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.

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.