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!

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.

4.0 Average: Where to Begin…?

The shift from ARE 3.1 to ARE 4.0 was implemented by NCARB to create an exam that was more reflective of the profession.  The seven divisions of the exam are now more integrated with each other, rather than parceled out into neat little packages.  The graphic vignettes have been combined with the multiple choice sections of the test, as well, in keeping with the idea (rightfully so) that architects need to have a wealth of knowledge while representing themselves in visual form.

The exam format gives you the flexibility to tailor the experience to your own strengths and weaknesses (my thoughts on this, if you’re interested, will be offered in another post)… but it comes at a small price:  one of the biggest questions about the exam is what order one should attempt to take these seven divisions.  Every opinion is slightly different… from fellow bloggers The Artichoke’s Guide and AREndurance, to a neverending stream of posts on AREForum.

AIA-Pittsburgh’s YAF is kicking off our 2012-2013 series of formal ARE Review sessions this week.  With the disclaimer that every exam candidate is different, and you really need to do some homework to figure out what’s going to work best for you, we’ve decided to endorse the following sequence:

Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
Programming Planning and Practice (PPP)
Site Planning and Design (SPD)
Structural Systems (SS)
Building Systems (BS)
Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)
Schematic Design (SD)*

In the interests of streamlining the study process, this sequence seems to work out well by building upon prior knowledge.  CDS has a (relatively) narrow focus, making it somewhat easier to study the material.  There’s a lot of overlap in content between CDS and PPP, and again between PPP and SPD, making these three tests ideally suited to be taken together.  BDCS, by contrast, is extremely broad in scope; a lot of the content will come from related subjects in the SS and BS divisions, so studying for them will help build your knowledge base (and comfort level) for BDCS.

* – The only “wild card” is Schematic Design — as the only division of the exam with no multiple choice component, it is an entirely different animal.  It could conceivably come anywhere in the sequence — some candidates use it as a “break” from the hardcore studying for the other divisions.

The first exam you take will be the hardest, mostly for psychological reasons. It doesn’t matter which division you decide to start with. It has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown – getting to the testing center, finding the actual space itself, waiting to be given a computer terminal, watching that clock count down your time remaining and knowing that it’s FOR REAL this time. That feeling will pass – somewhat – when you take exam #2.

Lastly, to any exam candidates reading this, let me ask for a small favor — If you’ve found an exam sequence that works for you, or if you think I’m insane for suggesting such a thing, please leave me a comment!  I’d love to hear how you’ve decided to tackle this thing.