4.0 Average: On Your Mark

The latest in a semi-regular series on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.

Some of the simplest and most important advice I can offer to exam candidates is to never — ever — leave a question unanswered. A skipped question counts as a wrong answer, so even an educated guess is better than nothing.

There’s also some “mythology” to testing psychology that exams tend to be more difficult in the middle, so getting caught up at the high point of that bell curve might mean you’d be missing some low-hanging fruit near the end of the test. So, the second best piece of advice is to skip any question that seems too difficult at first glance. Work your way through the entire test at least once, answering any item where the answer is immediately apparent. The Review Screen gives you the ability to drill down and review only the items that have been skipped or marked.  When I was testing, I repeated this process several items in each exam, and each time the number of skipped items kept getting smaller (and my confidence in my answers kept increasing). In the last few minutes, with only a few items remaining — not gonna lie here, folks — I guessed.

Review ScreenRecently, one young woman in my chapter shared her testing strategy, which I thought was one of the most clever things that I’ve heard from an exam candidate. (She must have had an excellent mentor…) When sitting for her Structural Systems exam, she did exactly what every candidate should do — she moved through every question on the test, skipping anything that seemed too complex or confusing during the first read-through. But here’s where it gets brilliant: she skipped questions that were initially confusing, but she marked questions that involved a calculation. When she reached the end of the questions and took a look at the Review Screen, she knew that the 8-10 marked questions involved calculations (editor’s note: this is just an example, and does not mean your exam will only include 10 math-type items… XOXO, Uncle Sean). So she clicked “Review Incomplete Items,” (the ones that she had skipped, which did not involve a calculation) and worked through them again. And again, slowly whittling away at them until all that were left were the marked items (each of which involved a calculation). Time management was a factor here also — she allowed herself enough time to address those items, knowing that the bulk of the exam was now behind her. Smart work. (By the way, did I mention that how you prepare for and approach the test says almost as much (if not more) about you as a professional as passing it?)

It may look simple, but — as my friend’s strategy proves — the Review Screen is actually a very powerful tool. Using it wisely gives you a marked advantage.

Lost in Translation

With the development of ARE 5.0 well underway, NCARB has officially announced that the transition plan from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0 has been established. The launch of the new version of the exam is still over two years out, but this announcement makes it start to feel more real. For the record, the specific divisions (six this time) are only just beginning to take shape, but it certainly appears that the test will be significantly improved by these changes.


“Can I tell you a secret…? I’m actually going to miss the vignettes…”

That’s apparently not the only thing that’s been significantly improved. In the companion piece on their blog site, NCARB has very rightfully pointed out the elephant in the room by addressing the very rocky road that took place during the last transition, when ARE 3.1 gave way to 4.0, offering candidates five solid facts (including an expiration date for ARE 4.0 — mark those calendars, kids!) even at this early stage. The flaws in the previous transition certainly weren’t for lack of trying: ARE 4.0 at least bore some strong resemblance to the previous version — the graphic vignettes were identical, and the multiple choice content, while updated, was still essentially the same… just more dispersed between divisions. The transition chart was pretty clear cut, allowing exam candidates that found themselves in between the two versions of the exam a well-defined path of how to completed the test. However, because the clock was ticking, it also meant that passed divisions of 3.1 had a shelf life.

I personally passed the exam and got registered long before ARE 4.0 was even announced, completely missing the transitional period which proved to be so difficult for so many. A close friend of mine found himself in just that very predicament. Newly married, he began testing under ARE 3.1. Their first baby arrived not too much later, followed by another a few years afterward. The test was still on his radar screen, of course, but life has a habit of getting in the way of even the best of intentions. With the end of the transition period looming, only the “Building Technology” exam stood between him and his license — and if you knew anything about the 3.1 to 4.0 transition, that just happened to be the worst possible test to have to worry about. The results weren’t what he wanted them to be, and he lost credit for five exams. Five. The setback was too much for him to justify financially, and the exam fell by the wayside. He has since left the profession, pursuing an alternative career that, while borrowing very heavily upon his skill set as an architect, is not day-to-day architecture. Whether or not this is better suited for him is not for me to say, nor is it the point of this argument.

I’m sure that everyone in my age bracket knows someone — possibly even many someones — like my friend. The situation that he found himself in wasn’t his fault, nor was it NCARB’s. Change is inevitable, and in the case of the exam, necessary… but it unfortunately takes some casualties along the way. The good news is that, with the release of the ARE 5.0 transition plan, NCARB has gone to incredible lengths to help make sure that the process is much smoother this time around. ARE 4.0 will continue to exist for another 18 months after 5.0 has been launched, giving many candidates ample opportunity to finish. More enticingly, they’ve introduced a credit model that actually allows a unique hybrid of divisions from 4.0 and 5.0, allowing candidates to finish the exam faster by going this route (starting with the CDS-PPP-SPD combo that many resources — including mine, come to think of it– recommend). Obviously a great deal of thought has gone into this process to ensure a much more streamlined transition this time around.

For many of you in the midst of taking 4.0, the transition won’t be an issue. (Prior to this announcement, I was envisioning a HUGE rush of candidates trying to complete 4.0 before the end of 2016 — appointments at your local Prometric testing center should be a little easier to come by now…). For many others just starting out in architecture school, the exam is far enough off that ARE 5.0 will likely be their only option. But for those graduating in the next year or two, or those who just started working, you might find yourself preparing to test in a transitional period… which means that you have a decision to make. I’m not saying not to take the test, or to put off getting married or having children — life is far too short to waste time waiting for anything. But if you think that your path will take you toward the exam within the next two years, give this some serious thought, and make your plans accordingly.