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.

ARE 5.0 PcM Pass – Study Materials, Methods and Tips

Learn what study materials and methods I used to pass ARE 5.0 PcM on my first try.

This post was originally shared on my old blog, and if reading this detailed blog post is too long, you can download my one page ARE 5.0 PcM Study Guide for only $10 here.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

I almost can’t believe it, but the screen at Prometric confirmed it, so I’m not going to dispute it…

I passed my Practice Management (PcM) on the first try. I have been studying on and off for this exam since May last year, but I only started studying intensely for this exam since around November.

I worked full time, and organized for lunch time study sessions, where I would often be the only one to show up. I mostly studied after work, since I am not a morning person, and haven’t given up my night owl lifestyle since architecture studio. Just this week (wish I had found it earlier), I found this very informative NCARB forum post that helped give me a structure in terms of what content I should focus on, and making sure I truly understand the study materials.

My major motivator in looking for study materials was being very cost effective. I couldn’t afford to pay for a lot of fancy programs, so I just checked for the best free or cheap resources based on online and forum reviews.

To pay it forward to people like me who were desperately searching for study materials and methods for passing the exam, here is what I used.

Books

The Architects Handbook of Professional Practice (AHPP) a critical resource and I have a separate post on my major key in terms of this resource for those taking PcM as maybe their first exam, and are wondering what materials they should focus on. The main AHPP reading guide I used was the one provided by Kevin Griendling, AIA, from Pluralsight, which I found on the NCARB forums! (more on those below) It would be pretty accurate to say that AHPP was the main physical book resource that I got for this exam. Luckily my firm had a copy in their library, so I didn’t have to shell out the big bucks! I normally aimed to read about 4 sub-chapters per day, for example, sub-chapter 1.1 to 1.4 in one evening. This worked for me as I’m normally a fast reader, and I can finish a sub-chapter in around 30 minutes.

Price: AHPP: Free for me.

Contracts 

NCARB said that they only covered the B101 and C401 contracts in the PcM exam reference guide, but because people kept saying there was a lot of overlap with other exams, I studied the A201 and A101 as well, but less exhaustively.

My method for the contracts was:

  1. Reading through the all actual contracts above at least once
  2. Tatyana Aksamentova’s Contracts Study Guide
  3. Rewriting the contracts in shorthand as described in Christopher Richardson’s NCARB forum post
  4. Go through, and ideally redraw the AIA Contract Relationships Diagrams

Price:

  1. Contracts: free on AIA website
  2. Study Guide: free
  3. Contract shorthand: free
  4. Diagrams document: free

Digital Resources

Quizlet – Michael Riscica at youngarchitect.com and many others highlight the importance of flash cards and I agree! But! I feel like I am losing time writing by hand when I could be studying! And I type much faster than I write! Solution? Quizlet! It is the fastest way for me to create simple and customizable flash cards decks, with many different functions. Also usable in a mobile format which is very handy. I will be writing a longer post on my flash card studying techniques, but here you can find the decks I used:

  1. Financial Equations with Targets Deck – most critical and helpful! I walked into the exam really knowing this information!
  2. AIA Contracts Deck – Also very critical for ensuring you KNOW the contract numbers, and you’re not just guessing. There are other, even more comprehensive decks for contracts, with more contracts types, but for PcM, I think this one covered the essentials.
  3. ARE 5.0 Practice Management Deck – A great resource covering terms across all aspects of PcM including some financial definitions as opposed to strictly equations.

Price for all decks: Free

NCARB Forum – Just this week (wish I had found it earlier), I found this very informative NCARB forum post that helped give me a structure in terms of what content I should focus on, and making sure I truly understand the study materials. The forums are a really great searchable resource, and I recommend that you use them when you have a specific question in terms of the best way to study specific types of content. Trust me, you’re not the first to ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question! Some of the Forum Posts I found the most helpful were:

  1. Tatyana Aksamentova’s Practice Management Study Guide
  2. Tatyana Aksamentova’s Financial Ratios Study Guide

Price for Study Guides: Free

Schiff Hardin Lectures – A very important resource, that I forgot to mention in my initial release of this post was the Michael J. Hanahan, also known as Schiff Hardin lectures for AIA Contracts. These are a great resource for getting a refresher or deep understanding of the AIA Contracts, specifically the B101 and A201, for someone with lots of industry experience. These recordings can give great examples of how a particular article would play out on a real construction project. These audio recordings of his actual classes on these contracts and additional talks on risk, liability, tort, and the construction industry in general are a helpful resource. According to my productivity tracker, I studied this specific resource for at least 16 hours, normally listening during work or on long commutes or trips. 

Price for Audio Lectures: Free

Practice Exams

Designer Hacks PcM Exam – A very useful resource which came in highly recommended. These questions are much easier than the exam, but I mainly used them as a resource for testing my gaps in knowledge, and didn’t really focus on my actual scores. They give explanations for why the answer is right, but not why the others are wrong, which can be a significant limitation. I liked the variety of formats, from short Pop quizzes to long Practice Exams, which helped concentrate my studying based off the time I had available. 

Price: My office policy only allows one study resource purchase per person, which is normally a physical book, but instead I requested that they purchase the DesignerHacks Practice Exam Package for all 6 exams. So another Free for me! *Tip* Look into your office policies on ARE practice material sponsoring and see if you can consolidate resources for multiple tests into one. 

Walking the ARE 5.0 Practice Exam Do yourself a favor and get this exam. I did not purchase it until the day before my exam, and I feel like I could have done even better if I had. This exam comes the closest to the ARE in both the complexity and depth of the questions, and the actual exam format with the Case Studies. This is a must buy. It will give you a really good understanding of your knowledge gaps in applying the financial ratios, and the concept of time management. This is a must buy!

Price: $39. This was the only study guide I actually bought with my own money, and it was completely worth it. I recommend it highly.

Time Tracking Software

Productivity Timer App – This was the first time tracker app I used. It became critical for me to understand how much time I was putting towards which resources, and which I needed to spend more time on. My major driver on this exam was reaching 100 hours in study time, and this app was a big help in keeping me on track. The interafce is fun, and gives you levels to acheive and acheivements, similar to DesignerHacks, but this one is a bit more tongue in cheek, with levels such as Unrepentant Slacker (where I unfortunately spent most of my time). Some of the limitations of this app were the limited number of projects you could use, and it tries to discourage you from clocking time shorter than their allocated sessions (adjustable, but stays the same after you set it). Very handy in that it’s on your mobile devices and can take it anywhere and see your progress daily and since you started.

Price: Free version that I used, there is also a premium version if you need greater functionality.

Clockify Website – This is what I ended up using after the Productivity Timer App, due to the added flexibility of time tracking. This website’s tracking function is what I normally use for staff time tracking, but if I figured that this could work easily for tracking study times. It allows you to input time that you’ve studied, or just setting a timer with your specific study resource selected. I will be making a detailed post with how I studied with this resource, but you can also check out my study status screenshot below.

Price: Free


Resources I Did Not Use

Ballast Review Manual – I bought this textbook first actually, based off of many recommendations all over the web. However, with a measly 3 chapters dedicated to practice management, I basically did not look at this book once since I started studying seriously. I am anticipating it being much more helpful for other exams that it covers more in depth.

Black Spectacles – Lots of bad reviews for their program, and their videos are looong. They put a lot of time into their materials, but I need a more condensed version.

Pluralsight – mostly positive reviews, but not enough for me to pay for it.

Brightwood – bad reviews in forums and Young Architect website

AEP – expensive, and not enough positive reviews to purchase

Amberbooks – If I fail 1 test, I may invest in these, or maybe for the more technical exams, as structures was a long time ago for me.

Young Architect Bootcamp – If I fail more than 4 exams, I will invest in the bootcamp, too expensive for me right now

Young Architect Academy – I did not have the funds to get it in time for this exam. I will be investing in this for my PjM exam, along with the contracts course.

In Conclusion, I hope you gain some value from this long winded post. I just hope someone gets some value from my methods. If you have any questions, throw them in the comments. For now, I’m going to bed, and starting tomorrow, I’m gonna start studying for PjM.

If you got any value from this post, please let me know in the comments!

ARE 5.0 PcM Study Guide

Free Download Until April 30, 2020

I’ve created a one-page PDF guide to the Practice Management Exam, capturing the main ideas of this very detailed blog post in one place. This one-page document efficient and easy for you to strategize how to approach this exam using my study method. You can download your copy here.

The ARE 5.0 PcM Study Guide will be released for free on April 7th, 2020, and it will continue to be available for free download until April 30th, 2020, after which it will be $10.

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