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: 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!