This post is part of a regular series on the Architect Registration Exam. The exam is often the final requirement for designers to evolve their careers into full-fledged architects.
"Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. so relax"
Finding Balance in the Chaos of Studying
Studying for the A.R.E. can be hard enough as it is. Sometimes we can lose track of ourselves as we get closer to the test date. Here are some tips to create a successful environment for your mind and body in the days leading up to your next exam.
BEST PRACTICE #1
DON'T STUDY THE ENTIRE DAY BEFORE YOUR EXAM
Listen. When you get to the day just before your next exam, DO NOT STUDY. You need to allow your mind the proper amount of time to relax. Assuming that you’ve been cramming your studying down your throat for the last several weeks, give yourself a moment to rest. You’re more likely to do yourself harm in terms of information retention if you don’t provide yourself with a bit of a break from the intense studying.
BEST PRACTICE #2
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but getting the right amount of sleep is critical to your exam success. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may start working against you. You’ll start making silly mistakes. When you try to remember that one thing that you’re sure you learned, you won’t. When you think you’ve clicked the right multiple choice answer, you’ll go back and realize you made a stupid mistake (not that I’ve made any of those before).
BEST PRACTICE #3
EAT A PROPER MEAL (BREAKFAST / LUNCH)
Whether you set up your exam time for first thing in the morning or in the early afternoon, you need to motivate your body and mind to stay active by eating a well-balanced meal ahead of it. If you can jump start your metabolism right after you wake up, you’ll be more likely to stay alert throughout the day.
Now, don’t just go and eat a mountain of sugary crap. Try and have something high in protein and other nutrients that will work with you and not against you. Scarfing down a couple donuts just to go into a sugar coma an hour later isn’t my idea of being particularly productive.
BEST PRACTICE #4
PREVENTATIVE ORANGE JUICE REGIME
Something I wish I had done more of leading up to my exams (learned the hard way through experience) was to drink more orange juice and other things that would boost my immune system. There were a few instances of mild sickness (flu and cold) that could have probably been prevented had I just taken better care of myself ahead of the scheduled exam.
And, well, there was an unfortunate experience of food poisoning right before Site Planning & Design that I couldn’t have really prevented (but that’s for another time). In short, drink more water, orange juice, or whatever else you need to in order to prevent sickness as best you can before your next exam.
BEST PRACTICE #5
GET YOUR INFORMATION / I.D. TOGETHER
Although it may be overkill to plan out exactly what ID you’ll have on you at the exam, NCARB and Prometric don’t mess around. If you don’t have proper identification, you don’t sit for the exam… period.
You don’t want to be the one person who left their Driver’s License or Passport at home. I’ve seen this happen to others at the exam center. It’s embarrassing and expensive – you’ll effectively give up your exam privileges and have to eat the cost of the exam. Being organized is absolutely worth it. Not to mention that this should really only take you a minute.
BEST PRACTICE #6
MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING
In the same vein as making sure you have the correct ID, take a minute to understand where exactly your testing center is. Halfway during my overall exam process, the exam site I was used to moved to a completely new building across the city. If I wasn’t paying attention and just went to the same building I always had, I would have lost most of the available test time I had and possibly even have had to take the exam over.
Another time, I found out (thanks to a quick call from the exam center) that the highway exit closest to the exam center was under construction and had been closed. I needed to find an alternate route the morning of. Had I not, I would have lost half an hour just working my way around construction. This is definitely something worth considering. Give yourself extra time to compensate for traffic, weather, and unknowns. If you show up early enough, you may even have the chance to sit earlier than your scheduled time and leave early as well.
BEST PRACTICE #7
DO SOMETHING PURELY FUN THE NIGHT BEFORE
Every time an exam drew near, I looked forward to my Exam Ritual, doing whatever I wanted to the night before. Instead of rummaging through stacks of notes, exam guides, and practice exams, I found myself at the local cinema.
I’m a huge fan of movies and taking the couple hours to just immerse myself in that experience allowed all of the previous studying I had done to percolate inside my mind while I focused on something far less demanding. The tiny respite from my studying paid off like gangbusters. I was calm, collected, and ready to take on the exam the following morning.
BEST PRACTICE #8
TAKE OFF FROM WORK THE ENTIRE DAY OF YOUR EXAM
Some people I know have scheduled their exams for one half of the day and worked the other half. If at all possible, do NOT go to work the day of your exam. If you work first and then take the exam, you’ll be far less productive and worried about getting to the exam on time. If you take the exam and then go to work, you’ll be far less productive because you need that time to decompress.
Each time I scheduled a new exam, I simultaneously requested time off for that same day. Now, don’t be silly about when you schedule your exams. You can’t schedule an exam on a day you know you have an important meeting or deadline – that’s just poor planning. But you can take a minute to schedule the necessary time off to help you succeed.
BEST PRACTICE #9
10-MINUTE CAR REVIEW
Especially since NCARB has officially made it policy that you are NOT allowed to use the intermediate time given at the beginning and middle of the exam for a ‘Brain Dump,’ take a few minutes right before you even go into the Testing Center and review the critical items you want to remember, but are worried you’ll forget.
This trick will help reinforce some of the material you’re unsure of. At this point, your mind may be racing, you may not have the ability to recall every little detail that you studied. If you take a few minutes just before your exam to glance over some final notes, you may jog your memory and save yourself from a few missed answers.
BEST PRACTICE #10
At the end of the day, you need to study in whatever way works best for you. If you’ve taken the time to adequately review all of the subjects likely to be on your next exam, you’ll probably do just fine. Take a moment, breathe, and go take down your next exam.
You can do it!
P.S. // Some minor tweaks to your routine in the days right before your next exam can be the difference between passing and failing. What do you do right before your exams? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.