100Challenge Countdown from Day 60 here.

#ARE100Challenge Graphic. Created by RMSM Studio.

ARE 100 Challenge Countdown: 60 Days Left

HOUR COUNT: 0 OF 100 HOURS

Studying for: construction & Evaluation (CE)

challenge step: step 1. Read All required Textbooks first!

My goal for today and the next few weeks is to read as many of the main textbooks for my exam. This includes the AHPP, Ballast, and some of the Kaplan books which I’ve been able to purchase to give me a general understanding of the Construction Administration topics.

I’ve already completed the Wiley/Namour Wright Guide for the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice. However, tied into the concept of me losing things if I haven’t studied them recently, I would prefer to read them as second time as the last resource within this Challenge Step.

I feel like one thing this challenge allows me to do is be focused on one material at a time, instead of trying to jump from reference to reference. Cross training with different mediums is important, from audio lectures, to videos and practice exams. However, I believe cross training will come more into play once I have learned the essential concepts for this exam.

I will mainly be using the Clockify website to track my hours for this challenge, as it is a really easy interface for me to use. I’ve described how I used it to pass PcM here, along with other digital tools. I also plan on sharing a live webinar this month, on using Clockify to study more effectively for the ARE exam, so keep an eye out for that announcement.

Want to Participate in the #ARE100Challenge?

Download the Challenge Rules, and share your progress on social media using the #ARE100Challenge hashtag. Share your study materials, tips, diagrams, breakthroughs, frustrations, and successes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Record your progress and study hours daily or weekly it’s up to you!

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!