NCARB Live FAQs: ARE 5.0

During this month's NCARB Live, we received dozens of questions about ARE 5.0. We weren’t able to address every question, so we divided them up by subject area to answer them here on the blog. If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recap or read the transcript here

Questions are grouped by the following categories: [Exam Content] [Transition Plan] [Strategic Approach] [Rolling Clock] [Retake Policy] [Study Materials] [Score Reports] [Policies]

Exam Content

How many vignettes will there be in ARE 5.0, and what divisions will they be in?
None! ARE 5.0 is planning to take advantage of new tools and technology in the testing industry. The division structure for ARE 5.0 incorporates graphics throughout the exam using new performance item types like “drag and place” and “hot spots.” These new item types, along with case studies, allow for testing at higher levels of cognition through analytical, synthetic, and evaluative exercises—which will be more like what architects do as part of regular practice.

What are case studies?
In a case study, candidates will be presented a scenario and a related set of resource documents (e.g., drawings, specifications, zoning codes, code documents). Candidates will then be asked between 10 and 20 questions specifically about the scenario and resources. The questions can be in the form of any item type, including drag and place and hot spots. Case studies require candidates to assess multiple pieces of information and make evaluative judgments. This is a better reflection of the practice of architecture; rarely is one decision made without considering multiple factors.

What’s an example of a “hot spot” question?
Hot spot items display an image and present a question that requires the candidate to indicate the correct answer by clicking the cursor and “marking” directly on the image. More information on hot spots, drag and place, and case studies, including examples, will be coming out closer to the launch of ARE 5.0.

Is history still going to be a big part of the exams?
The ARE focuses on the skills and competencies necessary to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Any history questions on the exams will be related to these principles.

Will there be more emphasis on LEED and sustainability in ARE 5.0?
Likely. The test specification [PDF] for ARE 5.0 is driven by the results of the 2012 Practice Analysis of Architecture. The amount of exam emphasis on sustainability and related programs will reflect the results of the survey.

Will there be new software at testing centers?
Yes, but you won’t need to practice using it ahead of time. As part of moving to ARE 5.0, NCARB is also improving the way the exam is delivered at Prometric test centers. For candidates, this means a new look and feel when you sit down to take an exam. Remember, we’re eliminating vignettes with ARE 5.0, so the current practice program will no longer be necessary. As we get closer to the launch of ARE 5.0, we will release additional information about preparing for your test day.

Will the new divisions be more related to the work world and what we’re doing in firms?
Yes, and here’s why: every five to seven years, NCARB conducts a practice analysis that involves surveying a broad spectrum of architects from around the country. Questions addressed specific tasks and knowledge/skills related to pre-design, design, project management, and practice management, as well as general knowledge and skills. Data from the 2012 NCARB Practice Analysis of Architecture was used to create the test specification for ARE 5.0 to ensure it reflects daily practice. This also true in ARE 4.0. 

The way ARE 5.0 will be “more related to the work world and what we’re doing in firms” is because of the overall change in the structure of the exam. ARE 4.0 is designed so each division represents a specific area of content. You take an exam specifically on structures or an exam specifically on building systems. But that is not how architects really practice. I have never walked into an office and said, “Today is structures day” and then proceeded to figure out all aspects of the structure for my particular project. The exam format for ARE 5.0 is now organized around the progression of a typical architecture project, which is how architects tend to work.

How will the Schematic Design portion from ARE 4.0 transition over to ARE 5.0 without vignettes?
Schematic Design is the last ARE 4.0 division we recommend candidates take because a passing score only earns you credit toward one ARE 5.0 division (Project Planning & Design). The two vignettes in SD (Interior Layout and Building Layout), as important as they are, only cover the concepts that are being assessed in the ARE 5.0 division of Project Planning & Design. Those vignettes do not assess concepts like firm management or how to detail a section, so they do not map to other divisions of ARE 5.0. 

Is the exam related to practice and design provisions for the state you’re testing in?
No. The ARE is a national examination used by all 54 of our jurisdictions. Because of this, we do not include questions related to a specific jurisdiction.

Transition Plan

Where can I download a copy of the credit model?
You can download your own copy here.

Will there be a tool on the website to help you determine how many credits from ARE 4.0 will transfer to ARE 5.0?
Yes. In early 2015, we plan to launch a tool called the transition calculator. This tool will be tied directly to your testing history through My Examination, so it will take all of your passed ARE 4.0 exams and automatically tell you which ARE 5.0 divisions you will earn credit for. The transition calculator will also have a “what if” option, which will allow you see which ARE 5.0 credits you will earn if you pass any additional ARE 4.0 divisions. Whenever you calculate how you will transition to ARE 5.0, remember to factor in your Rolling Clock.

In addition to the transition calculator, will there be someone that we can call and guide us through our individual scenarios? 
Of course! You can always reach out to us by calling Customer Service at 202/879-0520 or tweeting us at @NCARB. We’re happy to walk you through the transition plan and how it could affect you personally.

Is there such as thing as earning partial credit toward an ARE 5.0 division?
There is not. In order to earn credit for an ARE 5.0 division, all of the ARE 4.0 divisions listed for that division must be passed. Neither ARE 4.0 nor ARE 5.0 are designed to make an assessment of competency based on a partial exam. 

Once I start taking ARE 5.0 divisions, can I go back to ARE 4.0?
No. ARE candidates who begin testing in ARE 4.0 will have the option to “self-transition” to ARE 5.0 as soon as it launches. This will allow candidates to continue testing in the version that is most convenient for them. However, once you transition to ARE 5.0, you will not be able to transition back to ARE 4.0.

Strategic Approach

If I have BS, BDC, and SS left, should I take them under ARE 4.0 or to self-transition to ARE 5.0?
If you only have three exams left right now, then don’t wait—take them! Waiting to self-transition only delays achieving your goal of licensure. Taking them now also will help you avoid having to deal with any unintended effects of your Rolling Clock, which is still ticking.

If I graduate in 2015, is it better to wait for ARE 5.0 or should follow the chart for transition?
I never like to tell a candidate to wait to start testing, but the decision is really up to you. If you feel comfortable with the exam content right after graduating, then absolutely begin testing in ARE 4.0. But remember to test strategically by starting with CDS. However, if you spend a year working on gaining IDP experience and begin testing as soon as ARE 5.0 launches, that’s also a reasonable plan. Whichever way you choose to go, just be sure to make a testing plan and stick to it! 

Can the ARE 5.0 tests be taken in any order?
Yes, they can. NCARB lists the divisions in an order that aligns with the typical progression of an architecture project. But if you feel most comfortable with the content in Programming & Analysis or Construction & Evaluation, then by all means feel free to start there.

Is the order of ARE 4.0 divisions on the "Credit Model" the best order to take the tests before the ARE 5.0 rollout?
We think so. Passing the first three exams (CDS, PPP, and SPD) will maximize the number of credits you will earn for ARE 5.0 divisions. By passing these three ARE 4.0 divisions, you’ll earn credit for four ARE 5.0 divisions. (Not a bad deal.) After that, we recommend taking BDCS next because some of the concepts from this division are related to concepts on both SS and BS. Taking SD last makes the most sense as it only earns you credit toward one ARE 5.0 division.

Is there a specific reason why you recommend taking CDS first, PPP, then SPD to make the transition to ARE 5.0? Can we begin with SPD?
Choosing to start with SPD is really up to you and what you feel most comfortable with. Every candidate needs to create a testing plan that works best for him/her. The reason NCARB is recommending to start with CDS is because it combines with other ARE 4.0 divisions to earn you the most ARE 5.0 credits. In fact, by passing CDS you have already earned full credit for Construction & Evaluation in ARE 5.0. Passing PPP then earns you full credit for Practice Management and Project Management. You have now passed two ARE 4.0 divisions but earned credit for three ARE 5.0 divisions. 

What is the best plan for someone who passed ARE 4.0 CD & SD in December 2010, but is now struggling with SS & BS? Does the five-year Rolling Clock still apply?
The short answer is yes, the Rolling Clock will still apply to all passed ARE 4.0 and ARE 5.0 exams. I would definitely seek some support in preparing for SS and BS. Typically your local AIA chapter will have materials or maybe even a study group you could join. Studying with other colleagues going through the process can be a big help in getting through a last few exams.

Rolling Clock

The Rolling Clock only starts when you pass the first exam in either in ARE 4.0 or ARE 5.0, correct?
Correct. The Rolling Clock only applies to passed divisions.

How will my Rolling Clock transition to 5.0? Will I have to start all over again if I’ve already begun testing in ARE 4.0?
Your Rolling Clock will still tick in the time between now and the launch of ARE 5.0. You should look at what divisions you have currently passed and make a plan to pass the outstanding divisions within your remaining window of time. If you believe you may be affected by the transition to ARE 5.0, you should make sure you test strategically going forward.

Retake Policy

Will you have to wait six months to retake a failed division in ARE 5.0?
NCARB is constantly evaluating all of the policies that govern its programs—including the retake policy. However, at this time, the six-month retake policy remains in affect.

If the retake policy does change, would it be for both ARE 5.0 and ARE 4.0?
If the retake policy were to change, then yes, it would likely be for both versions of the exam.

Study Materials

What can I do right now to prepare for ARE 5.0?
Keep testing in ARE 4.0! The average candidate finishes the ARE in two years, meaning most candidates currently testing will be done with ARE 4.0 before ARE 5.0 even launches. Then you never even have to worry about transitioning.

Where can I find study material and/or practice tests for ARE 5.0? 
ARE 5.0 is not anticipated to launch until late 2016—which is more than two and a half years away. You should continue to prepare and test on ARE 4.0. Exam preparation materials for ARE 5.0 will start to become available in early 2016. For now, stay focused on ARE 4.0.

Will ARE 5.0 have an online forum for support?
NCARB will continue to support candidates through various platforms like this blog, Twitter, Facebook, and our other social media channels. Our goal is that the blog will continue to grow as a resource for candidates. If you’re looking for additional websites to check out, we compiled a list of the best blogs for architecture students and interns. 

Will study materials for ARE 5.0 be offered for free as well?
Yes. NCARB will continue to provide at a minimum the same resources we do now for free. These include the exam guides and ARE Guidelines

Will there be a need to practice any software prior to sitting for a section of the exam?
For ARE 5.0, there shouldn’t be a need to practice using any software as the new item types are pretty intuitive. However, NCARB plans to release a few short “how to” videos or tutorials to ensure all candidates know how to use the new item types. There will not be a practice program like there currently is for vignettes.

Should we strive to work with our local jurisdiction on ARE and registration questions before asking the national branch?
You can always contact NCARB Customer Service to answer questions, especially related to the ARE. If your question happens to be one that your jurisdiction needs to answer, then we will point you in the right direction of who to contact. While licenses are actually issued by your jurisdiction, we are both here to help you through the process.

Why is the vignette program not an industry standard like AutoCAD?
There are a couple of reasons why. The first is that not everyone uses the same drafting software, no matter how industry standard it is. When NCARB originally developed the custom vignette program in 1997, we wanted to be sure it was fair to all candidates regardless of their familiarity with a particular CADD application. Since then, these applications have improved significantly, and most candidates are very familiar with one or more CADD applications. However, fairness still continues to be a concern in a professional licensure exam such as the ARE.

The second reason is the scoring engine used to grade vignettes does not integrate very well with CADD applications. The AutoCAD program you use in your office is a far more powerful than the vignette software. The vignette software only needs to support the necessary assessment requirements and is not intended to replicate the full practice of architectural design and documentation.

Score Reports

How early will we receive exam scores?
More information about how candidates will receive score reports will be available in 2016.

Will ARE 5.0 score reports provide better feedback on failing exams so we know what to re-study? Now, it’s very hard to know what went wrong with a failing grade.
We will be looking at ways to improve score reports again with the launch of ARE 5.0, but you can still expect to receive similar information. On a failing score report, you’ll find limited diagnostics about your level of performance. Descriptive feedback is not provided on passing score reports and limited on failing score reports because the exam is designed to assess general competency; not to be used as a “teaching tool.” Now, when studying for a retest in a division, you should go over all content for that division, but especially spend time on content areas or vignettes marked as “level 2 or 3.”


How much will each ARE 5.0 division cost?
The cost of each ARE 5.0 division is still being determined. We expect to release more information about the fee structure sometime in 2016. Our goal is always to make the cost of the exam as reasonable for candidates as possible.

Is there any talk to move back to only offering the exam once or twice a year? 
Not at this time. Candidates have the freedom to take the exam in any order, at any time, virtually anywhere. With hundreds of test centers to choose from throughout the United States, its territories, Canada, London, Hong Kong, and even Abu Dhabi, the exam has never been more accessible—and we plan to keep it that way!

You can find more FAQs on ARE 5.0 here.

About the Author

I joined NCARB in 2010 as an assistant director in exam development. I now work primarily on the development of ARE 5.0 and other new research initiatives within our Directorate, as well as on various outreach events reinforcing the importance of licensure. Previously, my work focused on the development of the ARE’s 11 graphic vignettes. Before joining NCARB, I worked as a project architect in Washington, DC, and have over 10 years of experience in all phases of design and construction management. I have been fortunate enough to work on a variety of project types, including: base buildings, commercial interiors, hotel/hospitality, urban planning, and branded environments. Originally from Indiana, I am a graduate of Ball State University—the Cardinals, which according to fellow alumn David Letterman, are the “fiercest of the robin-sized birds.”