ARE We Done Yet? - Yes.

March 31, 2015

I knew this day would come eventually… And last Thursday was it: the day I finally finished the ARE. NCARB even sent me a congratulatory e-mail! My official test time: March 15, 2014 to March 21, 2015 (date of my first and last exams). Just over one year to complete.

And now I’ve started thinking about what the new exam will be like for everyone beginning testing now.

In reading about the exam transition to ARE 5.0, it appears to me (and I am not in any way involved with the new exam design, so this is just based on the information that NCARB has made public) that the new exam will be significantly easier. The new exam will be in 6 sections, instead of 7, which by itself, means little. What indicates to me that the new sections will be easier is that 3 of the current 7 exams grant you credit for 4 of the new exams, while the remaining 4 current exams (which includes the three most difficult ones, in my opinion) are consolidated into two new exams. I can’t imagine that the two new exams will be anywhere near the combined level of difficulty of the four current exams - that would be insane. So the two new exams must be easier, and significantly reduce the amount of content that is in the four current exams. (Pro tip: this means that you can pass the ARE in 2016 by taking only 5 exams, if you take 3 of the current ones and 2 of the new ones. Check out the credit transfer scheme for yourself.)

And you know what? I think that’s great. The current exams cover a lot of material that simply isn’t needed for the protection of the health & welfare of the public, and certainly isn’t useful for day-to-day architectural practice. I spent weeks studying for the Structural Systems exam, learning about coefficients for the flexural design of wood, and I think it was a waste of time. I simply don’t need to know most of that stuff; it’s the province of structural engineers, and I will never, ever feel comfortable designing structural members for a project on my own, no matter what I learned for the ARE. Good for the test designers if they’re updating the exams to what architects truly need to know, not what we “ideally” or “sometimes” need. In an unusual case, we’re going to look it up anyway, not design buildings based on what we vaguely remember studying years ago.

I think it’s great that the new exams are going to follow the standard format of project management phases, from programming to design development to construction, instead of the subject-matter tests. I’m happy that there will be fewer exams, because seven is just so many. I think they could probably cut it down to five, but no one asked me.

What worries me is that there will be a backlash, although hopefully a short one, against new architects who get licensed under the revised scheme. Older architects may feel upset that newcomers get this “easier” track to licensure. NCARB needs to be open and honest about the new content and its difficulty. If it’s actually easier, just say so, and explain why the changes were needed. I don’t think it does anyone good to pretend that the new exams are “comparable” to the old ones, if in fact they are not. In a couple of years, no one will care anymore anyway. The old exams are long, overly difficult, contain a lot of irrelevant information, and are based mostly on rote memorization; I agree with NCARB that it’s time to move on. And please, in the name of all that’s good, ditch the 1990s pseudo-CAD vignette software! Just please don’t replace it with something equally horrible. I think we’ve suffered enough.