Taking Professional Exams

What are Professional Exams and Why are They Important?

Professional exams, including the Architect Registration Examination, are a critical step in the licensing process, and it is imperative that professionals obtain licenses to practice in their field. According to the AIA:

“Improperly designed buildings can pose a threat to occupants and the public. The essential purpose of licensing architects is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and shield consumers from unqualified practitioners.”


Architect Registration Examination (ARE 5.0) Divisions

  • Practice Management
  • Project Management
  • Programming & Analysis
  • Project Planning & Design
  • Project Development & Documentation
  • Construction & Evaluation

The ARE Divisions coordinate with the six categories of required experience hours (known as AXP).

By the Numbers: Current Statistics about Licensing in South Dakota

  • There are 38 candidates pursuing licenses in South Dakota and reporting hours through AXP
  • 2 candidates have completed the AXP experience hours.
  • There are 27 active testers in South Dakota
  • 70 Divisions have been taken
  • 12 testers have successfully completed the ARE
  • Success rate of 61%. Higher than the national average of 53%.
  • On average, it takes 4 years for someone to gain all AXP experience hours (4.2 years is the national average)
  • On average, it takes 3 years for someone to pass all the divisions of the ARE in South Dakota (2.2 years is the national average)
  • Of the 929 Total Licenses, 86% are reciprocal licenses and 14% are resident licenses (National Average is 52% reciprocal and 48% resident)

Figures from: https://www.ncarb.org/nbtn2019/jurisdictions Accessed on: 1/7/2020

Top 10 Tips for Taking Professional Exams

10. Feel Prepared

Be confident. You’ve got this! If you don’t feel confident, study until you do.

9. Dress for Success

First and foremost: be comfortable. I have found that dressing as the professional I aspire to be increases my confidence, which helps me test better. Regardless of style, find clothes you can sit comfortably in for 4 hours and that make you feel good about yourself. Avoid pockets to speed up the check-in process. Be sure to check the testing center rules for what jewelry is allowed (pretty much just wedding rings). Leave everything else at home.

8. Pass/Fail: It Doesn’t Define You

Passing an exam on the first try is the best-case scenario, but it’s critical to maintain the mindset that passing is not the only acceptable outcome. Your score doesn’t reflect your success as a person; it is merely an assessment of your knowledge or preparedness on a subject.

7. Stay Healthy

Mental and physical health are important! It is imperative to preserve relationships and healthy habits while studying and preparing for exams. No test is worth running yourself ragged.

6. Arrive Early

Give yourself time to acclimate to your surroundings and adjust your mindset; get in the zone. Waiting in a room with 12 nervous people will not aid your confidence or concentration. Arrive early and beat the crowd!

5. Flag Questions if You Don’t Know the Answer Right Away

There’s not enough time to mull over questions that you might never be clear about. Instead, flag the question and come back to it later. That way, you can get to questions that you know and might miss because you run out of time.

4. Consider What Information the Test Maker is Trying to Assess

If you’re stuck between a couple of right-sounding answers, reread the question and use this approach to determine the best answer.

3. Be the Ball

A reminder from youth sports: stay focused and keep your eye on the prize… passing your exam. It’s easy to become distracted during the exam; by using noise canceling headphones, you can eliminate some distractions caused by other test takers and testing center staff.

2. Visualize Success

Visualize yourself taking the exam, knowing the answers, and getting the notification that you passed. A positive attitude goes a long way, and even worse, a negative attitude can be destructive.

And the Number One Tip for Taking/Passing Professional Exams is… Drumroll please...

Positive Self-Talk Before, During, and After the Exam

Like some of the other tips, in order to succeed, it’s essential to keep the right attitude. It is easy to let doubt creep in throughout the process. Remember, you have survived harsh reviews in studio and grueling structures tests. Despite the hardships, you have a reason why you want to become a licensed professional. This is just one more hurdle to jump, and it certainly won’t be the last to overcome.

Note from the author: I do not proclaim to be a test-taking expert – I have only successfully passed two-thirds of the exams thus far. However, as someone pursuing a license, these are tips that I have found helpful. Congratulations to all who have passed and best of luck to all who are taking exams!

Links for people taking NCARB ARE:

https://www.ncarb.org/pass-the-are/prepare – NCARB provides in depth information when preparing to take ARE exams and the licensing process. https://www.ncarb.org/pass-the-are/are5-community – the forum is a great resource when preparing to take an exam. It has advice from people who are studying and have taken exams.

3 Replies to “Taking Professional Exams”

  1. Nice article Liz. I was involved in the ARE for about 15 years through NCARB and was at the front line when the exam went to vignettes and then electronic delivery. I am currently on a committee at NCARB even though I am no longer on the State and National board. I am convinced that the exam, as it exists, is the best it can be and a fair test of the skills of the candidate. It has been quite a journey through the best high-stakes exam in the world.

  2. I like the top 10 tips! The testing period becomes a way of life. For all the people who wish they JUST had more time on each test: spend time reading books! Fiction or non. It doesn’t have to be about architecture. Improving reading comprehension speed will help a test taker to digest the information faster. Good luck to the 27 active testers in So Dak!

  3. Hi, Liz thank you for your advice; I fail my first test yesterday after study with discipline for 2 months your tips are truly great! Just want to thank you.

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