Study for All the Divisions at Once; Take All the Divisions at Once

This advice, to study for all six divisions at once, and then take all six divisions at once, upsets many people, but I’ll defend it as good advice.

There has always been overlap in content between divisions of the ARE, but in ARE 5.0, overlap of content is the defining characteristic. In the switch from ARE 4.0, NCARB resolved to rearrange what had been testing divisions based on school subjects (structures, building systems, materials and methods of construction, etc.) to a regime where divisions are based on job phases (schematic design, design development, construction documents, etc.).

They explained the shift as aligning better with the way a project flows in an office. Fair enough, but I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation as to why it is better to test minimum professional and technical competency in a manner that aligns with project phases than in a manner that aligns with subject matter.

Oh well, this is the established system that we find ourselves in, so how to best navigate it?

Study for all six exams and then sit for all six exams at once.

If you’ve already passed some of the divisions, study for the remaining ones all at once.

This advice isn’t founded on pedagogical or epistemological grounds, but rather based on empirical observation. It is impossible to study the schematic design part of structures and the schematic design part of building systems and then take the division focused on early design. . . then study the design development part of structures and the design development part of building systems and then take the division focused on design development.

The problem with a one-at-a-time approach is three-fold:

(1) I don’t know precisely where the early design part of structures ends and the design development begins, and neither does anyone else.

(2) I’ll take ownership of the design development content of structures only if I’m studying it in reference to the foundational early-design part of structures so I’ll learn structures better if I study all of it.

(3) it’s more expedient to study all of structures, then all of building systems because that’s the clearest way to teach and write about it.

I’ve lived this advice myself. I took all six tests in six consecutive available time slots at the testing center, including a stint of four divisions tested in three consecutive days.

I have an email mailbox full of notes from people who have thanked me for encouraging them to take all these divisions at once, and lots more from those who didn’t take this path and wish they had.

But no one has ever written me to proclaim they were happy with their decision to spread these tests out.

Because the Amber Book charges tuition monthly, this advice to quickly sit for all six exams has surely been a costly business decision, but it is advice I stand by.

If you are overwhelmed by the idea of studying for all six, you can take the Practice Management and Project Management divisions together first, then study for the other four divisions and take those four in a block after you’ve passed the first two. If this 4+2 still scares you, fake courage and do it anyway.

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