Getting Started with the Architect Registration Exam

This post is the first in 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.

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
Mark Twain


For many, the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) is the culmination of years in school, the studio, and the office, trying to become licensed. It is often the last requirement you must complete before the world will legally consider you an Architect.

As you will discover, the road to completing your exams is down right confusing. I'm here to help you get through it all. Let's do it!





Since this is the first entry about the ARE, I wanted to discuss a bit about how and where you start the long, arduous process (just kidding....well sort of). If you break it down to its simplest form, all you need to do is:

  • Acquire Your Authorization to Test
  • Take & Pass the Exam Sections

Now, okay, I get it. You're probably wondering, 'Well, that's great, Mike, but it can't really be that simple, can it?" And in general, I would tend to say that the true first step is just keeping it straight for yourself. As you progress, you'll break down the process, and yes, the overall experience will become much more aggravating and confounding at times. That's why you need to always bring it back to the fewest steps to your goal so you don't feel like you're going crazy and then just quit one day.




I've known some people to take as little as two months and I've known people that took over 5 years and then quit the process anyway. I'd say though that you're looking at least a commitment of 1 to 2 years with the ARE, so you should shake hands and become friends now. The one to two years is a sliding scale based upon three key factors: experience, other commitments, and your resolve. These are truly the only things you need to consider before you start your exams.

1. Experience
The first factor is your own experience. The ARE is concerned first and foremost with protecting the Health, Safety, and Welfare of your community by making sure that you have achieved the minimum requirements and understanding to practice Architecture on your own. I don't mind this philosophy though. No offense, but when I walk inside a building, I don't want it to fall down on top of me!

2. Other Commitments
The next thing you need to look at in your own life is where your commitments are now. Do you live alone? Are you in a relationship? Do you have kids or pets? Do you have a demanding job or have one at all? Do you have clubs or groups you belong to? Do you have a lot of friends that rely on you? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself as you evaluate what kind of effort you'll have to make in order to finish the AREs and what kind of time frame you'll actually need to create for yourself to do so.

3. Your Resolve
The final thing to consider is the type of resolve you have. Are you typically a laid back person or a go-getter? I think that this exam particularly favors the latter just because your resolve will be tested as well as your experience during the exam. The overall exam, boiled down to pure testing time alone is over 30 hours long. Consider that for a second.

In the 'old days' before the test was taken via computer, potential architects would sit in testing locations for three, full work day sessions in order to complete their own exam. In the ARE 4.0 format, there are 7 exams that you can take in any order and at any time, but that actually require more time to complete overall. There will be nice, sunny days that you'll want to go outside and hang out, but the ARE will be there. There will be cool parties and fun events to go to, but the ARE will be there. You will be tested by the ARE, in more ways than one.




There are probably thousands of ways to take the ARE. Understanding the three factors above will greatly influence how you personally lead your own way. As you move forward, you also need to understand what you're up against. The exam is broken into 7 sections that each test a particular set of skills related to being an architect, with an emphasis on health, safety, and welfare (HSW). Here's a quick look at each of the current ARE 4.0 sections.

(Division Statement Excerpts Below from NCARB)

1. Schematic Design> [6 hrs / 0 MC / 2 Vignettes]
Apply knowledge and skills required for the schematic design of buildings and interior space planning.

2. Site Planning & Design> [4.5 hrs / 65 MC / 2 Vignettes]
The application of knowledge and skills of site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.

3. Construction Documents & Services> [4 hrs / 100 MC / 1 Vignette]
Application of project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration.

4. Programming, Planning, & Practice> [4 hrs / 85 MC / 1 Vignette]
The application of project development knowledge and skills relating to architectural programming; environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; project and practice management.

5. Building Design & Construction Systems> [5.5 hrs / 85 MC / 3 Vignettes] The application of knowledge and skills of building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, and project and practice management.

6. Structural Systems> [5.5 hrs / 125 MC / 1 Vignette]
Identification and incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings.

7. Building Systems> [4 hrs / 95 MC / 1 Vignette]
The evaluation, selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction.



Once you've taken the time to understand what you're up against, determine a gracious amount of time in your schedule and simply sign up for your first exam. You will never finish these exams unless you give them a try and start. The worst thing that will happen is you'll take one and fail it. Just take it again. If you've come this far, you're probably in a position where you've spent years and thousands of dollars on your education, worked in an office for a while, and just want to finally call yourself an architect. It won't happen unless you do something about it.

When I was ready to make the commitment myself, I had to let people around me know what was going on, pull back from some of the things I liked to do and say 'no' to new commitments. As you take your own exams, understand this: While it seems like a never-ending process - it will end. There will be a day when you wake up and say to yourself with unwavering conviction, I am an architect, and it will be freaking awesome.

Do it to evolve your career. Do it for yourself.

Just Do It.

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Taking your first steps to the complete the Architect Registration Exam can seem overwhelming. What are your ARE concerns? Have you taken an exam section yet? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.

Michael LaValley