The latest in a semi-regular series on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.
Errata: I’ve recently learned that some of the items in this post — based largely on the information that is available on the ARE Forum — are not fully correct; I’ve since edited the text to delete anything that might be considered misinformation. While it might be fun to speculate about the scoring process, there’s no point in stressing yourself out over things that are beyond your control. Lesson learned.
One of the biggest questions about the exam (probably the second biggest, after “Which one do I take first?“) is what constitutes a passing grade — or, in other words, “How many questions do I have to get right?” The simple answer would be “all of them,” and while that’s an admirable goal, it’s not all that realistic. While only NCARB knows for sure (and things, of course, could change when ARE 5.0 is implemented), it is generally assumed that a score of 75% is considered a pass. For more about how the ARE is scored, check out this excellent post on NCARB’s blog. However, here are a few things that candidates need to keep in mind:
1. You will never see your actual score. The exam is pass/ fail. Your score, of course, determines if you passed or failed, but you will never see it. Don’t sweat it. Be as prepared as you can possibly be — you wouldn’t study 75% of the material, nor should you take the test if you feel only 75% ready. (To be honest, I don’t think I’d want to know. “Pass” was all I needed to see.)
2. There are multiple Content Areas on each exam, and each Content Area will have a different number of questions, but candidates do not need to score at least a 75% in each of them in order to pass. Obviously getting every question incorrect, though, especially in some of the smaller content areas, is going to add up to a serious deficiency.
3. Skipping a question counts as a wrong answer. Each scored question is given the same overall importance — correct answers are worth one point, while incorrect (or blank) responses receive zero points. So, obviously, it’s in your best interest to answer every question, which might mean making some educated guesses in the last fleeting minutes before time is up. Also, it’s important not to waste time on any one question — mark the more difficult questions for review and come back to them later, after you’ve addressed each question on the test.
4. Not all questions that you will see on your exam will be scored. NCARB is constantly beta-testing new exam content, and will occasionally sprinkle newly-developed questions into live exams. Your performance on these items determines if they will become future scored exam questions. It’s not necessarliy about content, but also how the question is structured — for example, is the question too easy (ie, everyone is getting it right), or is it too difficult (not a single person can come up with the correct answer)? It’s not worth trying to sniff these out — treat every question as if it’s weighted the same as all the others, because, more than likely, it will be.
5. While there’s some latitude in the multiple choice portion, the vignettes are pass/ fail. You need to create a passing solution for each vignette on the exam in order to pass the test. Both portions of the exam are combined into a single overall score — conceivably, a superlative performance on the vignettes could help to lift your MC score into passing territory, and vice versa (this is called conjunctive scoring)– candidates need to be confident that they’ve addressed each problem completely, to avoid as many minor deficiencies as possible. Practice with the software and be sure you know it backward and forward. I simply can’t stress that enough.
6. Despite any rumors to the contrary, in my humble opinion, there is no such thing as a “fatal flaw” in the graphic vignettes. This is a myth based mostly on a time when the exam was still being graded by a real, live human being. The computer-based grading system looks at things quantitatively. Any deficiencies in your solution — both major and minor — will be evaulated, and could add up to a failing score, but I truly do not believe that any single mistake that will lead to your irrevocable doom.
This post was a little more technical than I was expecting it to be, but I hope that you’ve found this little peek behind the curtain (from my perspective, anyway) to be helpful, or at least interesting. Other than the pass/fail thing, I didn’t know any of this when I tested (and still passed), but it never hurts to be prepared. We’ll get into the actual meat of the test in future posts. Stay tuned!