ARE 5.0

ARE Exam Day: Your 5-Step Survival Guide

You've studied hard. Now it's time to actually take the ARE. Here are 5 tips to help you prepare on exam day to give yourself the best chance of success.

Taking the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE) is like stepping into a boxing ring. You’ve been training for this very moment. You’ve put in the hours, the blood, sweat, and tears, and now, it's your time to shine.

But here's the twist—you never really know what to prepare for. While you can study for the actual exam content, there is not one universal formula to calm your nervousness when you step into that test center.

Everyone is different, but I’ll share with you what I’ve done personally on the day of my ARE exams. From the early morning rays to the sigh of relief once the exam is done, here are five steps to survive the ARE exam day.

Step 1: Your Healthy Start

The day of your ARE exam isn't just any ordinary day—it's the day when all your hard work comes to fruition! So, this means I dedicate the entire day to the ARE exam. I like scheduling my exams in the early afternoon, so I can spend the morning preparing myself for the exam but still have enough time after to have a celebratory dinner.

Starting in the morning, I like to start with a big breakfast that will fuel my brain and keep me energized all day. Opt for nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, lean protein, and fruits, which can provide sustained energy throughout your exam.

Couple that with a good hydration strategy. Drink enough water, but be mindful of excessive caffeine intake, which might make you jittery or require frequent bathroom breaks. (Tip: Matcha is known for enhancing your focus, making it a perfect alternative to coffee if you’re one of those jittery people.)

The ARE is indeed a mental challenge, but your physical well-being (backed by good nutrition) is a fundamental part of your success.

Step 2: Packing Your Exam Toolkit

Next up, your ARE toolkit. And no, this toolkit doesn't include your scale ruler or trace paper—it's your exam essentials. These include your valid ID and other necessary items like water and small healthy snacks. 

While you’re not allowed to eat and drink in the exam room, you can take small breaks to use the restroom and have a small snack in between. (Tip: Double-check the test center's rules to understand what you're allowed to bring.)

But why is this so crucial? Think of it this way, on exam day, your mind should be focused on one thing and one thing only: the exam. You don’t want to waste cognitive resources on trivial matters like forgetting something at home. So, pack your bag the night before.

What’s usually in my exam bag:

  • Valid ID with the same name as your exam registration
  • Hot tea in a thermos (the test center is always cold)
  • Water bottle
  • A light snack (PBJ, fruit, crackers, etc)
  • A notebook

It’s generally not advised to cram your brain with new materials on the day of your exam, but I usually keep a small notebook of materials that I have trouble with. So if I’m on the train to get to the test center, or waiting at the test center for my name to be called, I can quickly look at these notes to refresh my memory.

Step 3: Early Arrival and Getting Acclimated

Now that you've had a healthy start and your bag is packed, it's time to make your way to the test center. Aim to arrive early to avoid any last-minute rush, which could increase anxiety levels.

In the ARE 5.0 Guidelines, NCARB recommends arriving at the test center 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. There's a quiet confidence that comes from being early—it's one less thing to worry about. 

Once you're at the testing center, take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the environment. Locate the restrooms, the lockers, and the testing room. The more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the more you can focus on the task at hand. You're here to pass the ARE, not to figure out where the bathroom is on a short little break!

Step 4: Entering the Exam Room

As you enter the exam room, get everything set up on your desk. That piece of paper and pencil they gave you? Make sure it’s working and good to go.

Then be conscious of your time management. The ARE, like many comprehensive exams, isn't just about what you know—it's also about how effectively you can demonstrate that knowledge given the time constraints.

Plan an approach that suits your test-taking style. Some people find it beneficial to quickly scan the entire exam, answering familiar questions first and marking tougher ones for review later. Some people like to do it one by one to make sure they don’t miss anything.

When I was taking the ARE 5.0 exams, I decided to skip to the end to finish the case studies first because I thought that the case studies would take the most amount of time so I wanted to get it out of the way first.

Step 5: Reflecting and Relaxing After the Exam

Finally, you've crossed the finish line—the intense hours of examination are over. But what next? Here's the last step, and it's an important one: reflect and relax after the ARE.

As soon as I get home, I like to reflect on the experience and jot down some notes about the exam while my memory is still fresh. This could include things like:

  • Questions that you didn’t know
  • Areas where you felt especially confident
  • Areas you might need a different approach for next time

This isn't a moment to critique yourself harshly, but it can help you to understand your experiences better. These notes can be incredibly beneficial as you prepare for your next ARE division.

Now that you’re done reflecting, it’s time to relax. Because you have the option to see if you are likely to pass or fail an exam, you pretty much already know the result right away. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to revel in the achievement. You've just completed a significant milestone, and that is worth celebrating, regardless of the outcome.

Consider doing something enjoyable or relaxing post-exam to help your mind and body unwind. This could be anything from a quiet walk in a park, a favorite movie, dinner at your favorite restaurant, or simply catching up on sleep!

You’re Ready

The ARE exam day may feel daunting, but with the right preparation and approach, you can navigate it successfully. Remember, this day is not a judgment but an opportunity—an opportunity to showcase your understanding, your skills, and your passion for architecture.

So when the exam day arrives, take a deep breath, step into the test center, and remember: you've studied hard for this. You're ready. Good luck!

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