Cart Before the Horse(?)

The recent flurry of activity from NCARB — and the requisite mixed bag of reactions from the architectural community, complete with hand-wringing that comes with the idea of changing something about the process — has had me thinking a lot about change, change for change’s sake, and how we as a culture react to it. It’s certainly not the first time NCARB has made modifications to their programs and policies, and I doubt that it will be the last. In honor of the now-ubiquitous Throwback Thursday, here’s an example from my own personal experiences.

Confession time: I graduated from college — and entered the workforce — in June of 2000. (Yes, again, another reminder that I’m getting old.) It was a simpler time — Facebook hadn’t been invented (much less gone mainstream) just yet, Twitter was even further off, and a “smart phone” was one that had a camera. I also walked uphill to the office, both ways, in driving rain and snow… (I’m only kidding about that last part. It was a bridge, not a hill.) But I digress… Back in my day, an intern had to complete IDP (filling out Experience Reports BY HAND) before being they could even consider starting the ARE.

I know what you’re thinking: Facebook hadn’t been invented yet!?! Stay with me, here…

When I began my internship, taking my first steps on my path to becoming an architect, candidates had to complete IDP first (earning your minimum amount of experience while doing so) before receiving their Authorization to Test. Under that model, the exam became a rite of passage… it was something that you worked toward, the culmination of your education and training, a palpable threshold that could be crossed. The ARE tested not only your ability to hit the books, but also the things that you had learned along the way. The experience became part of your preparation for the exam. (For the record, I completed IDP in early 2004, started testing — under ARE 3.1, mind you — in December of 2004, and finished nearly one year later, in December of 2005. Seems like only yesterday, but the fact that it’s been nearly ten years is staggering to me.) As most candidates know, that’s all changed now. Most jurisdictions allow their interns to take any (or all!) of the seven divisions of the exam as soon as they graduate from college, concurrent with earning IDP credit.

As NCARB has been quick to point out, taking the ARE concurrent with IDP has provided a great deal of flexibility in the internship process, allowing emergent professionals the chance to take a particular exam when it’s most convenient for them (even if they are out of work, which has been a major issue for our profession in recent years). It also eliminated some of the frustration inherent in IDP, which can drag out for years due to difficulty in gaining particular blocks of experience. Pennsylvania adopted concurrency in 2007, long after I was registered, which meant that I never had the opportunity to experience this in practice.
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Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of concurrency, which to me feels like putting the cart before the horse. I feel that it has diluted the exam process, and in doing so, has taken some of the “oomph” out of licensure. It’s still no small feat, mind you — earning one’s license still requires 5,600 hours of experience and seven passing scores, no matter what order you decide to tackle them. But there was something about the significance in completing IDP before starting the ARE, meaning that you had earned the experience and were ready to be tested on it. Then came scheduling the different divisions, each one a milestone in its own right, and getting those score reports, one by one. That last “pass” letter was a powerful thing — it meant that you were DONE. Without it, and this is just my opinion here, it would seem to me that your internship ends not with a bang, as T. S. Eliot put it, but with a whimper.

It’s has nothing to do with the time factor — it’s just that I don’t feel that the test was meant to be taken by someone fresh out of school, someone who hasn’t yet experienced many of the things that are meant to be tested. More to the point, without the proper context, some candidates might not even realize why a particular question was even important. The exam loses its heft when it’s nothing more than a chore, something that just needs to be gotten out of the way.

Case in point: I can remember, very distinctly, sitting in on a construction meeting where the word “contingency” was mentioned. I was 27 years old at the time, and will openly admit (just as I did then) that I didn’t know what the term meant. The owners’ rep explained it to me, practically giving me a dictionary definition, but in the context of the project, I understood it. Two years later, while preparing for the ARE, that same definition showed up on the back of a flash card… and, later, a question about contingencies came up in my Contract Documents exam. I remember feeling that I had achieved some holistic understanding, that my study and experience were both informing my performance on the exam. I felt… well, I felt exactly how I think you’re supposed to feel in that situation. Confident. Composed. Collected. Without the experience to back it up, it would have just been another vocabulary lesson, a piece of architectural trivia. I don’t believe that interns are going to look back on the test, after completing IDP, and say something to the effect of “so *that’s* what that question was on my test!” Some will, I’m sure, but many won’t.

Again, these are just my opinions on the matter, which are deeply rooted in my own personal experiences with the exam and my internship. That said, opinions can change. In the time that I’ve spent talking with exam candidates and recently-registered professionals, I’ve come to appreciate the freedom that concurrency has offered in the process… particularly in recent years, when practical experience (you know, the kind that came with a paycheck) was hard to come by, and I certainly do not discount that. The point here is this: if I had vehemently opposed concurrency for those reasons, expecting every architect that came after me to have the same exact internship experience as I did, countless interns would not have benefitted from the more streamlined process. The sum of the requisite parts is still the same, just the order in which they’ve been undertaken is slightly different. Those who are opposed to the currently proposals for changes in the system, without allowing them a chance to develop, are in danger of putting an overturned cart in front of our collective horse, a roadblock that is potentially more damaging to our profession than it is helpful.

Some parting thoughts: The pending changes to the ARE, as well as the idea of sweeping changes to IDP, offers an opportunity to revisit our attitudes toward concurrency, as well. The proposed overhaul of IDP, aligning the experience settings with the ARE 5.0 exam divisions, is a game-changer that I hope also will have some influence over how interns (or whatever we will be calling them at that point) approach the test, which I will elaborate upon later. Under the current model, though, my preference for concurrency would be some sort of a hybrid — earning a minimal amount of experience (say, 1800 hours, the equivalent of one year, in any experience setting) before being allowed to sit for the exam; the test would then be taken while the candidate continues to earn IDP hours. Maybe that one year will empower and embolden some, giving them the confidence to charge ahead. Maybe it will show others that they might not be quite ready just yet, that there are still too many questions to which they don’t know the answers. (By the way, that will never change… it’s your confidence that you will find the answer that makes you a professional.)

The best part? The inherent flexibility of concurrency would still be part of the process. Finish the ARE before IDP if you want — that’s your choice. Or allow yourself the chance for that last “PASS” letter to be the oomph at the end of your internship, letting it go out with the bang it deserves. Again, just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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Great Expectations

NCARB’s annual meeting, held in Philadelphia this year, is close to wrapping up… and I, for one, am glad. This week has been chock full of announcements about changes to policies surrounding both IDP and the ARE that its been nearly impossible for me to keep up. (Note to NCARB — love the enthusiasm, but can’t we spread these out a little? Like, maybe one groundbreaking change a week? Thanks…)

To summarize, this past week saw huge announcements regarding palpable changes to the time involved in the IDP process as well as retesting for failed divisions of the ARE. The much-maligned “six-month rule” (you know, the one that says any experience older than six months is no longer valid) is being phased out, while the six-month waiting period for retesting after a failed division of the ARE will be dropping to a mere 60 days. Coincidence? Not sure. Both announcements reflect NCARB’s constant commitment to re-evaluating their programs and guidelines to meet the needs of emergent professionals. I’ll address my thoughts on both of these changes in future posts…

But wait — they’re not through yet! A proposal has also been announced that would significantly reduce the amount of time required in IDP by refocusing on the core hours of the various content areas. If successful, the proposal would eliminate elective hours and reduce the 5,600 hours of IDP by nearly a third. (The proposal is rooted in scientific data, such as the results of the most recent practice analysis. That said, I have some mixed feelings about this one that I will explore in a later post…)

All of these announcements have come in a haze of diaper changes, late-night feedings, and a general “what day is it again?” erratic schedule that comes with welcoming a newborn into the home, which my wife and I did just this past Saturday. It’s actually poetically appropriate, as I try to relearn how to be a caregiver to a new baby, that these policy changes turn the familiar on its ear. Bear with me as I play catch-up. For now, enjoy this shot of my son getting to know his new baby sister.

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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.

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“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.

4.0 Average: Expect the Unexpected

True story… somewhere in the haze of working a 50-hour-per-week job and studying for my licensing exam, I witnessed a car accident. I was on my way to catch my bus to work, about to cross an intersection, when an SUV blew a stop sign and broadsided a Jeep. The impact spun the second vehicle nearly 180 degrees. The entire thing lasted less than a second, even though it felt like hours to me, the innocent bystander with his jaw somewhere around his mid-chest.

car-accidents 8No one was hurt, thankfully (not even the 2-year-old strapped into the backseat of vehicle #1, nor his irate mother, who was clearly in the wrong). As the driver of the Jeep — a tall guy about my own age — stepped out, I asked if he was okay. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, visibly disturbed by the situation at hand, “but I was on my way to take a professional exam…”

My heart sank. Those words of his hit pretty close to home for me. I probably had a stack of flash cards in my pocket at the time. The idea that any number of things can happen to any one of us, at any time, no matter how prepared we think we are, was a real eye-opener.

When I offer exam advice, I often tell candidates that the first test will inevitably be the hardest. Most of this is psychological in nature — you don’t know what to expect, the testing center is a strange, foreign place… By the time exam #7 rolls around, all of this will be old hat. You might even know the attendant’s by name at that point.  Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security.

My advice for preparing for the exam includes some things that aren’t study-related at all. Leave early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the testing center. If it’s your first test, and you don’t know where you’re going, consider a little road trip the week before your appointment — find the testing center.  If possible, try making the drive at the same time of day (and the same day of the week) as your appointment, so you have a feel for how heavy traffic can be. Most of Prometric’s testing centers are in office parks or strip malls — in other words, areas that see a lot of vehicular traffic.  The entrance might be difficult to locate.  A lot of this might sound like being over-prepared, maybe even obsessive-compulsive, but anything that helps to cut down on your stress on test day is worth considering. There are a lot of things that are out of our control — just ask that guy in the Jeep — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a handle on the rest of them.

4.0 Average: Little Red Envelopes

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

Netflix may just be the very best study companion that an exam candidate can ask for.

I took the exams on a “one per month” schedule, meaning that I studied for roughly four weeks straight for each individual exam, on top of a busy work schedule where I was juggling two large projects at the same time. Add to that the mounting psychological tension that comes with the exam date drawing ever closer. It was a very stressful period in my life. Even the smallest opportunity for some relaxation was greatly welcomed.

netflix-rev-1The simplest (and in some ways best) advice that I can offer anyone who is preparing to sit for the exam is this: take some time to yourself, for the sake of your own sanity. The night before your test date, put the books away and relax. Cook yourself a decent dinner. Straighten up your apartment (for a little feng shui). Read a book. Play some of your favorite music. Or (and here’s where Netflix comes in), fire up the DVD player and watch a movie. My preference was mindless (and somewhat raunchy) comedies (Road Trip, Old School, Van Wilder…). Maybe, for you, it’s over-the-top action, period dramas, or sappy romantic comedies. Or maybe you’ve been looking to dive into a series, like True Blood, Homeland, or Downton Abbey (I hear that Netflix’s original series — House of Cards and Orange is the New Black — are some pretty good stuff, too). Whatever it is, load up your Netflix queue with at least seven of them. Take a load off, turn the TV on, and put the exam out of your mind. Then go to bed at a decent hour, so you can start the next day on a good night’s sleep.

The point of this is, if you don’t know the material by then, cramming the night before isn’t going to help. All it’s going to do is add unnecessary stress right when you don’t need it. You want to walk into the testing center well-rested, relaxed, poised, and confident.

One caveat: I wouldn’t recommend drinking. Save that for the next night (AFTER the test!).

Do you have any suggestions for “sanity breaks” during the testing process? Add them in the comments!

Breaking News

Lots happening in cyberspace these days… Time for an update.

First and foremost, in a post on their Facebook page yesterday, NCARB has announced that the ARE Scheduling Blackout, which has been in effect since June 30, is rapidly drawing to a close. Record data for more than 90,000 candidates – including name and contact information, candidate numbers, eligibility history, rolling clock information, and test history — has been migrated to NCARB’s new records management vendor, Alpine Testing Solutions. Although “My Examination” has not officially launched, ARE candidates can start scheduling exams (via the “My NCARB” button on the council’s website) while the new system continues to be tested. Any ARE candidates (particularly those of you in Pennsylvania) who are logging in to use the new system for the first time, I would appreciate it if you would drop me a line (or leave a comment) and let me know what you think of the new interface. (Not needing to take the exam means that I have no way of testing it out on my own…)

Secondly, NCARB will be hosting the latest installment of the ongoing “AIA Chat” series on Twitter next week. I had already made plans to join in, but since I have been officially called out by NCARB (which I found quite flattering), you can be sure that I will be making a guest appearance. The chat will take place Wednesday, September 4th at 2pm ET — be sure to follow along using the hashtag “#aiachat,” and feel free to join the conversation!

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Lastly, my Twitter spam has gotten much more creative. I got a really good chuckle out of the idea of an appearance in a Drake video — I knew those twerking lessons i bought on LivingSocial would come in handy!! (I’m long since done with IDP, but I imagine I’d receive a lifetime’s worth of Community Service hours by declining this particular request.)

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Happy Labor Day Weekend to all — enjoy the last few days of our waning summer! Back to the grind next week!

4.0 Average: Event Calendar

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

Maya-calendar(Originally published one week prior to the end of the ARE Blackout, which felt like pushing the reset button; exam candidates were free to start testing again, giving us all a chance to start fresh with the ARE after a nice long summer break.) We talk so much about taking the exam that sometimes we forget what it must be like to start. The idea of buckling down and studying for seven consecutive exams, a process that will take months, can be a very daunting thing for many emergent professionals… so much so, that many might not even begin. Much like that journey of a thousand miles, you’ve gotta start somewhere. This post is meant to be a simple guide to the weeks leading up to taking that the first exam, to hopefully help you get your head around this task that you are about to undertake.

Before you begin:
Review the state board’s guidelines for registration. Go to NCARB’s website and read everything pertaining to the ARE — general information about the exam, the ARE 4.0 Guidelines, and the Exam Guide for every division. Download and use every practice program. If you feel overwhelmed, you might not be ready! (I found this quote on the ARE Forum — “Remember, this is an exam for professional licensure. This isn’t a school test. Passing the ARE means that you have been deemed competent to practice architecture on your own.”) If you do indeed feel ready, the next step would be to develop a strategy, beginning with which test to take first.

Four to Six Weeks before the test:
Schedule your appointment. First thing in the morning on a Monday is recommended — that way, you have the weekend to prepare, and the exam is your primary focus that day. Gather your Study Materials, including material for related divisions. Set a schedule for studying, and stick to it. Designate specific “study nights” per week, and make sure to take time off (ex: Friday night). Designate one night per week to review the vignette(s) for this exam. Get familiar with the specific vignette, even if you think you know the software! There will be subtle differences in the tools and menus depending on the particular vignette, and what you’re drawing. If possible, attend a local Review Session or Study Group for that division to help reinforce some of the more difficult concepts.

Two Weeks before the test:
If you were able to find a practice exam (even a half-length version), now is the time to take it. You will not ace it, and that’s okay. Use this to gauge what areas you need to re-review, and develop a plan for the next two weeks. Then ramp up your study effort, honing in on difficult concepts. (Don’t forget to review overlapping material from other divisions.)

One Week Before the test:
Ramp up the study effort. Focus on the areas where you felt you were lacking, and review selected material every night (no more time off for sanity breaks!). Study in a similar environment to exam, and try to avoid distractions. Take a little road trip and find the testing center — particularly if this is your first test, or if you’re trying a different location. Going to a strange place on the morning of your test is only going to add unnecessary stress. Besides, you never know what could happen… (click here for a horror story.)

One Day before the test:
Return to a “general overview” mentality, but beware of cramming! It’s only going to raise your stress level. Study until mid-afternoon, then try to put it out of your mind.

The night before the test:
Make sure you’re relaxed and well rested. It sounds simple, but the best prep is a good night’s sleep. Try to avoid cramming — you don’t need added stress at this point. In fact, consider taking the night off! (More on that here…)

Test Day:
Arrive at the testing center early — remember that Prometric has instituted new security measures that might add some time to check-in. During the test itself, don’t get stuck — skip or “mark” items and come back to them. Don’t get stressed if you mark a lot of questions — once you review them, they may seem easier the second time around, or another question you answered might trigger the answer on a question you skipped. Answer every question! Even an educated guess is a chance at a correct answer…

Then it’s off to the Graphic Vignette(s). But first, make the most of your break! Clear your head, relax, and get focused on the next task. Take a quick walk, eat a snack, splash water on your face… whatever works for you. Don’t stress on what you think you might have missed on the multiple choice. In the exam itself, be sure to follow all of the instructions!! Don’t second-guess yourself.

Lastly, take your time! You paid for the full appointment — use it!

Immediately after the test:
Jot down any trouble spots you might have encountered (being mindful of the Confidentiality Agreement!). There were a handful of questions that I found particularly difficult — I made note of those items and looked them up later, which helped to reassure me that I had given the best answer. (Strangely enough, nearly eight years later, I remember those four or five questions nearly word for word — must have been all the reading and re-reading as I whittled my way through the exam.)

Later on, relax…! Take the night off, grab a drink with your friends… Give yourself a break after six weeks of hard work!

The day after the test:
Move on to the next division! Schedule that next appointment (if you havent already) and get to studying!

4.0 Average: Accounting 101

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:

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A rare look inside the offices of Alpine Testing Solutions.

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!

A Time For Change

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NCARB announced today that the clock is ticking on ARE 4.0, which will soon give way to version 5.0. It’s not all that surprising — the current version has been in effect for several years now, since 2009, with the graphic vignettes essentially unchanged since the implementation of ARE 3.1. (With the benefit of hindsight, this makes the cloud solution for the practice software make much more sense, eh?)

Transition information won’t be available until at least this time next year, but it sounds like this will be an even more radical shift than the last upgrade, from 3.1 to 4.0. Based on feedback from the recently-released 2012 Practice Analysis of Architecture, the revamped exam will incorporate possibly six divisions, with content focusing on integrated skills like project management.

The biggest change? No more graphic vignettes. NCARB has apparently taken all of the negative feedback about the testing software to heart, and in a bold move, decided to eliminate the vignettes entirely. (I couldn’t help but think of Cuba Gooding Jr’s line from Jerry Maguire: “Well, that’s another way to go…!”). Interns can now kiss that antiquated software goodbye, but at something of a price — the new format, with its “hot spots” and mini graphic items sprinkled throughout, sounds like it might be a much more difficult exam. (Be careful what you wish for!)

Not much more information is available beyond the initial press release, but I’m hoping that this is a topic of discussion at the annual Coordinators Conference. I’ll be sure to report on anything that I find out, so be sure to keep checking back for updates.

In the meantime, current candidates should continue to prepare for 4.0. If you’ve been on the fence about starting the exam, it might be a good idea to take advantage of the Blackout and get prepared to test this fall. The transition from 3.1 to 4.0 was cumbersome, with many candidates losing credit for passed exams due to compatibility; it stands to reason that the transition to 5.0 could bring the same sorts of issues, which are best avoided if possible. ARE 5.0 won’t take effect until late 2016 at the earliest, which is plenty of time to get registered under the current system. Particularly if you have a fondness for those graphic vignettes.