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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4 Ways To Gain AXP Hours Outside Of A Firm

As you go through your licensure process, you’ll discover that time is everything. Hours spent studying for the AREs, experience hours for AXP, how long it takes you to earn your degree, all of these contribute to the time it takes for you to get your professional registration.

I also know that for many people, there is always at least one experience area for AXP that you really had to struggle to get. For many people in medium to large scale firms, that can be the practice management area, since they aren’t at a level where they could make decisions, or charge billable hours on that work. It’s the traditional catch-22 of, “I need to work to get the experience, I need the experience to get the work”. I am currently going through a similar struggle to get my hours in for Construction & Evaluation.

This has inspired me to create a list of some of the alternative ways you can gain experience, based off of both my personal experience and the NCARB AXP Guidelines.

AEC Daily

Free.

Free. Free. Free.

This is one of the best things about AEC Daily which is amazing because their library of courses is so huge. They offer online courses in a variety of formats for those in the design and construction industry. The reason that they can offer their courses for free is because most of the courses are created by product manufacturers or suppliers.

However, this is not a negative, because in order for them to apply for AIA CE (Continuing Education) credits (which they do) they have to be genuinely educational. Another great benefit of the courses being made by the actual product suppliers is that you get to see how each of these items and systems would be used in the field, their installation processes, and best practices for using them in your own projects. Since they are an approved AIA course provider, they report all of the courses you’ve completed directly to the AIA for you, all you have to do is check your transcript.

AIAU

The online learning platform hosted by the AIA, they have several online, self-paced courses that can help you gain experience, up to 20 hours per experience area for HSW credit (Health Safty and Welfare) courses. The website interface allows you to filter the courses to search for HSW credits specifically. The subjects for these courses can vary widely, allowing you to find something for each experience area, and many of these courses are free for AIA members.

Architecture Design Competitions

This one is a biggie, as it allows you to earn up to 320 hours in experience, which is huge. My favorite thing about this experience opportunity is that you don’t even have to win the competition, you just have to complete your entry. You can also participate in a competition as part of your firm, but it’s pretty great that you can enter as an individual as well. In order for your hours to count, see below:

The design competition must be completed under the supervision of a mentor and meet the following criteria:
• Align to at least one of the AXP tasks
• Be for a “building” or “planning” project
• Be a formally structured competition with specified
submission requirements
• Sponsored by a recognized business entity, governmental agency,
or professional association
• You must be appropriately credited on the competition entry

NCARB AXP Guidelines, May 2020

Some great websites to find architecture design competitions are ArchDaily, Bustler, and Competitions.Archi.

Site Visit with a Mentor

As I mentioned in the beginning, I am currently struggling to get Construction and Evaluation experience with my company. And with the current recession and COVID combined, companies don’t want additional people on site who aren’t there to work on the specific project.

I’ve decided to overcome this obstacle by scheduling virtual site visits with my mentor. No, this didn’t involve checking the site out via Google maps or live-stream. What he did was take me through one of his completed projects from start to finish, including all the client and community review processes that he had to conduct along the way. We went through:

  • site photos at different stages
  • site considerations and challenges the project faced
  • procurement process for bidding the project
  • value engineering
  • engineers and consultants required
  • reasons for specific design decisions
  • zoning and approvals

And throughout this presentation, I was asking questions based on what I’ve learned from studying for the ARE’s and architectural practice. It felt really great to apply my knowledge and feel like I had a real understanding of the concepts and processes he was describing.


These were just a few of the many methods available to you to obtain your AXP experience hours. If you have tried any of these, or have tried other methods, please share in the comments. For those still studying for the AREs, I’ll soon be sharing my PjM study guide, which is being released for free on August 31st 2020. You can pre-order it for free today!