ARE Live and In-Person at 1871 in Chicago.  |  Slide 1 of 6
Laura Crane of bKL Architecture, Greg Kristo of Stantec, and Sarah Hitchcock of Gensler.  |  Slide 2 of 6
Marc Teer, Founder & CEO of Black Spectacles and Mike Newman, AIA ARE Prep Powered by Black Spectacles instructor.  |  Slide 3 of 6
ARE Live and In-Person at 1871 in Chicago.  |  Slide 4 of 6
Laura Crane of bKL Architecture, Greg Kristo of Stantec, and Sarah Hitchcock of Gensler.  |  Slide 5 of 6
ARE Live and In-Person at 1871 in Chicago.  |  Slide 6 of 6
marcteer@blackspectacles.com

Marc Teer

November 08, 2016

AREĀ® Live: Which ARE Exam Version Should You Take?

3 young architects. 3 ARE strategies.

On Thursday, October 20th, 2016, Black Spectacles founder Marc Teer and AIA ARE® Prep instructor Mike Newman were joined by a panel of 3 young architects who are each taking a different route to the Architect Registration Exam (ARE®) for a live version of our free monthly podcast, ARE® Live. The event was held at 1871 - the heart of the technology and entrepreneurial community in Chicago.

In this live event, we discussed the three strategies that you need to consider before you take your ARE. So which ARE exam version should take? See what each of them had to say and use their advice to help you figure out which ARE exam version is right for you.

Mike Newman is an Adjunct Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He's also Founder of SHED Studio, and he's the instructor for Black Spectacles online, ARE prep curriculum which if you haven't already checked that out, you can head over to https://blackspectacles.com/ to check out any of the free tutorials from those courses.

And we were also joined by three special guests.

Our first special guest was Laura Crane from BLK Architecture. Laura has recently finished her ARE's, and she took them all in ARE 4.0. So in this episode, she took the position of anyone who does anything other than ARE 4.0 is crazy.

Laura is currently the youngest associate at BKL Architecture. It has a focus on mixed-use towers. She's worked on several of BKL's Chicago-based projects, as well as the international mixed-use projects. Her interest in shaping the immediate context and community has also led her to become highly active in professional organizations. Outside of the office, she's very involved in the surrounding architecture community and serves as the Associate Director of the American Institute of Architects, Chicago Board of Directors. She's also co-chair's the AIA Chicago Young Architects Forum and helps to organize and host bimonthly networking and educational events for students and young architects in Chicago. And she recently earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design at Florida State University and her Master's of Architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
 
Second was Sarah Hitchcock from Gensler. She's took the position of taking the transition. What we're calling the 5-Exam Plan, where you can do three exams in ARE 4.0 and two exams in ARE 5.0. Sarah was born in Hawaii, raised in South Dakota, attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln where she received a Bachelor's of Science in Interior Design and a Master's in Architecture. Post graduation, Sarah began working at Gensler after a summer internship in Chicago. She utilized her background in interior design and architecture to approach projects of all different scales and sizes. Her two years at Gensler she's been able to fuel her interest in multidisciplinary design by working on projects of different scales. Recent examples include a two-million-square-foot re-positioning of the Milwaukee Post Office building and a confidential, super-tall, tower re-positioning in Chicago.
 
Finally, Greg Kristo from Stantec. He's took the position of only ARE 5.0. Greg's an Architectural Designer, Photographer working at Stantec with a Master's of Architecture from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Has been a guest studio critic at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Some of his photography can be found on the ArchDaily Blog and Digital Design Exercises for Architecture Students.
 
Mike: Okay so, to begin, let’s learn more about our panelist as architects. How would you describe yourself as an architect?

Sarah: You know I would say that I'm like any other young architect. I'm really trying to absorb as much as I can right now and that's what my first few years in the workforce have been like is trying to get my hands on as many projects as possible, and learning about all aspects of different projects. And I think Gensler has been a really great base to do that because there's so many different project types, and I really enjoy that.

Greg: For me, I mean I'm at the five-year mark, so I've experienced some different types of work, retail, commercial, and some workplace. But just trying to get my hands on as many projects as I can. I echo that 100% because, at this point, you can't solely dedicate my path to one specific type of project. So I'm trying to absorb as much as I can.

Laura: If I find out what I like, I really drive towards that. So I dabbled in high-end residential when I was interning in school and realized that was not what I wanted. It wasn't complex enough. I really like complex puzzles, putting things together, so my focus and my forte is large towers, mixed-use. I really love where everything comes together in a podium and figuring out those things, and I also have a forte for exterior wall assemblies and putting together construction document packages for that aspect of the project as well. At BKL we have a lot of mixed-use projects. It's kind of our forte is larger developments. We do have other types of projects including education that I've also been able to be exposed to and experience. But I found my forte, and so far that's the direction I've been going.
 
Mike: Okay I'm going ask the first truly meaty question here. So why do you want to get licensed?
 
Laura: It wasn't even an option. For me, it was the last remaining task on the list after finishing undergrad, finishing internships, finishing your Master's education, it was that last little thing I had to check off. It was never an option. It was always there.

Sarah: You know I think a lot of people think taking the ARE, you work a little so you could learn to take the ARE. I kind of look at it the opposite way. I love the aspects of the exam, and learning that on the front end first, and being able to apply that to my work. So hopefully, I can do better at what I'm doing by having a base knowledge. I haven't had a thorough project experience on the backend, so I want to know about the backend of a project, you know how a building actually gets built. So when I'm ready for that portion of the project that I come in with some knowledge.
 
Mike: Yeah, one of the things I've always said is that the exam process is a truly annoying thing to go through for everybody. It's an annoying process. Nobody loves taking the exam, but I guarantee you, you'll be a better architect by having gone through the process of studying for it, and going through all the effort of going through that. Just because, as you guys have all talked about, you all work on different types of situations, and you don't get a very wide range when you're a young architect. There's only some range you can get, but you're forced to study a wide range, and it sort of opens all that up. So I love that you're thinking that way.
 
Greg: I echo Laura's comment. For, me without a question, I went to architecture directly from Bachelor's to Master's and ultimately I feel like getting a license is that last step in your education from the school aspect of it, and then, of course, that'll become a stepping stone for your career because a lot more opportunities come about, say if you meet a friendly developer that wants to do something with you. You could just be like, "Okay, I'll start Greg Architects tomorrow." So it allows for a lot more opportunities to align and, of course, to have a better knowledge of architecture as a whole you need that licensing.
 
Mike: In this process you're all at different phases of the process, from having taken any yet, to have taken half of them approximately to just recently all done. Tell me about what kind of support did you find? Did you find support from your office for example? How did you sort of make this process happen?
 
Greg: The main takeaway for that point is, don't be an island and by that I mean, don't separate yourself and try to be innovative in the way you study. Ask people because someone has gone through the same process as you. They could shed some light. If they don't have the resources available to you, they could certainly lead to you the path of that. I know at my office we're in a transition process, so I reached out to my principal. He told me, "See what's out there. Come back to me and we'll go from there." So I approached it from a new path and then, of course, reach out to old colleagues from school. They're going through the same process, so they may be able to provide some PDFs that they've scanned or this and that, and different resources that they've done. So don't be an island is that main thing for me.

Laura: Sure thing. Every architect is going to be extremely sympathetic to the fact that you're going to start. Trust me, they'll have flashbacks. They'll know exactly what they went through. They can tell you war stories. So, again, ask for help. You'll be very surprised just how generous local resources around you are. At my office there's about a dozen of us testing, and so we approached our Principal Tom Kerwin, and he brought an instructor in for us to teach us one weekend for structures because he knew that was a terrifying exam. I've also tapped into reaching out to my friends because you will need emotional support through these, and then also, as a young architect you have quite a bit of resources at your fingertips. So if you're a recent graduate, you can apply for a free membership at your local AIA Chapter and they have resources that you can borrow as well as, you can start forming communities. I know in Chicago Young Architect's Forum, little study groups started happening through networking.
 
Mike: Yes, they're both official type study groups, but also just unofficial, you start going to events like this. You start running into other people who are doing similar things. You're borrowing materials from each other, and then you can then, sort of informally start a study group just from something like that, as well. It's like, it's smart to be open to those as possibilities.
 
Sarah: I would echo that. It's great to be at a firm that supports you. Gensler does a great job of that, but it is all about asking, getting yourself out there to get the support you need.
 
Mike: One thing I would say to that is for a lot of folks they may not be in a firm that is being very supportive, but that probably means kind of as Laura was saying, it probably means they just haven't thought about it yet. They haven't been asked to, and if you actually go forward and say, "Hey, look, I'm in this moment. I need some help," they're likely to be very supportive of the idea. Maybe financially, maybe not, maybe with materials, maybe with just making sure that you get experience to go out onto the job sites or go into the meetings. Like, they might go out of their way to kind of give you a wider range of experience. But you should absolutely be asking for that kind of support. 
 
Marc: I also say that if you haven't started taking the exams yet, and you're not quite sure when, you're not quite sure what resources there are, one of the keys is actually to start talking about it and start talking to your colleagues and letting them know, "Yeah, I'm getting ready to take these exams. I'm serious about getting my license." It's amazing as you speak up, as Mike is saying, as many of our colleagues here are saying, as soon as you speak up, as my mentor has said to me before, "The universe comes and sort of envelopes you to support you." So make sure you speak up, I guess, is the key there.
 
Mike: Did you get any support or did you go back to your schools at all or anything like that? Was there any process during that, that was important for you?
 
Laura: Well, my instance was very unique because I was the third graduating class from a newly accredited program. So when I would go online to the NCARB Score Report to see the pass rates and fail rates, the numbers were so small that I knew exactly which colleague took it, and pass or fails. So that was really interesting. It was a very unique experience, but because you were so new there wasn't really anything set up yet. Which created this scenario where really had to lean on each other as peers. So we reached out to our graduating class and, "Are you doing this? Are you taking that?" I went to the University of Nebraska, and when I look back, I think that they did a really good job preparing me, but I might not have been as aware of it while they were doing it. I know it sounds crazy but we had a great Site Planning class and it was, as I studied for site planning, I was like, "Well, they taught me literally all of this," and so if anyone's out there listening is in school, like take advantage of that, take advantage of the courses you're taking. Take them seriously because if you're planning on taking the test, the material will come up.

Greg: I would say the same thing. I mean I know at UW-Milwaukee we had a great associate to the dean who anytime we had a question for anything, she had so many resources at your fingertips. So literally if you're in school and you're listening to this, tap into those people that are your go-to for knowledge bases and you'll be surprised what you find out.
 
Mike: All right, well, I think that gives us a very clear idea of where you've come from and what kinds of architects you are, and the way you think about moving through the process, and I think right now what I want to ask is why do you think the other two are so stupid about how they're approaching this as a process? Why are you so much smarter than everybody else?

Laura: Okay my reason for taking ARE 4.0 is to get it done, don't even wait for 5.0, just get 4.0 out of the way whatever level of busy you are right now is like an exponential fraction of the level of busy your future self will be. I started testing thinking, "Okay I want to get this out of the way as soon as possible, so then I can go back and have a normal life." I'm busier now than I was then, and I have peers in my firm that are at the same level, same workload as me, that are starting to test now. No idea how they can balance that. 
 
Mike: So what you're saying is all these other folks who have these lofty plans about, "Yeah, sometime in the future, I'm gonna do this thing 'Screw that. Do it now. Don't wait. Make it happen.'" 
 
Laura: Exactly. Sign up now. You can do it from your phone.

Sarah: I feel like I can pivot off that because if you were really trying to get all of these done as fast as possible, the transition plan is the best option. You've got to take 3 of the original ARE 4.0 tests, and only 2 of the new ARE 5.0. That's five tests instead of seven. So if you do the math on that, also if you take the first three, you have two left. You can fail those twice and still have the same number of tests. So that's financially better and it's time you’re saving.
 
Mike: So what you're suggesting to people is to fail the exams?
 
Sarah: No, I'm saying you're going to pass on them the first time, everyone. Everyon always passes on the first time, right? Right?

Everyone always passes on the first time, right? Right?

But if you happen to fail for some reason, you're not studying for different tests. You're re-studying for the same test. That's just more time going for that test, and being more prepared.

Marc: By the way that is Mike Newman's recipe for how to get licensed. The best way to get licensed, the best way to prepare for the exam is to just take the damn exam, and I mean in fact we did this 7in7 Challenge that Charlie Klecha did. You take seven exams in seven days. Charlie studied for eight weeks, actually studied for seven weeks, I think, and then he took all the exams in one whole week, and he got really lucky and passed them all. We did a similar promotion with AIA National and other folks who took them. Some of them passed. Some of them didn't pass all of them. No one failed them all. So that's Mike Newman endorsed approach.
 
Mike: Absolutely, one of the big things for me is, take the weight off it. Just do it. You kind of put it into this worst case scenario. Well, the absolute worst case scenario is you fail one. Big deal, take it again, it's not that big a deal. You can tell people. You cannot tell people, whatever you want, right? It doesn't really matter. It costs money which, of course, is a big deal eventually. But other than that, it's just a good way to learn how to take the exam.

Mike: Okay let me just challenge you a little bit on the transition idea because I'm a big fan of the 5-Exam Plan transition, but it does have potentially some issues. And one of the issues is you do get into a rhythm, and once you've gotten into a rhythm of taking certain exams, for example under 4.0, there's the vignettes and the vignettes are kind of that crazy, sort of like drawing, kind of not drawing. You're drawing in PowerPoint, so it's kind of this unusual thing. It takes a little while to get used to doing that, and there, all of a sudden now you're used to it, and you're gonna throw it away. You're ending your rhythm.
 
Sarah: Right, yeah, that's a really great question. I actually think that comes down to knowing yourself and your study habits and your capabilities to adapt to change. If you're not a great test taker, sticking with one is probably a better option. If you are fairly flexible, if you are, you know tests don't freak you out, some people have that. I feel pretty comfortable with testing, so I'm okay learning the new format, and again, I think that I can take that under my belt, but if you are a person, you know you're on a schedule that you get that rhythm, it might not be worth to lose it. So it's either go with ARE 4.0 or go with ARE 5.0.
 
Mike: Alright, Greg, so tell us about why you want to just sort of delay, delay, delay until you just wait until sometime in the future when ARE 5.0 is ready to start.
 
Greg: Well, because we live in Chicago and the summer's great, so now that the summer's ending unfortunately and November 1st is right around the corner, it's the perfect time to sit down, commit to this, and knock it out. I think the test taking abilities of different folks depends heavily on this, but if you haven't done any tests or if you have done a 4.0 test and it was a year or so ago, I think the ARE 5.0 is your way. Because you know it's a new test, a new way of thinking of it, and it's tied into that real world experience with the model that they've outlined for us, so I think that's the way to go.
 
Mike: Are you nervous at all about the fact that we have sort of an idea about what the format's gonna be like, but you never know until you see it? The 4.0's been around for a while. There's sort of a like, "We know what's likely to come, what it's gonna feel like, but 5.0 has a lot of question marks still." Does that worry you at all?
 
Greg: Yes and no because, of course, it's a new thing, so you have to think what are they going to throw at you. But to everyone out there, I was on a webinar today with NCARB. They did a nationwide webinar and they said that, if you do test early the first 600 tests per section, they're gonna do... what do they call it...a score cut?
 
Mike: Yeah, you'll be part of determining the cut.
 
Greg: So you're going to determine the cut, so if you do have a hard test, they're gonna take some time to think about these tests and grade, so you may luck out in that regard, I guess. It's definitely an extra motivational thing. So to think of something new. Well, NCARB is rolling this thing out as a new thing, and they're also cautious of how it's received, so it's a tug of war, I guess.
 
Marc: Aren't you worried about being a guinea pig?
 
Greg: I mean I think in architecture we worry about that every single day. So it's just part of the profession, and like you said, just take it and see what happens.
 
Mike: I do think one of the things that's going to be an interesting difference between them is, there's likely to be a lot more, for example, reading on the ARE 5.0 exam than there is on the ARE 4.0. I could be wrong about that, but it seems likely that you're going to be reading more on the 5.0 exam, and having to make kind of quick decisions about fairly complex readings to then decide, "Is this something that I need to think about to answer these questions?" That's different than just a typical question, here's four answers, choose one. Any worries about that, Sarah?
 
Sarah: Yeah, I mean like you said, when you get in a rhythm and with the 4.0 you kind of know the types of questions they're gonna ask you, and you've looked for words, and you've looked for certain things to cue you. It's a little scary because you're getting a packet or whatever they give you, a packet of documents, and you have to be able to read through, and kind of comprehend. So that's another thing about knowing yourself if that's something you think you can handle, reading, going back, finding, cross-referencing, those sorts of things, then maybe that is the right thing to do is take 5.0.

Laura: I feel like an analogy real world is okay, Chicago is strange. You're going across the street, and there's a puddle. It's too big. You can't jump it, and so you have to step through it. There's a possibility that it's a manhole, and you're going all the way in. There's a saying, "The beast you know now is probably better than the beast you don't know."

Yeah, there's so many resources available. There's Black Spectacles. There's these books. There's these hard copy references, and then you also have what, ten years or five years of people to help you, to rely on to get you through this. 
 
Mike: Yeah, all the people who you know who have recently taken the exam, have all taken it under 4.0 and they're all resources for you, right?
 
Laura: Right, so you guys are stepping into the dark. Why would you do that?
 
Greg: Well, to that, I guess, I mean because the 5.0 is based heavily on the 4.0. It's just a different layout of the test itself. So I guess to your point, that there is a lot of resources. You could use those resources. They're just implemented, and you're being tested in a different way.
 
Sarah: Right, I'm planning on using a lot of the 4.0 resources to study. NCARB's done a great job of outlining what parts of the old test will be mixed into the new test, so you can start to take those little pieces and pull it out of the 4.0 study material and hopefully, that'll get you through.
 
Mike: You know it's interesting. We've actually literally been talking about this a great deal because it's we're right in the middle of preparing all these materials, and there's a couple of kind of interesting aspects to that. One is just because they're changing the format of the exam, doesn't mean that the architect's life or role is suddenly different, right? You're still the same architect. You still need to know the same type of information, in order to be reasonably called a licensed architect. So there's not a huge change. It's still the same basic content.
 
It is however, a very different way of getting across that content. In the ARE 4.0 it really is a series of silos, and you could just say, "All right, I'm going to spend three weeks just thinking about systems, and then take a systems exam. I could do the same thing with structures, the same thing with contracts, site planning," that kind of thing. Whereas on ARE 5.0 I could get contracts questions on literally five of the six different exams. I could get structures questions on three or four of the different exams. I could get systems on three or four. So it loses that sort of sense of clarity in the studying process, while it gains the logical way that architects tend to think. 
 
So there's a process to it, which I think is very smart on NCARB's part of sort of changing the role of the exam to be more like how architects take multiple pieces of information and put them together. But I don't know that it's necessarily easier to study for if you understand.
 
Sarah: I think that's true. I don't think it's gonna be easier to study for. Something I learned from taking the ARE 4.0 exams is, find multiple sources to study from. There isn't one that will be your catch all, but you'll have everything on the exam, except for Black Spectacles. And I just think it's because of how the test is written. It's not because of how the study material is. They pull from different areas, and I think different Kaplan and Ballast and all those people find a different part of it to pull apart and to teach you stuff for you to learn, I guess, and I think that's why my approach was to be to go back to some of that material, and then also be using the new material. Because it's new material, I don't know that it's gonna cover everything, right? Like I have to be able to cover my bases and cover my back when I'm studying.
 
Greg: Yeah, and I just like the new approach of the test because in the field, and when you're working, you're constantly thinking about all these different things, all at once. You're never, "I'm just gonna do this thing for three, four weeks. No one's gonna tell me anything about it." That's never gonna happen because, you know someone's gonna be like, "Well, that's not what we have in the contract. Are you thinking about the structure of this thing? Is it just gonna flow?" All these things and we all do it. We balance all these things all the time, so I think the new approach, from the outsiders perspective not having taken it, I appreciate it. 
 
Mike: So what you're saying is it's more like being an architect, the complexity of thinking that architects bring to the table. Laura, you're thinking, "Oh, my God, make it easy to study.
 
Laura: Okay the way that I studied for the 4.0 because I'm a cold, hard facts person, I want to know as much as I can going in. I don't wanna rely on like logic and intuition as I'm reading through these random questions. So I would study for every exam about, a good six to eight inches of materials. I would cram in two weeks and take a test. A tiny, like a fraction, maybe like an eighth of an inch of that whole stack that I read through was actually material that I saw again on the exam. So if you are a good test taker the 4.0 it's a little bit ideal because a lot of it is just using your knowledge, your applied knowledge. 
 
I've known people who have only used Black Spectacles because Mike Newman preaches that, and teaches you how to read questions like, "What are they asking? What do they think that you should know in this situation?" And just through tiny Mike Newman in your head during the exam, walking you through this reasoning, you're able to take these questions and pass them easily I think.
 
Mike: I actually do say that all the time. That one of the things that you really do need to think about when you're taking the exams, as you're reading a question, what you should be saying to yourself is not, "What's the right answer to the question?" You should be saying to yourself, "What do they want me to answer? What is the answer that NCARB wants me to think about?" Because it puts you into a context. We all work in different context. We have experience in different firms. We have experience in different regions of the country, but that's not the point. The point is this is an across the country, general idea of what an architect should know. What do they think you should know? And it's a really important difference of how you kind of think about approaching it.
 
Sarah: To add on to that, I think Laura talked about not having a lot of time. As you get older you're gonna get busier and busier. The other advantage to starting your tests right away is you don't have the outside influence of how your firm works or your experience to kind of like, shift your answers on a test. Like, I've worked a year and a half, and I already can see myself in the last test I took, I'm like, "What would we do in real life?" Then I'm like, "Nope, not that. What is the right answer for the exam?" So that's another advantage to taking it when you're fresh out.
 
Mike: Yeah, I will say I've had many folks come into my classes who have 10-15, up to 20 years of experience, and for whatever reason didn't get licensed and either just changed their mind, and wanted to do it now or the ownership structure of the firm changed, and suddenly they had to get licensed or something, and for those folks it's often much more difficult. You'd think it'd be easier, but often it's much more difficult because they bring so much baggage of knowledge, but it's all very specific knowledge of the way that they've done it in the past, and it's hard to break those chains, and think abstractly.

So given the fact that there is this sort of transition that's coming, and that the transition includes this new way of thinking about how to think of all the different topics together what are you doing about that? Like, how are you going to be moving forward? Are you still just gonna be going through the same study materials or are you thinking about it in a different way?
 
Greg: Well, one of the things that I'm actually looking forward to doing is using Black Spectacles because I know you guys are gonna have a revamped system for the ARE 5.0. But with that said, and the takeaway from the webinar today with NCARB was some of the third-party vendors may not have their study guides lined up the way that the current test is laid out. So I guess more of a sign of caution is be careful the way you study because it may not be the things that you actually study for on the test because the different changes have happened, yeah.
 
Mike: So Laura might then say, "Well, then just take 4.0." 
 
Laura: Well, kind of like the silos you were talking about and the direction it was going, was you know what exam you were taking in 4.0, and if you didn't know the question off the top of your head, you could go through a little bit of logic, and figure out, "Okay, this is the exam I'm taking. They're probably looking for this answer because this deals with structures or this deals with program and planning."
 
Mike: You don't have those background cues of, "This is a systems exam. Whatever the hell they're talking about must be about systems," and that can help you through the process a little bit.
 
Laura: I'd count it up maybe from the three exams I've taken, they can be a grab bag. Like you are studying for a certain test, but they do pick up on other exams. Construction Documents is going to appear on all of your exams. Like, you have to be on top of your game about a lot of different topics to be prepared for all the questions they are gonna ask you. Granted, those might not be worth as much when they score it, but they are there.
 
Mike: Yeah, also in the 5-Exam Plan, the three that you take in ARE 4.0, Construction Documents and Services, Program Planning and Practice, and Site Planning and Design. Those three have an awful lot of back and forth, and so the word planning shows up in two of them, and just the names alone generally tell you how the questions are likely to fall back and forth. So those three specifically have a lot of back and forth, but so do Systems and Building Design. There's a lot of overlap back and forth between those, so I think that's true. So it's maybe not as different as it sounds. The 5.0 will have a lot of overlap, but it's not like 4.0 didn't have or doesn't have overlap.
 
So the exam has gone through a number of changes. Right now the big obvious one is going from 4.0 to 5.0 and that's the change in the way of going from these kinds of siloed exams to more a chronology of a project type exam, so programming, and then design, and then documentation, and then, eventually construction. So there's that big change that's happening, but there's also a lot of other changes. There's a bunch of changes to the IDP – now the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). There's been a number of changes recently to when you can take the exams. It wasn't that long ago that everybody had to wait at least three years before they could take any of the exams, I think across the country, except for maybe one or two states. And now there's all sorts of different ways it's being done.
 
In many states, you can take it right after you graduate. I think some you can even now take it while you're in school, as long as you have a certain number of credits. What do you think about those kinds of changes? How would that impact the way that you have been thinking about the exam?
 
Greg: I guess I would say that it's a welcome change because we keep saying and talking about this whole time thing, and everyone is more busy now than they were ever before, especially with all the things we have in our lives, social media, this and that. So for the fact that they've dropped that off, that you could start testing essentially right away is a great thing because people are at different experience levels in school and out of school. You know I had people in my graduate class that were much older than me. They had difference experiences in their lives. 
 
So they may want to take those tests right away, not wait to get that preliminary one to two-year experience or someone like me that have no idea what's going on once they started work. So it's definitely a welcome change and I see the whole NCARB system really taking notice of what's currently happening in architecture and the speed of things, and trying to speed up the thing, and making it better for everybody essentially.
 
Laura: I think much as we talk about terrible these exams are and how treacherous they are, they do make you a better architect, a better designer. They provide you this little wealth of knowledge that you don't necessarily gain in the field or you don't really tap into every day. So the fact that you could graduate with your Master's and walk into an interview and say that you completed your license, that is awesome. I mean that's an extra edge. Why wouldn't you do it just as soon as you can?
 
Sarah: I think it does bring a competitiveness, like people showing initiative to take the exams and to push themselves. And I also think, like I said before, starting out that base of knowledge first and then being able to apply that to your work life, I don't see how that's not an advantage to have the background of the exams and then people take it right away.
 
Mike: Yeah, I will say that most schools have not focused on the topics that are really likely to show up in the exam. So you get a little taste of it in most schools, but you don't really get a thorough version of it most of the time. So it does mean that you have to be a self-starter, in order to really jump out and take those exams right off the bat, I think. Because so much of the exam is really about experiential aspects of things, right.

Marc: We had one question here. Folks were asking what are the exams in the transition combo plan again or what are the exams in the 5-Exam Plan? For ARE 4.0 it's Construction Documents and Services, Site Planning and Design, and Programming Planning, and Practice, and then for the ARE 5.0 it's exams four and five which are Project Planning and Design, and Project Development and Documentation.

Sarah: Yeah, I think that's right, and if you notice there's some overlap of the names, so the tests you already took, the ones you're taking. So you have a base of study knowledge, construction documents will appear on your 5.0 exam. Site planning will appear on your 5.0 exam, too. So you get a little studying in beforehand for your 5.0 exam.
 
Mike: So it's worth noting just for those who haven't looked at the way that ARE 5.0 is ordered. ARE 4.0 is seven different exams and each one is a different topic. Like we said, there's a lot of back and forth between them, but each one conceptually is a different topic. ARE 5.0 is six different exams which is set up as two of the exams are sort of pulled away a little separate. One is an overall idea about how a project is put together, and so it's all of the information about the overarching idea of how a project is gonna go, the contracts, and all that kind of stuff, but also working with clients and all those kinds of things.
 
And then there's another overall one which is a practice management one and that's about, "Well, how do you organize a practice? How do you put teams together? How do you deal with RFPs and RFQs, and how do you think about how insurance is gonna work and all of those things?" So those two standalone a bit, and then there's four exams which are in sequence and those four exams start at programming, and then there's sort of planning and design one, and then there's a planning and design and documentation one, and then there's one that's about construction. And so if you think of those four as a sequence, one, two, three, four, though, starting at three, so it's, three, four, five, six, if you think of those as that sequence, then you can kind of get a pretty good picture of the idea behind what's going on.
 
And in the transition, you do the three that Marc mentioned, and then the middle two of that sequence of four. So not the programming one which would be the first one because presumably, you've already done that in programming, planning and practice, and site planning, but then the next one which is really about, "All right, we've got a program. We have an idea of what we need to do. Now we're in the design phase, so we're doing design development, schematic design type work. What would be all the issues that would show up there?" 
 
And those issues would be, well, structural issues. What kind of basic systems in terms of orientation and fenestration and those kinds of relationships, and what kinds of issues of contracts, and working with a client show up at that period? And then the next one which would be, "All right, now you're at the CD-set phase getting ready for permits and bidding" and all of that, so you're really doing...it's like if you've gone through the design process, now you're taking that design and you're figuring out how to document it, and communicate it to other people. 
 
So now we're getting into structural questions would be things like, "How many bolts go into this? What's the actual sizing on this? What kind of systems, how much CFM is gonna go?" It becomes much more a detailed type question and how do you communicate those things. But again, it'll be about contracts. It'll be about systems. It'll be about structures. It'll be about planning and design issues. You've got egress, like all of those things can show up in both of those exams. 
 
So the thing I'm getting at here...and then eventually the sixth one is I think it'd be a relatively simple one comparatively. But that four and five, those two that you would take in that transition, those are going to be monster exams, right? These are not going to be small exams. These are going to be two big exams, anybody who's taken ARE 5.0 is going to have to do those two big exams, but these are gonna be much bigger exams, I think, they're going to be much more exhausting than the 4.0 exams.
 
Laura: Yeah, and there's also a calculator on NCARB. If you've taken some from 4.0, maybe not all three or the right three that you need to take to do the five, and you're thinking about jumping in the deep end, and going into 5.0, you can just type in the ones that you've done, and a little drop down menu, and it'll tell you the tests you would take in 5.0.
 
Mike: Yeah, and you absolutely want to know exactly what you're getting into because there's zero reason to just start randomly taking some in 4.0 and then jump to 5.0. You could very easily have to take all of 5.0 after you've taken a bunch in 4.0. You haven't gone through the process and really thought it through.
 
Marc: We have a question from the audience online. If you take the transition plan, but fail the two of the ARE 5.0, can you go back to taking all the ARE 4.0 exams or is there no going back?
 
Sarah: All or nothing. You commit.
 
Greg: And they've said that it's gonna be very deliberate. That you have to actually type in transition so you know. Beware.
 
Mike: Okay so, one last question here. This is, I think, the one that seems the most likely to be true, this question. If you controlled the world, right, so you control everything in the world, how would you organize the exam? Is this the right exam? Is there something that you would do differently? Is this what we should be focused on?

Sarah: I think that the people who write this test have a very hard job. We have a profession that is incredibly challenging. I think it's hard to put in silos. So a silo'ed version of the exam, it's one way to do it, but I don't know that it tests your ability to be an architect, right? We cover everything. So this new approach, I think is getting closer to what I would do because it's a little bit more real life. If we don't know something we're going to figure it out. We're going to go to the code book. We're going to find the solution, and I feel like this exam will be more on those lines. But it's a hard test to write. I don't know that I have an answer for that.
 
Laura: I would say that from experiencing all of the ARE 4.0, actually, my favorite exam was structures because it had this resource material. Okay it was the worst to study for. That was really, really boring. But as far as taking the test, it was the most straightforward. It was probably one of the easiest ones, and it had the resources, that had formulas and some material compositions and some equations for you to use as a guide which I thought most paralleled with our practice, right? I'm going to look things up every single day. 
 
I'm not going to say, "Oh, I remember that. It's this equation." No, I'm going to cross check it always, and so I think that one closely most resembled the profession, not that we do structural calculations like that all the time because no one knows what 5.0 is yet, really. I don't really know if it will fully implement what we do in the field. So if I ruled the world and I could make the ARE tests, I think I'd probably make parallel to the way the structure is in 4.0 where you have references that you can go to, that are there for the length of the exam. 
 
Mike: So still specific and excessive information types of questions, but then there's a lot of reference material within that to be able to go back and forth with.
 
Greg: I guess I would probably take it one step back, and try to implement at least a test or two within your studies. So you're going through this path of architecture through undergrad and graduate school, why not try to introduce that at the graduate level, and so you get your feet wet before you dive in? And then at that point, maybe you'll scare off people, but at the same time, it's the reality of things. These are things that we're going to face at one point or another if you wanna become licensed, so why not experience that a step before you go into the field, and you kind of get too busy and you forget about these tests. You could have at least one or two under your belt and say, "I've taken it. It's not that bad."
 
Mike: "I can do that."
 
Greg: "I can do it. Let's do the next five."
 
Mike: You know it's interesting. A number of years ago we had some Spanish students in one of my classes, and they were explaining how things worked in Spain for them, and a bunch of the other students were like, "Wow, that's so great." Because there, once you graduate from the graduate program, you're now a licensed architect. You have just graduating makes you a licensed architect, and all the other students were like, "That sounds great. Why don't we have that?" And then you start to remind people, "Well, you realize, of course, that means that many of you would go through the process, go all the way through grad school, and then not pass the exam, and not get licensed, and you wouldn't graduate because they can't let you graduate, if you can't pass the exam." And so then everybody said, "Ooh, maybe that's not such a great thing. I'd still like to still be able to graduate and then decide later if I'm going to go through it." So I like the fact that you're thinking that it's not just about what's in the exam. It's about the sort of flow of how that relates to people's school, and they're especially with young architects and the things that are specific to that world. 
 
Marc: We have an audience question here from someone who took the 4.0 and used a lot of flash cards because it's a lot of vocab-intensive questions. So if you’re considering taking ARE 5.0, how do you think you're going to approach studying for that not knowing if it will have a lot of vocab or if it is more referencing like forms.
 
Laura: I think that's 4.0's silo-ed in that way where it is a lot of memorization and knowing a certain approach. I think for 5.0 you have to be able to apply things much more. That's my understanding based on NCARB's guidebook that it's really taking the knowledge that you've "memorized" or that you've learned, and then applying it to a scenario. So I think practicing that and hopefully, when everyone comes out with their materials, we'll be able to do that more. I think the case studies that people are going to come out with, the problems are going to be the key to the 5.0.
 
Greg: And I guess I don't know why this reminded me of it, but it's worth noting that there is a demo exam on NCARB's website. So take a look, see how the things are laid out, you can mess around with toolbar which is new to the 5.0. Maybe just to kind of alleviate some of that thinking and how is it going to be structured overall.
 
Mike: One of the things that they've been saying very clearly at NCARB is that they want to move away from questions that are, "Did you memorize this thing?" and move more into questions that are more sort of time-based, sort of real. Like you have some reference material. You have some other material. You look back and forth and you find that information. So they're going to move away from questions that are like, "Okay, how many square feet are in an acre?" You either know it or you don't know it kinds of questions. 
 
But having said that, these other questions when you're reading through the information that is in this more of interactive setup, there's going to be something in there that's going to reference square feet, and something that's going to reference acres, and so it's super handy if you already know how many square feet are in an acre. So they're not really moving away from that information. They're just trying to move away from that as a direct, simple question, and to make these questions a little bit more interactive, so I think my response to the question about flash cards and things is I think that's still all going to be useful, as one portion of the way to think about the exam.
 
Marc: We have another question from someone with the Chicago Architect Foundation who works with a lot of teens. “I work in our Education Department, so I guess my question is if you could go back to you in high school what kind of advice would you give yourself to get to where you're at now??
 
Sarah: I think I'd tell myself to maybe be a little more a self-starter when I was that age to understand what architects really do. Like, get in an office, shadow someone. Like, you are this TV architect, right? And so understanding what we really do and the problems we're trying to solve, I think that would be the best thing I could have done for myself when I was that age.
 
Laura: Yeah, I actually interned in high school. There was a program set up. Truthfully, my only initiative for signing up for the program was because you could leave school early. But through that program, yeah, I interned for an interior designer, and realized that wasn't really what I wanted to do, and then I interned for an architect, and even though I was basically their free receptionist, I got to peek into their projects and what they do, and it solidified my initial ideas of this is what I wanted to do. And what I would say to high school students in Chicago is that you have probably one of the best resources in the nation for a very supportive architectural community. So if you are in a high school and a program, an intern program doesn't exist yet, knock on someone's door, ask a teacher, I think you would be very surprised at how receptive our profession is here in Chicago.
 
Mike: I think that's very true about Chicago, in particular. But I think as you were saying earlier, one of the great things about the architectural community and this is gonna be true across the country is if you ask, almost everybody will go out of their way to help you out, and probably nobody has ever asked them to come and do a discussion about design in a high school class. That would be awesome. That'd be a fun thing to do, right? So there's a whole world of potential connections that can happen in these things. And the other thing that I would say which I actually say to my students in grad school, but I think is also true really at any age, I think even for myself now is think through what your game plan is. 
 
What's your plan for your career, for your sort of moment in time? Make a set of decisions, write them out, literally, write them out. Because everything works in your head, everything makes sense when it's just in your head. It's like a dream. You know you ever wake up from a dream, and you're trying to explain, sort of roll over and tell my wife, "Oh, you wouldn't believe this dream I had. I was doing this thing, and I was flying, and then I was writing." She's like, "What are you talking about? That doesn't make any sense." But it made perfect sense to me, right? Everything works in your head. If you write it out, it forces you to be real about it. It forces you to really think about what goes first, what goes second. You start putting it into order.
 
And then the key thing about writing out that game plan and being very intentional about that as a process is that now it's in your head as a process, and you can either follow it or not follow it. It's okay if you make a game plan and then you realize, "Wow, this is actually a more interesting path," but you needed to make the game plan to move forward, to find the more interesting path. So it's okay to change the path as you go along, but you've gotta have a plan. You've gotta move forward with something, otherwise, none of those choices are gonna come to you. I think when you're in high school especially, but I would say this is true with undergrads as well, and even to an extent with grad students, everybody sort of sits around and waits for things to come to them, and in fact, you need to go to them. Once you start moving towards something, all kinds of interesting things will show up.
 
Laura: Yeah, and our office has never said no to a group of students wanting to walk through our doors. I don't think any office will ever say no, so just ask.
 
Greg: And I think one other note too is, take a look at the different tools that architects actually use in the office. Those tools and the design tools may actually spark a different interest. I mean, of course, you want them to be architects, but using a program like Rhino could spark an industrial design habit in a high school student, and it sparks off a whole completely different career. I think we use some incredible tools that not many people know about, so just exploring those at an entry level or in high school level would be phenomenal, I think.
 
Marc: Sarah, Laura, Greg, and thanks to all of you who have joined us here in Chicago, and all of you who tuned in online. So thank you so much. Visit our website to learn more about our ARE 5.0 exam prep curriculum that actually we just launched.

 

Photos by Greg Rothstein

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