Why Failing My First A.R.E. Section Was the Best Possible Outcome

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.

Evolving Architect // "Why Failing My First A.R.E. Section Was the Best Possible Outcome"
"Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."
Henry Ford


Back in Summer 2013, I had a real inkling to finally get going on my AREs. At that point, I had worked for about 5 years in a professional setting, completed my IDP hours, and just needed a boost to get my examinations done so I could finally call myself 'Architect.'

Anyway, I planned everything out and decided that my first exam would be Site Planning and Design. From most of what I could find in the magical wonder that is the internet, it appeared that exam would be one of the better ones to start with.

I got all of the standard review materials together, reviewed the drawing vignettes, and began studying. After about a month and a half (I gave myself 6 weeks out from the day I scheduled my exam since I had no idea how long it would take to study), I found myself at the local testing center.

The entire process was a bit intimidating with the first test. Everything was very procedural and down to the letter. I definitely got the feeling that if my ID wasn't in order or something went awry, I'd get kicked out of the testing center "You are the weakest link, goodbye."

The test itself was frustrating. It's difficult to study for an exam when even the study materials can't even give you 'real' exam questions to gauge how well you're doing. It's also somewhat nerve racking that I can't actually describe to you, dear reader, WTF I really mean with an example of my own, but I digress.


In the end, I waited for about 2 weeks to get an email from NCARB saying that I should log on to their site in order to see my results. Personally, I've always thought that was process was weird, seeing as how they could literally just email me a pdf of my results.

It said the one word I always feared, but never really thought it would....FAIL. Now, I took a moment and examined every word. I'll give NCARB this, they are pretty good about helping you at least understand what portion of the exam you failed in.

The form broke down for me the portions of the exam I had passed (not by how much, just that I had indeed passed them) and which sections I had difficulty in. Fortunately, I wasn't too far off the mark and only failed one portion and passed the rest - including the vignettes.

Then it all set in...

Understand that this was prior to the 60 day waiting period now enjoyed by ARE Candidates. I had to wait what felt like an eternity (6 months!) before NCARB would even allow me to schedule my next exam. I also had a realization that I'd have to endure the exam all over again - studying, exam day, anxiety waiting for my results - all of it. I was not a happy camper.


Part of me was disappointed in my performance. I felt miserable for myself for days. That is, until I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. I had to move forward and attack the entire exam (all 7 sections) with an absolute dedication. After I had a chance to reflect and pick myself up, I developed a plan to conquer my own ARE demons. That Winter, I began an arduous study regime and promised myself that I would get through it no matter how long it took.

I pivoted during my 6-month break from Site Planning & Design to focus on Construction Documents and Services. Contracts. Contracts. Contracts. Oh, wait - and MORE Contracts. After the first of the year in 2014, I took Construction Documents & Services and killed it. I took Site Planning & Design almost 6 months to the day from when I failed. I then went on to destroy 3 more exams before June.

I took a break in the Fall and re-engaged my efforts in Spring of 2015. Of all the exams, Structural Systems was the most difficult to study for. In the end, I buckled down and got it done. Granted, that was only after months of reading what was likely over 2,000 pages worth of information, but who's really counting?

I moved on to my final exam and didn't let up for a minute. I walked out after time had ended, filled out my exit survey and waited for one of the most stressful weeks of my life for that same email notification that had haunted me at the beginning of my journey.

Exactly one week later...



I had gone from failing my very first exam section to killing each one after that until I had taken down every last one. Failing Site Planning & Design was by no means enjoyable (far from it), but that single action lit a fire inside me that pushed me and my studying into overdrive. I passed each exam after my first stumble and never looked back.

If you're struggling with your own exams right now, know that we all have stories like this. This experience is something you will look on fondly, not because you enjoyed it, but because you unlocked your own greatness from within. You can do this, now get it done.


Failing something isn't the end of the world. You can bounce back and succeed in anything you set your mind to. How are you doing with your own exams? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.

Michael LaValley