9 Takeaways for those curious about the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0

I spent time this summer at NCARB headquarters in Washington DC where the testing staff there held a two day workshop for exam prep providers on the subject of ARE 5.0. I've also taken most of the ARE 5.0 exams myself. What follows are nine takeaways for those curious about the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0
  1. Breathe. I’ve spent considerable time working on this and I think the switch will be okay. In some ways the new exam is a bit better because there are fewer picky questions: the kind that ask you to recall the width of an electrical outlet. I just made that question up, but it was the kind of question that popped up the old exam and doesn't seem to be on the new one as much. It is less about remembering trivia and more about understanding. Plus no vignettes. Studying for ARE 5.0 will be more complicated though.
  2. ARE 5.0 has a bit less structures content and a bit more business content (they call it Practice Management), but most of the content will be the same as in ARE 4.0. The change is the way that the questions are grouped into divisions.
  3. As many of you know, they began to offer ARE 5.0 beginning in late 2016. You will self-transition to 5.0 when you are ready (until 2018 when everyone will be transitioned over). If you take just the right divisions in 4.0 and just the right divisions in 5.0, you can become licensed with five total exams. If you’re taking this route and you’ve passed the three ARE 4.0 exams (CDS, PPP, SPD) and will be self-transitioning and taking just the two ARE 5.0 exams (Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation), you’ll want to study the content from ARE 4.0 Building Systems, ARE 4.0 BDCS, and ARE 4.0 Site Planning & Design. That technical content is covered extensively on the ARE 5.0 bundle we offer. You’ll may want to study a bit, but probably not as much, from ARE 4.0 Structural Systems exam prep content. I'll let you know more about that as I learn more about the ARE 5.0 exam.
  4. Most of the 11,000 old bank of questions (called “items”) remains in use and those items will be rotated into your 5.0 exam. This means you can use the same study materials, because most of the content is the same. Those older questions (single answer multiple choice, check-all-that-apply, and numerical fill in the blank) will be supplemented with three new types of items: (a) hot spot items (i.e. over the building wall section on the right, click the cursor where flashing should be located), (b) drag-and-place items (i.e. drag the rainwater barrier, rigid insulation, and air retarder drawings on the left in the correct location to create a cavity wall section on the right), and (c) case study questions (given the searchable pdf files we’ve included with code excerpts, program description, and site plan, how many parking spaces are required for this project). I’d rather you not focus on the types of questions, and instead focus on the content. That strategy will serve you better. It's very important that you use the search function in the case study questions; otherwise you will spend too much time on just a few questions while reading a zoning ordinance or a long code excerpt.
  5. As I wrote, there will be more content on practice management, which now has a dedicated division focused only on that subject. For that test,  your go-to will be to read The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (chapters 1, 5, 9, 10, all of section IV, and read the A 201 and B 101 contracts).
  6. There is substantial overlap in content areas between divisions. More than before. Mentally, divide the exam into two baskets: a "technical competence" series and a "professional competence" series. I recommend you study for the technical competence three of the six divisions, then take those three exams. . . .  and study for the other "professional competence" three of the six divisions, then take those three exams.For the "technical competence" basket, You’ll want to study building systems, materials and methods of construction (BDCS), structures, and site design before taking the three technical competence divisions. My videos will cover most of that content in the "technical competence" side. You’ll want to study all three professional competence exams before taking all of those three exams in a row. I’d schedule each block of three exams together, as close to one another on the calendar as possible. Schedule those exams before you begin studying to give you a fixed date on the horizon.  You'll want to take the Construction & Evaluation test last because it includes considerable content from both the "professional competence" and the "technical competence" baskets. Look for more videos covering the "professional competence" basket in late 2017.  Want a more specific study plan? I'd do this:

    For those taking the ARE 5.0 path (all six exams in the new ARE 5.0 format)
    1. Schedule the Programming & Analysis, Project Planning & Design, and Project Development & Documentation exams for three consecutive available testing center slots two months from today.
    2. Study the ARE 5.0 bundle videos. Fill in with structures content as necessary.
    3. Take all three of those "technical competence" exams.
    4. Schedule the Practice Management, Project Management, and Construction & Evaluation exams for one month out.
    5. Read The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (chapters 1, 5, 9, 10, all of section IV, and read the A 201 and B 101 contracts). Focus on the first portions of each chapter (the later portions are more specific and less "testable").
    6. Take all three of those "professional competence" exams.
    7. Backfill as you go by rescheduling any exam you fail for as soon as possible after you find out you failed it, after waiting the minimum two months for a retake. For most people, failing some exams is part of the process and should not be viewed as a significant setback.

    For those taking the combined ARE 4.0 and ARE 5.0 "five exam shortcut" path (three exams in the old ARE 4.0 format and two exams new ARE 5.0 format . . . or two exams in the old ARE 4.0 and three exams in the new ARE 5.0). See the transition calculator at http://arecalc.ncarb.org/
    1. Complete the ARE 4.0 exams needed.
    2. Schedule the Project Planning & Design, and Project Development & Documentation exams (and Programming & Analysis exam if you are taking three exams in ARE 5.0) for consecutive available testing center slots two months from today.
    3. Study the ARE 5.0 bundle videos. Fill in with structures content as necessary.
    4. Take both (or all three) of those "technical competence" exams.
    5. Reschedule any exam you fail for as soon as possible after you find out you failed it.
  7. NCARB has been commendably transparent and proactive in keeping test prep providers like me in the loop on all matters of the exam transition, but I’m still unsure why separating divisions by design stage is better than separating divisions by subject matter. That is, however, the system we live under, so let’s move on from that discussion. Though you’ll have more studying to do between exams, you’ll be able to knock out multiple exams in one chunk.
  8. But doesn’t that mean that I need to study a LOT of content at once and somehow fit all of that in my head? Yes. Many of you will be upset by this change. I, however, feel that it is the fastest path toward licensure with the least number of hours studying and the fewest months devoted to this effort. I’ll revise this advice on this page if I change my mind after 5.0 is released and I get some feedback on this strategy. It is kind of like the old-timers who got their license with one 12-hour exam, only there’s no hand-stippling involved in ARE 5.0!
  9. Several things remain the same in ARE 5.0 as in ARE 4.0. In ARE 5.0 you can still retake a failed division after a 60-day wait. The price for testing remains the same. Every question has the same weight on your score and there is no partial credit for a question (like if you correctly identify some but not all of a check-all-that-apply item). Your pass or fail is based on your overall score, so if you fail every code item, you might still be able to pass the exam. (Currently, the format of the exam report that shows up when you fail a division might make you think otherwise.) Finally, stop determining whether you are ready for an exam based on the number of exam prep questions you answered correctly and stop guessing if you passed a division when you leave the testing center. ARE 5.0, like ARE 4.0 does not have a fixed percentage of correct items you need to achieve a pass across all the divisions. In fact, currently in ARE 4.0, a multiple choice score as low as 59% can be a pass in Structural Systems and a score of 76% might be a fail in Site Planning & Design.

Good luck to everyone.

-Michael Ermann
The Amber Book