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.

On the Radar

This post really needs to start with an acknowledgement of just how far OFF the radar I’ve been in the past few weeks… it really is amazing how many different things that life likes to throw at us at any one given time, and how that can wreak havoc on even the best of intentions. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t published a fresh post in over a month (interestingly enough, it was also about my bursting-at-the-seams schedule), a near-eternity in the blogosphere– in that time, I’ve packed up every one of my earthly belongings, sold my home of the last seven years, and moved my wife and son into a temporary living arrangement with my in-laws. Not to mention deadlines on three different projects, a few late nights for project interviews, a presentation for an ARE Review Session, a last-minute trip to Nashville for the NIRSA conference last week (which was something that I really want to spend some time talking about, in a later post…), and, oh yeah, trying to be a somewhat attentive husband and dad. At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining (hey, waitaminute… didn’t I recently share an article on Twitter about how saying you’re too busy is a horrible excuse for anything…!?), my airspace has been a little crowded lately… hopefully I didn’t leave any of you hanging.

radar-screen-247884-m

Image credit: FreeImages.com, shared here under the standard restrictions.

Earlier this year I was quite humbled when NCARB mentioned me in their brand-spankin’ new blog as one of the “11 Twitter Accounts that Every Architecture Student Should Follow.” (Maybe I should be thankful that it wasn’t “the top ten Twitter accounts…?”… heh.) Today I find myself humbled once again to have my blog (that labor of love, flight of fancy, and sounding board for ARE and IDP advice…as well as any other random and mildly relevant thought that might pop into my head) included in NCARB’s latest post, “The Best Blogs for Architectural Interns and Students.” Again, I find myself in the most excellent of company, which includes some of my personal favorites — Brinn Miracle’s ArchiTangent (quietly intelligent about design, sustainability, and the licensing exam) and Bob Borson’s The Life of an Architect (who has basically written the book on blogging about being an architect) — both of whom, by the way, were also featured by NCARB for their Twitter feeds — as well as Jared Banks’ ShoeGnome (forcing me to reconsider virtually everything about the way we represent ourselves and our work) and Jenny Cestnik’s AREndurance (putting a very human face to the exam process). Longtime readers will remember that each one of these has been listed in my “Other Paths to Follow” widget off to the right for as long as I’ve been maintaining this site, and for good reason — I’ve enjoyed reading, following, and most importantly, being inspired by, their work, and think that others would benefit from their words as much as I have been. (And I’m really looking forward to checking out Stuck in Studio and Just and Intern, too…!) I’m still a relative newbie when it comes to blogging, but each of these sites has impressed me with their honesty, intelligence, humor, and heart — a combination that, to me, is exactly what a blog should have.

When I started this little project, all I wanted to do was to offer some unbiased advice, rooted deeply in my own personal experience as a young architect. The fact that I’ve been included in such a wonderful group is mind-boggling (I keep hitting refresh, and I’m still listed!)… and also a little daunting, too. I may have been able to delude myself before, but it looks like I’m officially on the radar now. So, a promise to my followers, both current and new, I have several new posts queued up and ready to launch over the coming weeks… just in the nick of time, apparently. No more month-long hiatuses for me, I guess… (although I hope you’ll give me a little break when I tackle that next deadline, move into my new home, and welcome my newborn daughter… all in the next two months. Sigh…)

(Sincerest thanks — again — to the folks at NCARB’s blog for the attention… and yes, I *am* working on that post for your blog, too… it’s around here somewhere, I promise…)

Many Happy Returns

Today marks the one-year anniversary of In DePth. Allow me the self-indulgence of a little reflection.

As of this writing, I’ve published 40 individual posts — well over my initial estimate of two each month — and sent nearly 600 tweets since my introductory post one year ago. When I decided to take on something like this, I was only hoping to offer a little bit of advice and guidance (and maybe a little bit of entertainment) in the interests of providing some online mentorship to emergent professionals in Pennsylvania… but the reach has surprisingly been much broader than that. The blog has received over 2,700 views, which is about 2,699 more than I had expected. Most of the traffic has been from the United States, of course, but people from countries as far away as the Philippines and the Republic of Korea (including a place called Azerbaijan, which I didn’t even know existed) have viewed this site, which I find incredibly humbling.

Managing a blog has been a huge learning experience for me — hammering out a few hundred words each week has been a discipline, to say the least. Auto-scheduling has proven to be both a blessing and a curse; it’s allowed me to publish while sitting in the beach, but also led to more than a few misfires (I really didn’t mean to publish a nuts-and-bolts essay on Easter Sunday, if anyone was wondering…). While I’ve always been incredibly critical of my writing, this format has only intensified that feeling — some posts sit as drafts for weeks, while I meticulously tweak grammar and sentence structure; strangely enough, in spite of that, my most popular post ever was written in under an hour (while nursing a mild hangover, to boot). Some of my more recent entries, about the Blackout and the transition to ARE 5.0, have also gotten a lot of exposure (thanks in no small part to NCARB’s help in sharing them), meaning that I am indeed reaching my target audience. The blog format has also allowed me the freedom to develop ideas, some of which have then been considered fit to be included in local, state, and national online publications. Again, for a guy that sometimes feels like he’s punishing his keyboard for wrongs done in a past life, this is quite humbling.

Lastly, I wanted to give a huge shout-out to someone that has really provided a lot of support for the blog in its first year — my main man, Ted Mosby. Earlier this year, I wrote about Ted’s presence as one of the few architects in prime-time television, and as part of my New Year’s Resolution to include more images in the blog, I uploaded a photo. Those references to our favorite fictional architect led to anywhere between 10 to 15 unique hits on the blog, per day, for a series of months. I have no idea if any of those people that stumbled upon this site actually read anything that I wrote, but I’m grateful to Mr. Mosby for the exposure.

Thanks to everyone who has visited this page, read these words, left your own comments, and shared these random thoughts of mine — it’s appreciated more than you know. Anything you want to see me cover in the coming months? Leave me comments below (bonus points if it involves a mention of Ted). On to year two!

Toward a 4.0 Average

It occurred to me that in the eleven months or so of managing this blog, I really haven’t spent much time focusing on the exam. To that end, we’ll be adding a new semi-regular series here at InDepth called 4.0 Average, where we’ll offer some suggestions, comments, and advice on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.

Think about about the typical architectural job postings probably seen on LinkedIn or maybe your local components website. The first sentence probably says something along the lines of “postgraduate architect with 1 to 3 years of experience, on the exam track.” Another popular one is “registered architect with 3 to 5 years of experience.” In both cases, the exam becomes a measuring stick, determining exactly where you are in your professional career, and where you see yourself going. It indicates a level of committment to both the job and the profession. I haven’t seen many job postings that start off with the words “Postgraduate degree in architecture, 5 to 10 years of experience, but just hasn’t gotten around to taking the test yet”. (Actually I would like to see that… I think I’d find it amusing.)

The exam is an equalizer, a baseline. Our careers might take wildly different paths — yours might be more involved in design and planning, mine might be more involved in construction administration and detailing — while we each practice in jurisdictions as far away from each other as physically possible. However the fact that we both are Registered Architects means that there is some sense of equivalency between us. It’s the common denominator.

The exam is certainly not without its flaws, particularly when it comes to the graphic vignettes (which seem to exist in an antiseptic alternate reality). It’s an imperfect system for an imperfect profession. But for now, anyway, it’s the only system we’ve got.

Over the course of the next several months, we’ll look a little more closely at those seven divisions of the test, and offer some suggestions, tips, and advice on how to go about preparing for them. There’s plenty more to come. Look for posts tagged 4.0 Average , and be sure to leave comments based on your own experience.

Orientation

I was cleaning out the old hard drive the other night (and that’s not a euphemism!) when I came across some old Word documents, one of which was some advice for a family friend who was about to start her first year of architecture at Penn State.  Surprisingly, even though I wrote this nearly ten years ago, it holds up pretty well.  Classes at PSU start on Monday, so in honor of all of our returning students, I figured that this was a good time to dust this off and share.

TIPS FOR THE FIRST-YEAR ARCHITECTURE STUDENT
(B
y someone who’s been there… and lived to tell about it)

  1. Try and meet as many people as you can as soon as you can.  Don’t be surprised, though, when the first friends that you make in studio turn out to be the last people that you want to talk to by the end of the year (or the semester).
  2. Don’t be afraid to go to your professors for help.  They have office hours – that’s what they’re for.  You’ll benefit by getting answers AND by coming across as someone who cares about the quality of your work.
  3. Remember that sometimes other students can be the best teachers.  Find the “good” people in your class and get friendly with them.  Observe what they do on their projects.
  4. Don’t pull an all-nighter just to do it.  Use the time to get ahead on your work.  If your work isn’t going to benefit from those few hours, go home and go to bed.
  5. Unless there’s a project due on Monday, never spend the entire weekend in studio.  Go to sporting events and scream your head off.  Learn the words to the fight songs (ESPECIALLY the alma mater). Get ice cream from the Creamery. There’s more to college life than work.  Get out there and enjoy it ‘cuz it’ll be over before you know it.
  6. Remember that you are a student and you’re there to learn.  You don’t have to know all the answers.  You’re there to LEARN the answers.
  7. Don’t eat the London Broil in the dining commons.  You’ll thank me later.
  8. Make every effort to get together with your friends over the summers.  Don’t lose track of them.  Besides your degree, your circle of friends will be the best thing that you’ll take away with you after college is over.
  9. No project is worth crying over.  But if you NEED to cry over one of your projects, do so.  Just don’t let anybody else see you doing it.
  10. Get to know some people in the years ahead of you.  The things that you’ll be going through in studio are the same things that they went through before you.  They got through it.  So will you.
  11. Don’t resent anyone for knowing more or less than you do (or think that you do). Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  The quicker that you get to know yours will determine your comfort level in studio (as well as life in general).
  12. Remember that the word “roommate” and the word “friend” are not always interchangeable (some roommates will never be friends, some friends should never be roommates)
  13. Keep good records of your work.  Save each course syllabus, handouts, and notes.  Keep copies of papers that you write and exams that are returned to you.  I still have all of mine.
  14. Don’t ever sell any of your architecture textbooks.  Don’t throw away your class notes.  You never know what you’re going to need later.
  15.  Remember that there will always be someone who has nicer tools, can produce better drawings, build nicer models, or give better presentations.  Don’t let that get you down.  Just concentrate on doing the best work that you possibly can.
  16. Keep a sketchbook with you at all times and use it as like you would a journal.
  17. Don’t feel as if you have to spend enormous amounts of money on expensive materials for your models and drawings.  If the quality of the work is there, it won’t matter whether it’s drawn on newsprint or carved into marble.
  18. Remember that studio grades are subjective, and that sometimes your GPA doesn’t always reflect your true abilities.
  19. Don’t be afraid to take risks.  No one ever did anything memorable by always following the rules.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST… if you’re ever stuck, without any idea of what you’re doing or why you’re even doing it, drop me a line.  I’ll be here for you if you would ever need to talk about anything.

Best wishes and good luck…!