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

How is ARE 5.0 different from ARE 4.0?

I spent time two summers ago at NCARB headquarters in Washington DC where the testing staff there held a two-day workshop for exam prep providers on the subject of the transition to ARE 5.0. I took all six ARE 5.0 divisions in six consecutive available Prometric time slots (including a stint of four exams in three days). I passed all six. And finally, I’ve been getting feedback from others who have taken my course and then taken the 5.0 exams. What follows are seven takeaways I’ve learned from those experiences for those curious about the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0

  1. Breathe. 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 a bit less about remembering trivia and a bit more about testing 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. You will self-transition from ARE 4.0 to 5.0 when you are ready (until 2018 when everyone will be transitioned over).
  4. Most of the old ARE 4.0 11,000-question bank remains in use (NCARB calls questions “items”) and those items will be rotated into your ARE 5.0 exam. This means you can (for the most part) 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) are now 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. 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. This is, however, the system we live under, so let’s move on from that discussion. You’ll have more studying to do before taking a cluster of exams, but I believe you’ll spend less total time studying in the new format.
  6. 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 in this new ARE 5.0 regime, studying for all your remaining exams at once 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 I get more feedback from test takers on this strategy. It is kind of like the old-timers who got their license with one giant exam, taken over several days in a gymnasium. I’d still rather take a test in a gym than in my Prometric testing center. Is there anything the architecture profession has done worse than the design of these testing centers?
  7. Several things remain the same in ARE 5.0 as they were 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