ArchiTalks #31: Every Architect's Agony

This month's ArchiTalks topic is the ARE, otherwise known as the Architectural Registration Exam. Every licensed architect will go through a year or longer, of architectural exam agony. These series of exams are also known as The Architectural Registration Exam, a.k.a. the AREs. Be sure to check out the blogroll at the end of my post to read what others are saying about the exams.

Let me first give everybody NOT in architecture some background. One does not automatically become an Architect after architecture school (nor does one necessarily become an Architect after passing the AREs). Notice how I used that capital A in Architect? In the United States of America, every state is a little different, but you can't technically refer to yourself as an Architect without becoming licensed. In short, the only people I know who really seem to care about this are people in the profession, but it does makes a difference. I'm also half kidding, because as a client, you also don't want to hire to guy/gal off the street to design your house, but in all seriousness, if you've been practicing for some time now, you're probably legit regardless of licensure. So how does one become a licensed Architect? Well, he or she first has to fulfill what's now known as the AXP or internship requirement (used to be called the IDP for Internship Development Program, but the word "intern" in architecture has become derogatory), and pass all the divisions of the Architectural Registration Exam or the AREs. Only then are you able to apply for licensure, and the terms and conditions vary from state to state.


Even after having passed all of my AREs, they still intimidate me to my core. The exams that I failed continue to give me nightmares, and perhaps the angst of having gone through the process has left me wanting to break from taking the California Supplemental Exam (CSE). When I took and passed the AREs, they were in version 4.0. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), upgraded the 9 tests in version 3.0/3.1 to 7 test in the new version 4.0 right around the time I finished Cal Poly in 2008. By the time I came around to finishing all 7 of my exams, version 5.0 had just been released which has reduced the process down to 5 exams. 


As much as I hated going through the examination process, it has become a right of passage for every architect. Nearly every single architect you will meet will have his or her own story of trekking through the AREs. Some of the older veterans have their own stories of going through the examination process at a convention hall to take drafting exam with pen, pencil, and paper. The test was only offered once a year! The current versions of the ARE are a combination of multiple choice questions and vignettes which use a proprietary version of computer aided drafting software to solve design problems. You can take them almost anytime you'd like by signing up to take them at a testing center like you would the GRE or GMAT. 

But the true test of an architect in my opinion, will always be left to actual professional practice. There is SO MUCH to architecture and it can't really be measured by standardized exams, although the AREs do a good job of starting the measuring. It's architecture in real life that will weed out the bad ones and reward the good ones. In fact, I know people who passed the AREs and decided to veer in another direction other than becoming an architect. The practice of architecture is complex. No two projects are the same and every project, no matter how big or how small, is a new box of design challenges. 

If you've already passed the AREs, congratulations! If you're in the process of taking them, hang in there, the end will come if you stay dedicated! If you're about to start, just start! Don't wait around and think you'll have studied "enough"  at some point to schedule your first exam. 

All the best,   

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Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Test or Task

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Take the architect registration exam, already

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
What is the Big Deal about the ARE?

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
what A.R.E. you willing to do

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
What is the Benefit of Becoming a Licensed Architect?

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Passing the Test

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I forget

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
ARE - The Turnstile