ARE 5.0

ARE Live: Setting a Study Foundation

Walk through one question from each division of the ARE 5.0. Learn what order to take the ARE 5.0, study strategies, and more.

In this episode, we go through one question from each of the six divisions, and we go through in the order that we recommend to a lot of people when they ask “which division should I start with?” and “What order should I go through the ARE?

Up First: Practice Management

Starting with PcM makes a lot of sense, mainly because you’re mostly going to learn what you need to know for PcM by studying. You’re not really going to gain the information to pass the PcM exam through experience because sort of by definition, you’re not going to be running a firm until you’re a licensed architect. You can use this time spent studying to also gain experience at your firm on the other topics and the other divisions you’ll be taking later on. 

The first question in this episode is a pretty typical PcM question, where you’re provided an excerpt from a contract and a whole bunch of information, and you’ll be asked to perform a calculation. 

Read the whole question

For these kinds of questions where you’re given reference material, you want to make sure you read everything thoroughly before trying to answer. Read all the text that you have, and as you’re reading the question, use the highlight or strikethrough feature on the exam to mark any information you think is relevant. 

In this question, the exact snippet of the case study that you need to reference is pulled out for you. But on the real exam, you’ll have to go through the entire document on your own to find the information you need. If you feel like you don’t have time to read through all of it, that’s actually fine. All you’re looking for is the relevant information. 

If you need to scan or skim until you find information that’s actually relevant to the question (which you’ll know because you already read the whole question!) that can save you time in the long run. 

Moving on to Project Management

The PcM and PjM exams relate well to each other, so it makes sense to group them and study for them in order. On this division, you’re going to have to make some value judgements about the design of a project when you’re answering this practice question, and that makes sense if you think about what it takes to be a project manager in real life. 

It’s not all work plans and contracts and quality assurance or quality control—you’ve got to actually manage the architecture of the project. So there’s going to be some overlap in this division with the other more design-heavy divisions. 

Tackling “check all that apply questions”

Some people dislike check all that apply questions because you can’t get partial credit—if you don’t check all that actually apply, you don’t get credit for any that you did check. 

But the good news is that these questions aren’t as scary as they look. In this example, it’s asking you to check four that apply, and there are only six answer options, which means that right off the bat you know there are only two wrong answers. 

Before you choose which answers are definitely right and definitely wrong, it’s helpful to read through them and give your overall impressions first. This way, you can have a “maybe” category of answers that you want to come back to and think more about. Then, once you’ve reviewed all the answers and have an idea of which ones you think are definitely correct, you can go back to your maybes and review. 

PA, PPD, and PDD

These three divisions are pretty closely related, and they all loosely cover the three design phases of a project schematic, design through contracts documents. And for that reason, we recommend taking them together and in that order. 

Break studying up into smaller chunks

For the PA exam in particular, there’s a lot of knowledge that you have to study in order to answer specific questions. Taking practice exams and running practice exam questions can be super helpful, because it gives you an idea of how you have to take a lot of different kinds of knowledge and then apply it all to a single question on the ARE. 

Questions on the PPD exam also require you to know about a lot of different areas, like building code and egress and other things like that. When faced with this much information, what’s the best way to study?

One way is to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. It’s easy to try to study everything all at once and fall down a rabbit hole, which is usually not the best way to go about it. You don’t want to overdo it on the details, and instead make sure that you’re studying areas that are going to be high yield and help you the most on the most divisions. 


A lot of the questions on the CE exam are about pay apps and contracts, and cover things like what should an architect do if this, that, and the other thing happens on a site? These questions make up roughly 80% of the CE exam, with the other 20% being about site evaluation. 

The example question on this episode helps you get familiar with what construction should look like and helps you be able to identify what’s wrong with a picture—something you would need to be able to do in real life if you were evaluating a project. 

It makes sense to take the CE exam last after you’ve studied all of the construction details and systems, so you can put that foundational knowledge into practice. 

Another reason to take this exam last is it gives you the chance to get involved with site visits at your office and get some real practice at doing this kind of work. The other side of that coin is taking practice exams and getting an understanding of what you’re going to be looking for on the actual exam. 

General Study Tips: Lightning Round Q&A 

Q: Is it best to start with the case studies first, or go through all the questions in order

A: There are a few ways you can go about this. If you’re feeling nervous on exam day, you can tackle the case studies first to wake up your brain and get you in the groove of test-taking. All the answers are given to you in the case studies: You just have to know where to find them. 

That said, don’t spend too much time on case studies and leave yourself too little time for the rest of the exam. You don’t get extra points for spending 10 minutes on a super hard case study question. Every question is worth the same one point, and you don’t need to get a minimum number of a particular question correct. 

To figure out which method works best for you, try out different strategies when you take practice exams. It’s also okay to switch up your method from test to test—just because something worked great for you on PjM doesn’t mean you have to do it exactly the same way on PA. 

Q: Should you answer every question even if you don’t have time to finish the test by guessing for the questions you don’t get to?

A: On multiple choice and check all that apply, absolutely guess. It’s a little harder on fill in the blank because you don’t know if it’s going to be a decimal or a large or small number. 

But in general, you do want to be answering every question on the exam. There are no penalties for wrong answers, so input an answer you think is wrong. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all. 

All that said, NCARB expects you to spend roughly two minutes per question. So if you do that, you should be able to get through the exam in time. There’s no point in spending 20 minutes on one question when you could get through 10 questions in that amount of time. 

The goal here is unfortunately not to get 100% on all these exams. The goal here is to pass. There will probably always be one or two questions that feel like they came out of left field—try not to let those trip you up. 

To hear the rest of Cat’s study tips, listen to the recordings below!