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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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.

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.

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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…)

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!

4.0 Average: To MEEB or Not To MEEB…?

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

Some interns look at their office’s “ARE Library” — which more than likely consists of a haphazard pile of Kaplan guides, old flash cards, hand-written notes, and maybe a dog-eared copy of Norman Dorf’s Solutions — and find themselves daunted. Add in a varied list of online resources, plus your own textbooks and class notes from college (you *did* keep all of those, right…??) and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. How would anyone be expected to take a professional exam — on top of a 40-hour workweek — that requires this much reading?

An excellent example is MEEB, one of the more ubiquitous references in our industry, and also one of the most dense. MEEB (industry shorthand for Stein and Reynolds’ Mechanical and Electrical Engineering for Buildings) is a hefty tome; Amazon.com lists the 2009 edition as containing 1,792 pages, weighing in at a whopping 6.2 pounds. My copy, which I’ve held into since college, contains an entire chapter on the psychrometric chart alone. If you’re looking for some detailed information on a specific topic for the Building Systems exam, you’ll probably find it here. Reading it cover to cover, in a manner that would see you retaining even a fraction of the information, would take weeks.

derek_jacobi_bbc500x400So, to MEEB or not to MEEB…? That is the question.

In my honest opinion (and since this is my blog, that’s what you should expect), the answer is… Sort of. The book is an excellent reference, but it should be used as just that — a reference. Exam candidates would be better off relying on more concise study materials, like the Architects Studio Companion or even MEEB’s Student Companion site, in order to gain an overview of the varied content; MEEB can be used as a reference guide for any concepts that are proving themselves to be more difficult.

Personally, I rely on my copy of MEEB almost daily… as a door stop. Don’t let it keep you from moving forward.

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!

Miami Heat

I can’t believe it, but over a week has already gone by since the annual gathering of IDP Coordinators at the very appropriately named IDP Coordinators’ Conference (note: catching up after missing a few days of work makes blogging about it very difficult). As with last year, I was looking forward to the opportunity to catch up with my peers and gain more understanding of what my role entails… but a little concerned over my potential to burst into flame while doing so. The conference had shifted locations this year to Miami, and I wasn’t exactly built for the heat.

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Why, hello there, Miami…

While I missed Chicago, I’ve never been to Miami, so I was grateful for the opportunity to visit. I even managed to convince Mrs. IDP-PA to come along, without too much kicking and screaming (Mr: “You do realize that I’ll be tied up with the conference most of the time, right?” Mrs: “Actually, that’s the part I’m looking forward to.” It’s this brutal honesty that really makes our relationship work.) I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if Miami and I were really going to get along (Case in point: while packing up last week, looking over the hotel’s website for things to do while we’re there, one of the suggestions was as follows: “When you’re in Miami, it’s all about image. Rent the newest Lamborghini Gallardo, pull up in front of the trendiest Nightclub and get the full VIP treatment.” Uhm, yeah. Considering that I’m more of a “Jump in my Subaru Legacy, find a parking spot at Target, and be home in time for ‘Pawn Stars’” kind of a guy, this didn’t seem to bode well.), but as it turned out, we managed just fine.

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No pressure here! As long as Windows isn’t scheduled for an update, I should be just fine…

This year’s conference included a panel discussion on the role social media can play in educating aspiring architects about IDP, ARE, and licensure, presented by NCARB’s Samantha Miller and yours truly. I hear that it went well — I actually have no idea, since I “blacked out a little” while speaking, like Will Farrell in Old School. (Actually, I do remember, and will probably base a later post on at least some of it.) The crowd of nearly 200 was by far the largest that I have ever presented in front of, and I sincerely thank the gang at NCARB for the opportunity.

Here are ten things I learned at the 2013 IDPCC:

10. Despite a complete overhaul (increasing its clarity and tying it more closely to the Experience Categories in IDP), and offering numerous opportunities in all experience areas, hardly anyone enrolled in IDP is utilizing the Emerging Professionals Companion. (Roughly 1,000 out of over 70,000 record holders have reported credit earned from the EPC.). Expect a post about this in the near future.

IMG_13749. NCARB has some excellent swag — the beach ball was an inspired touch. And those foil-wrapped chocolates of theirs are insanely addictive.

8. Very few young professionals are taking advantage of the opportunities for Supplemental Experience. (Students, on the other hand, are fully engaged with this aspect of IDP.)

7. Five intelligent, articulate, well-educated coordinators, along with their significant others, each armed with a smart phone equipped with sophisticated global positioning applications, cannot locate a local well-reviewed Thai restaurant less than a mile from the hotel. It defies logic.

6. I have no idea if an IDP 3.0 is anywhere in our near future, but if we ever move in that direction, we’ll have plenty of excellent ideas to draw from. The participants in last December’s Intern Think Tank completely blew me away with their blue-sky ideas of how the internship process could be improved upon… while, at the same time, admitting that our current model is working pretty well. Fascinating stuff from a really impressive group. (And if any of you reading this have any ideas of your own, get ready to share them at this year’s event.)

20130804-210542.jpg5. If the name of your hotel contains the word “Kimpton,” it’s going to be pretty swank. Gorgeous rooms, friendly staff, and a free wine happy hour in the lobby, every day — how could you possibly go wrong? The Allegro in Chicago was pretty impressive, but Miami’s Epic takes the cake.

4. Semantics can be a pretty important thing. I (very publicly) made the comment that there are nine schools of architecture in Pennsylvania — which simply means nine locations that I should be trying to visit, in order to connect with students — but that statement isn’t correct. PA actually has 9 universities with architectural programs — 6 of which are accredited schools of architecture, 2 non-accredited undergraduate programs, and 1 applicant for NAAB status (a process that takes three years). Open mouth, insert foot. Sigh. Live and learn. (And for those of you that heard me say it, consider this my official retraction.)

3. Pecha-kucha style “20×20” presentations were an efficient — and entertaining — way of sharing some personal perspectives on the internship process. These five presentations were very as unique as the individuals giving them, and a great way to close out the two-day conference.

installing-update_sf 2. Even while using a laptop computer running Microsoft PowerPoint in presentation mode, while speaking in front of an audience of roughly 200 people, you are not immune to the debilitating effects of a scheduled software upgrade. Windows Updater, apparently, trumps all. (Thank goodness for the immediate response from NCARB’s customer service team, Martin Smith and Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate!)

1. Cheating a little, since this is actually something that I learned last year, but the apathy level in this group is zero. I am honored to be included in such an intelligent, energetic, and motivated group of individuals, each of whom have devoted so much time and energy toward the development of our next generation of architects (and on a volunteer basis, to boot). I’ve truly been inspired by these people, and look forward to spending another few days with them next year. Lamborghini Gallardo optional.

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:

bankers

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!