ARE 5.0 Means Big Decisions for Emerging Professionals

For the next 16 months, future architects will have more exam options than ever before at their fingertips. On November 1, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) launched ARE 5.0, the next version of their architecture licensure exams.

The first new version in eight years, ARE 5.0 is NCARB’s reassurance that its exams will stay relevant with current practice. Its divisions—six instead of ARE 4.0’s seven—include Practice Management, Project Management, and Project Planning & Design, an attempt to better test emerging architects on elements of daily architecture work. It will also include case studies and adopt a more modern, graphical feel through-out, as opposed to the dated and pixelated graphic vignettes that will be retired with ARE 4.0.

With this new version comes uncertainty: which exam path is best? For a limited time, an unprecedented three options will be available: ARE 4.0, ARE 5.0, and a mix of the two. Each option has its drawbacks and its benefits, and each emerging professional should evaluate all three to find the right path based on their individual needs.

“Playing to win”

“To me, it’s about playing to win,” says Drew Bell, Assoc. AIA, of Robert M. Cain, Architect. Bell is going with the “3+2” approach, which allows licensure candidates to take three specific exams in ARE 4.0 followed by just two more in ARE 5.0. It’s the most efficient option, one with both time and financial benefits. It also appeals to those who don’t fear a mix of known and unknown.

“The people who want to take it all in 4.0 seem to be doing so because they have all the study guides and they know what they’re getting into; it seems like playing not to lose,” he says. “I understand the risks, and I don’t know exactly what 5.0 will be like. But theoretically, the exams are there for people to prove that they’re good enough. I plan on being good enough, one way or the other. It shouldn’t really matter how the tests are structured.”

Sticking with a classic

The traditional approach isn’t dead and buried, however. As Bell noted, a smorgasbord of study guides and test prep materials await licensure candidates who aren’t interested in the new and unfamiliar. That’s the approach Jason Takeuchi, Assoc. AIA, of Hawaii-based Ferraro Choi is taking.

“There are so many resources to support anyone taking 4.0,” he says. “You can ask licensed colleagues, look at forums online, read through all the study materials. If I were to move to 5.0, there would be a huge learning curve.”

He also looks at his exams as an educational process, not something to rush through as quickly as possible: “The more tests you study for and pass, the more you’ll learn. And the better you’ll be at your job.” And while he sees the financial benefit in taking fewer tests, ultimately he feels the exams are “an investment in my future, not a financial roadblock.”

Something new

Then there is ARE 5.0: still freshly released and underexplored, but the wave of the future and a boon to those who haven’t yet begun the process. Hannah-Hunt Moeller, Assoc. AIA, may be leaning 5.0 for logistical reasons but still sees the value in NCARB’s latest offering.

Moeller received a Master of Science in Architecture from the University of Michigan, which led to complications when she decided to practice rather than pursue research. She is currently based in Colorado, at Denver-based RNL Design, which means she can eventually be licensed but needs more experience hours. This will take roughly 18 months, pushing right up against the June 30, 2018 date when ARE 4.0 will be removed from test centers and making ARE 5.0 her most realistic path.

“In my position, I can’t currently be working and testing at the same time,” she says, “so I’ll have a lot more experience when I get there. That, plus the fact that 5.0 is supposedly going to be more context-based with-in the profession, is compelling.”

“Also, logistically and financially, less exams is a great thing,” she adds. “Even just to have one fewer is a huge benefit.”

Uncertainty abounds

Though the paths to licensure are ampler than ever, not everyone has made up their mind on which to take. Julia Mollner, Assoc. AIA, is a designer at Carleton Hart Architecture in Portland, Oregon, who is still deciding between ARE 5.0 and the “3+2” approach. An initial foray into ARE 4.0 is what’s keeping her on the fence.

“On my first exam,” she says, “I did fine on the multiple choice but failed the vignette. And because there’s no specific feedback on what you did wrong in that section, it’s really a shot in the dark to figure out what happened. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, which also makes me wonder which approach to take going forward.”

In her spare time, Mollner also teaches as an adjunct professor at Portland State University, which makes a five-exam slate more enticing than six. Yet she’s also only a year into her professional career, raising the question of whether she has the experience or the time left to try ARE 4.0 again. The whole process also raises a larger question: should she get licensed at all?

“For a very long time, I set my goal to being a licensed architect,” she says. “But recently, I’ve realized that it’s not right for everyone. There are people in architecture who find parallel avenues that suit them just as well.”

That said, Mollner remains committed to exploring her ARE options and ultimately pursuing licensure. She wants a bigger role in the social advocacy of architecture, which would be difficult to achieve without a license. It’s also distinctly important, she notes, for women in the profession: “It is a really great credential for a woman to have, with the lack of diversity and the pay gap and other issues that aren’t always voiced.”

Ultimately, most emerging professionals view the ARE with this mix of necessity and reverence. While it’s a lengthy process that compounds the stress of being an oft-overworked, full-time employee, passing the exams is a badge of honor that demonstrates your worth to all the architects who came before. And while many future architects are now debating which path suits them best, it’s likely that NCARB will fulfill at least one of its ARE 5.0 goals: increase the flow of traffic.

“I feel like more people are going to get licensed,” Takeuchi says, “and that’s a good thing.”

For additional exam resources, visit AIA’s ARE Prep page. AIA East Bay members can also receive a 20 percent discount when purchasing Brightwood Architecture Information materials by using promo code AIAEB.

Steve Cimino is the digital content manager at AIA. This article has been reprinted with permission from

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