What to Know About the ARE 5.0 Exam

What’s on the ARE and how do you prepare to take it? Here's an in-depth look at everything you need to know for taking (and passing!) the ARE 5.0.

If you’re a budding architect looking to accelerate your career at your current firm, you should consider licensure as the next milestone on your path to success. As with most specialized professions, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to become fully licensed in the architecture field.

A requirement for licensure is passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)  developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Typically, you’ll have already earned your architecture degree from an NAAB-accredited program and have gained and documented the required experience before tackling the exam. 

But what’s in the ARE and how do you prepare to take it? Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at everything you need to know for taking (and passing!) the ARE 5.0 with this quick NCARB exam guide. 

What is the ARE 5.0 Exam?

The ARE 5.0 is the latest version of ARE, which is a comprehensive series of exams used to assess the knowledge and skills of individuals who wish to become licensed architects in the United States. The ARE 5.0 consists of six divisions, or “test sections,” that cover topics such as building design and construction, professional practice, and project development. We will be covering those sections in this guide!

According to NCARB’s Handbook, the ARE 5.0 “assesses a candidate's knowledge and skills to provide various services required in the practice of architecture.” They emphasize the purpose of the exam is not to test for competency in all aspects of architecture, but to show that the architect can competently handle a project from start to finish while prioritizing the safety and welfare of the public. 

What six divisions are in the ARE 5.0?

The ARE 5.0 is separated into six divisions, each one designed to test your knowledge on a different phase of an architecture project in real life. Here's a breakdown of each of the divisions, and what you can expect on each one.

Division 1: Practice Management (PcM)

The Practice Management (PcM) division focuses on the skills you'll need to independently manage an architecture practice. You'll need to be knowledgable about licensure, insurance, laws governing the workplace, and financial metrics. Topics covered on this division include: 

  • Business operations
  • Finances, risk, and development of practice
  • Practice-wide delivery of services
  • Practice methodologies 

Division 2: Project Management (PjM)

The Project Management (PjM) division tests your ability to successfully manage an architectural project. This includes organizing principles, managing contracts, and managing consultants. Topics covered on this division include: 

  • Resource management
  • Project work planning
  • Contracts
  • Project execution 

Division 3: Programming & Analysis (PA) 

The Programming & Analysis (PA) division focuses on helping you evaluate all the information available to you at the beginning of a project. You'll be tested on your ability to successfully evaluate project requirements, constraints, and opportunities. Topics covered on this exam include: 

  • Environmental and contextual conditions
  • Codes and regulations
  • Site analysis and programming
  • Building analysis and programming 

You'll need to be able to demonstrate your ability to develop, evaluate, and communicate design solutions, as well as your understanding of the construction process and the impact of building materials and systems on the performance of the building. 

Division 4: Project Planning & Design (PPD) 

The Project Planning & Design (PPD) division is all about the preliminary design of sites and buildings. This division focuses on teaching you how to independently conduct the early design phases of a project. You should also be able show your understanding of sustainability and environmental design, universal design, and other codes and regulations. Topic in this division include: 

  • Environmental conditions and context
  • Codes and regulations
  • Building systems, materials, and assemblies
  • Project integrations of program and systems 

Division 5: Project Development & Documentation (PDD) 

The PDD division focuses on the integration and documentation of building systems, from structural to plumbing to electrical systems. Topics on this division of the ARE 5.0 exam include: 

  • Integration of building materials and systems
  • Construction documentation
  • Project manual and specifications
  • Codes and regulations
  • Construction cost estimates 

As part of this division, you'll also learn about the documentation required at each stage of a process, and how to ensure those documents meet the standard of care, have been assessed for quality control, and incorporate all the work of the project into a cohesive design. 

Division 6: Construction & Evaluation (CE) 

The Construction & Evaluation (CE) exam focuses on what happens after you finish your drawings. You'll learn what goes into preforming site visits, prepare field reports, and other administrative tasks. Topics covered on this division include: 

  • Preconstruction activities
  • Construction observation
  • Administrative procedures and protocols
  • Project closeout and evaluation

What Types of Questions are on the ARE 5.0 Exam?

Each division has multiple sections and objectives, as well as multiple items, or question types, that you'll see. These items are the same on the standalone questions and the case studies on the exam. They are:

  • Multiple choice: A question followed by either three or four response options. This item type is used when there's only one correct answer to choose. 
  • Check-all-that-apply: Similar to multiple choice questions, these items are a question followed by a series of responses. The main difference is you're able to chose multiple correct answers, and all correct options must be selected to get the answer correct. The question will specific how many you need to select (ie, Choose two that apply.) There's no partial credit for only selecting a few of the correct options. 

  • Quantitative-fill-in-the-blank: A question followed by an input box where you'll be able enter a numerical response to the question. The units for the answer (decimals, hours, etc) will be specified in the question. 

  • Hotspot: A question followed by an architectural drawing, photo, diagram, map, or other image. You'll be asked to click on an area or object within the provided image. 
  • Drag-and-place: A question followed by a drawing, photo, diagram, map, or other image. You'll also be given a series of tokens and will need to select one or more of them and place them in the correct spot on the image. 

Cognitive levels on the ARE 5.0

Each ARE objective is tied to a certain thinking skills, called a cognitive level. The ARE 5.0 uses two different cognitive levels:  Understand/Apply (U/A) and Analyze/Evaluate (A/E)

U/A items will require you to understand a concept and apply it successfully to a provided scenario. These question require conceptual understanding to answer, and focus on standard, straight forward application of knowledge. 

A/E questions, on the other hand, will ask you to analyze a set of concepts or factors and ask you to make an evaluative judgement. These questions require integration of new information with existing information, and often focus on non-standard situations. 

Every item on the ARE is written to address both the objective and one of these cognitive levels which has been paired with that objective. 

What Are the Requirements To Take the ARE 5.0?

Although in most cases you’ll need to have completed your architect education program or degree, the eligibility requirements for taking the ARE depend on your jurisdiction.

To check the licensing requirements of your jurisdiction, including which states have exam application processing fees, you can use NCARB’s Licensing Requirements Tool. Once you meet the requirements, you can request testing eligibility through your NCARB Record by your jurisdiction’s licensing board. 

Although not required, you will want ARE 5.0 prep materials so you can have a study plan and be fully prepared come test day. Since the ARE is different from other tests you have taken, it’s important to utilize study materials and map out your study goals ahead of time.   

How Do You Schedule the Exam?

Once you’re eligible to take the exam, you can schedule your exam appointments and sit for the divisions either in-person or online. A separate appointment and fee must be paid for each division of the ARE. However, you can take the divisions in any order, and since NCARB recently retired their rolling clock policy, you no longer have a time constraint to pass all the divisions.

Once you have chosen what order to take the ARE, it's time to find the right study materials and develop your study plan. After you have taken a division, your test results will be available within a week of your test date and viewable in your NCARB Record. 

What Happens if You Fail?

If you did not receive a passing score on a division, you can retake that division starting 60 days after your previous testing date. However, you can only retake the same division three times within a twelve month period

Having study materials and a solid study plan in place can help you pass the ARE on your first try, so you don't have to worry about retaking divisions more than once. Resources like free webinars and the ARE Community can also help you prepare for the exam.


Ready To Get Licensed? 

If you’re ready for your career to take off in the architecture field, it’s time to pass the ARE. As the first NCARB-approved test prep provider for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0, Black Spectacles has resources to help you every step on your way to test day. When you sign up for a membership, you get access to: 

  • Video Lectures
  • Virtual Workshops (Expert members only!) 
  • Lecture Slides
  • Practice Exams
  • Quizzes 

Ready to get licensed?

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