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How to Avoid Burnout in the ARE Marathon
Learn three tips to help you avoid burnout while studying for the ARE.
Taking the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE) is like running a marathon. For some rare individuals, it might only take six months–but for some, it can take years.
Imagine you’re in a marathon that lasts not a day, not a year, but a whole five years. At some point, you start feeling the strain. Your legs start giving out, and your breath comes short.
At least that’s what it felt like when I was in my five-year ARE marathon.
During those five years, I failed the same exam three times, worked 60-80 hours a week, and ended up burning out multiple times.
But I know I’m not alone.
How to Avoid Burnout While Studying for the ARE
As ARE candidates, we often have to work long hours at our architecture full-time job while studying at night for the ARE. Over the five years it took me to pass the ARE, I’ve learned the importance of staying healthy and sane in this process.
Here are three tips to help you avoid burnout in the ARE marathon.
1. Start with a Game Plan
I’m not the most athletic person, but I do know that you wouldn’t run a marathon without a plan first. And the ARE is no different. When you first start, you want to read all the books, learn all the materials, and take all the exams fast.
But given our work hours as architects and the amount of materials we need to know, it’s simply not possible to do it all at once. Forget about those people that finish their ARE in three months—they’re the exception, not the rule. According to NCARB by the Numbers 2022, the average time between starting and finishing the ARE is 2.7 years.
So if we’re a little bit ambitious and want to finish our ARE in 2 years, we can take one exam every three months to finish all six of them, with some wiggle room to retake if we do fail. Now that’s a much easier target to hit without overwhelming yourself.
I found that studying for a new exam every two to three months worked really well for me, especially since I was working a lot of overtime at work.
But some people prefer a one to two month interval so they don’t forget what they studied for the last exam. Depending on your workload and ability to retain information, you can come up with a plan that works best for you.
Remember: It’s okay to have ambitious goals, but be realistic and assess your situation. Know that sometimes you’ll need to take a break after one exam before you have the energy to study for another one again.
2. Build a Support System
You can’t go through the ARE process alone. Just like a marathon runner might have a trainer, families, and friends to cheer them on, the pitstop crew handing them water . . . you too need those people in your support system.
When you’re taking the ARE, reach out to your friends and family, and tell them that you’re going through this process and you’ll need their support along the way.
Support might look like:
- Your spouse washing the dishes after dinner instead of you.
- Your parents taking the kids for a weekend so you have time to study.
- Your children not bothering you when you close your office door.
- Your friends treating you to a nice dinner when you pass an exam.
- Or simply a text from a fellow ARE-taker cheering you on before you walk into the exam room.
Whatever it is, you need to build a group of people around you that are there for you when you need to complain about the gruel of studying or take up a chore when you can’t get to it.
3. Set Realistic Expectations at Work
Now this one isn't going to be easy, but it is absolutely necessary.
I remember one day before my ARE exam, I was finishing up a deadline at 10 pm in the office and thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this?”
So of course the next morning, I failed that exam.
In fact, this continued for an entire year, and I failed that same exam over and over because I just couldn’t even retain anything with all the stress in me. After those failed exams, I stopped taking the exams for almost two years because I was just so burned out from the constant work and the devastation that comes with failure.
When I restarted my ARE marathon, I decided that I needed to set better boundaries this time around. So every time I had an exam coming up, I would tell my manager clearly that I’ll need to leave on time to study for my exams.
As it turned out, everyone at my job was supportive of it and helped me protect my study time as much as possible.
If you’re struggling with balancing time between work and studying, try talking to your supervisors about getting more help or setting more realistic deadlines. I know it might not always work, but generally, no one wants you to fail. If the firm has a good culture and good people, they’ll support you as much as they can.
The ARE Pitstop: How to Recover from Burnout
If you're already feeling burnt out, you can always take a pitstop in your ARE marathon. Think of it as a temporary stop to rest and recuperate. There might be multiple pitstops along your ARE journey, or there might be just one.
But either way, you need to recognize the burnout signs so you know when you need a pitstop to rest and recover.
The sign of burnout differs from person to person. For me, I usually start getting migraines every morning and getting sick more often than normal. That’s when I know I’m starting to burn out and need to take a break.
So when you recognize those signs in yourself, take a break. You’ve earned it. Once you’ve rested and gained back your energy, reflect on your journey so far.
- What’s causing your burnout?
- Do you need more breaks?
- Are you pulling all-nighters to study?
- Is the study method you’re using not working for you?
If you can identify the problems, then finding the answers is easy.
For example, I found myself losing interest in reading tons and tons of books when I was studying. So I pivoted to using video content instead. That made me more engaged in the studying process—plus it was so much easier for me to understand information from a video than reading.
You Can Do It!
Running the ARE marathon is an overwhelming and long journey. But if you've survived architecture school, you can survive this!
With the right game plan, a balanced support system, and clear boundaries at work, not only will you cross the finish line, but you’ll do it with a healthy body and mind.
The ARE marathon isn’t just about passing an exam: It's about learning the skills you need to become the architect you've always wanted to be.
So tie those laces tight, take a deep breath, and don’t forget to take a break at those pitstops in your ARE marathon. You've got this!