Mobile friendly version of General Test Directions

I have released a mobile friendly version of My Guide to the General Test Directions under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence* via the old website Direct link to the Guide is: … ctions.htm

Ho, ho, ho!


* License: … /legalcode

AREforum down May 2012

Update December 2013: Looks like ARE forum is down for the count.

Recommend using if you have not already made the switch.

It is my understanding that the forum is down temporarily while server capacity is added.

Conspiracy theorists can continue to speculate otherwise. And candidates can continue to sweat with my sincere sympathy.

Hopefully things will be back up soon, but I still want to thank the forum’s benefactor for all they do.


Free Manual Site Zoning Alternates

These alternates were briefly for sale.

There are two programs and two sites providing a total of four unique problems.

They are specifically designed to teach you how to solve the problem without the distraction of the software – i.e. you can’t blame the NCARB when you get them wrong (a most valuable lesson in and of itself).





Study Guides Now Free as PDF’s


Site Zoning Study Guide

Structural Study Guide

Guide to the General Test Directions

Click and Go for Site Zoning Study Guide Now Available

You can avoid downloading the Drumlin Reader with the Drumlin Click&Go Version of the Site Zoning Study Guide.

  1. Download the executable version of the study guide .exe
  2. Just Double click and enter the authorization code you purchased to activate the document.

Same use limitations apply and previously used authorization codes will not work on the Click&Go version. Fixing the Chrome Bug

There was a CSS bug with Google Chrome at

It wasn’t handling the @import for the stylesheet correctly (though it was working fine in Opera and IE8).

Linking appears to have fixed it.  What a PITA.

I don’t like Chrome because I hate sending every keystroke to Google…but the styles are loading now.

Think You Know how to Study?

Make the Architect Registration Exam Easier:

listen to the story at NPR

[link fixed 2-18-2011]

What Makes My Guides Different

So far as I am aware, my guides are the only ones written by a person who has actually taken the computerized ARE (or who has actually analyzed thousands of practice vignettes or extensively written about the Exam.)

Unlike other guides, I have explicitly stated my assumptions about the test structure. You can read my “Theory of the Architect Registration Exam” And of course there’s much more about the ARE and NCARB at my blog .

My guides are based on rational analysis of the test, and you can experience the difference that makes for free with my analysis of the General Test Directions for the Graphic Vignettes.

Study Guides no longer Zipped

One issue with Windows browsers is that they will readily download files of recognizable types (PDF, Doc, Zip, etc.) with a simple link but will choke on other types such as .drmx and .drm used by the Drumlin Reader.

One of the goals with was to simplify purchases, and removing the zipfiles was a step in this direction. The new site uses server side code (C#) to make downloading the unzipped files seamless. now online

In an effort to simplify the purchase of the AREguides, I have launched

The website allows direct purchase of the study guides and practice vignettes using secure PayPal transactions.

Products currently available include:

Site Zoning Study Guide  $18

Structural Layout Study Guide $17

Site Zoning Practice Vignettes


The Free Guide to the General Test Directions

Structural Layout Vignette Study Guide Now Availible

The Structural Layout Study Guide is the most comprehensive treatment  of the vignette available.  It’s sole purpose is to help you pass the Architectural Registration Exam Structural Systems test.

A full 46 pages it includes a breakdown of the vignette requirements,  points out the distractors  NCARB uses to make the vignette more challenging, and most importantly provides a step by step process for solving structural layout vignettes.

At $17 the Structural Layout Study Guide is an affordable way to maximize your chances of success on Structural Systems and the ARE in general.

The guide can is available at

Why the Study Guides are Zipped

The study guides are no longer zipped.

I use zip to wrap the crazy file names which I use to describe my documents.  It makes the file names easier to handle using http over the internet.

I had someone say they were unwilling to download a zip because of security concerns.

Some anti-virus software warns users that zip files are dangerous because they might contain malware files within the compressed .zip file.  Of course mine don’t.

It’s fine by me if someone doesn’t want to download a zip.  Heck if I thought someone wanted to infect my computer, I wouldn’t expect them to provide decent test advice.

On the other hand, if your antivirus is warning you about .zip files,  getting a decent anti-virus which can actually scan zips would be a good idea since they’re a lot more common than most people realize.

Any Office 2007 document with an x at the end {e.g. .docx, .xlsx) is actually a zip file.  So are Sketchup files.  If you rename either to have a file extension of .zip you can browse them like any other zipfile.

Guide to the General Test Directions

As you may have noticed the blog doesn’t get regular attention, and I thought I had created a post about the Guide to the General Test Directions.

But I didn’t, until now.

About Analysis of the general test directions for the Graphic vignettes:

The 17 page study guide is free.  It breaks down the General Test Directions provided with each ARE 4.0 graphic vignettes.  By providing detailed analysis of each of the directions, it provides insight into the way in which vignettes are constructed and scored.  It offers general guidance to help you get in the right frame of mind for success on the graphic vignettes and some practical advice regarding preparation.

Use Limitations imposed by the Digitial Rights Management Software include:

System Requirements:

ARE Software with Windows x64

In order to run NCARB’s ARE practice software under 64bit Windows, you need to install a Virtual Machine.

If you have Windows 7 Professional x64 or Ultimate x64 it is easy because both include Microsoft Virtual PC along with Windows XP.

If you have a different x64 version of Windows then there are two things you need.

  • A copy of any 32bit version of Windows .  This can be 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista or 7.  It doesn’t matter.  The NCARB practice software will work with all of them.
  • Software which sets up a virtual machine.  The two easy options are Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware Player.   Either is fine for the NCARB software.   If you’re going to do more with virtual machines [aka you are a Geek], VMware Player appears to be a more powerful package.

As of 7/9/2010 download locations are:

Microsoft Virtual PC

VMware Player

Installation of either VM package is no more complicated than a typical software installation.

Once it is installed, fire it up and install your 32bit Version of Windows in the virutal machine.

I have tested the 4.0 software with  32bit XP, 7, 2000, and ME.

The Amazing Official How NCARB Works Diagram

Ever wondered how NCARB perceives ARE candidates?

Well now you too can understand how you fit into the big picture!

Thanks to the Amazing Official How NCARB Works Diagram!

You will now be able to fill your important role in making NCARB a success!**

You will be able to interact with NCARB in exactly the way NCARB intends!

Don’t hesitate, NCARB wants to serve you TODAY!

Get The Amazing Official How NCARB Works Diagram!

* Void where prohibited. Offer not valid in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Architects, interns, and ARE candidates and their immediate family members are not eligible for this offer. See digram for details.

Official confirmation that batches exist

Back in the earlier days of ARE-forum there was significant discussion of grading batches for the graphics exams.  The forum calendar listed them based on candidates best guess, and threads were started around each one.  These threads would grow to the hundreds of posts.

When a batch was delayed, candidates would call NCARB.  NCARB – being committed to a cult of secrecy and having an unofficial policy of treating ARE candidates like something stuck to the bottom of a shoe – always denied that batches existed.

I won’t say they were lying because it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that’s worth lying over, but here’s  Erika Brown Ncarb’s big toad for the ARE confirming that exams are graded every three weeks (and ironically that the contract has called for it since 2004) :

Erika Brown confirms batches exist

BTW, anyone interested in researching NCARB sending “2-4 weeks” down the memory hole can send me their results and I’ll publish them here.

Who to Call at NCARB – 2009

Some of you may recall that the reason I got busy with a couple of years ago was to publish NCARB and State Board contact info.

Some of that info is of course out of date, and I haven’t been able to obtain an update.  Then again, I haven’t actually asked NCARB for it either.

But based on NCARB’s responses to my good friend it didn’t seem worth the effort.

In some ways the who to call at NCARB is less useful than the state board contact info.

On the other hand it does list a person to contact for retro-active IDP  approval required by a state board.

Anyway enjoy: to Call at NCARB 2009.pdf

BTW, if some ambitious soul enters all this into  a spreadsheet or CSV file, I’ll be glad to put it up on the web…and in my phone.

Site Zoning Study Guide: FAQ 1

78 pages for a simple vignette.  You’ve got to be kidding?

Traditional Guides are driven by the logistics of printing, collation, inventory, and shipping.  All of these either add to the cost or dictate content.  Because my guide is provided in digital format, saving trees and printing don’t set the price and don’t dictate content.

In addition, publishers typically hire outside authors to create their material.  The more work they require from the author, the more they will typically have to pay.  

The only thing that determined the content of my guide is the amount of work I put in.

What I really mean is, how can there be 78 pages of stuff to say about the Site Zoning Vignette?

The guide has a simple single goal.  To help you develop a repeatable process for solving Site Zoning Vignette type problems. 

Before showing you an example process in detail, it encourages the proper mindset for taking the vignette, and then provides a knowledge framework for understanding the specific technical aspects of the vignette.

After showing you a detailed process for solving the vignette, it provides samples for practice.

Sure, what’s so special about the “detailed process?”

The dumbtax is prepaid.

Dumbtax, what’s that?

First time through the ARE, I failed Site Zoning (along with Site Design) and was completely baffled.

The second time I took Site Planning (v. 3.1) I took an over-learning approach.  I focused not on getting the right answer, but on making sure that I had a process for getting it.  My goal was to make sure that I had a recipe for solving any Site Zoning problem (same for Site Design).

This guide is my recipe, improved by all that I have learned over the past several years from researching, discussing, contemplating, and writing about the way in which the ARE is constructed.

The study guide is not designed to teach you good architecture.  It’s designed only to teach you good Site Design Vignette skills.

OK but why can I use it on only one computer and why can’t I print it?

Quite simply, to keep it affordable. 

Ideally, I would only sell printed hardcopies, but the price of the guide would be out of reach for many candidates. 

DRM protection allows me to price the Study Guide for less than a plate of middling pasta primavera and a half carafe of house wine…placing it within reach of virtually all ARE candidates.

I want it to be affordable because I want you to use it because I want to improve your chances of passing.

Really, no bull.

Download the AREFAQ Site Zoning Study Guide

Before ordering download the guide.


The AREFAQ Site Zoning Study Guide

About the Site Zoning Study Guide:

This new 78 page Study Guide is the most detailed breakdown of the Site Zoning Vignette available.  It includes a comprehensive analysis of the vignette’s requirements, illustrated methods, and a modular practice exercise.  It is loaded with both practical advice and highly technical information.

Use Limitations imposed by the Digitial Rights Management Software include:

  • The study guide is viewable only on the one (1) computer on which it is authorized.
  • The guide cannot be printed. 

System Requirements:

  1. Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, Vista, or Seven
  2. Microsoft’s .NET framework version 2.0 or higher.  Microsoft .NET framework is included in Windows Vista and Seven.  Older versions of Windows may require a download ( Search for “.net” without the quotes.
  3. The free Drumlin Reader for 32 or 64 bit Windows Systems.  Download from
  4.  Recommended minimum system:  Windows XP,  Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor and one gigabyte of RAM minimum recommended.

Ordering Information:

AREFAQ Site Zoning Study Guide Now Available!!!

Info here:

How to Order:


  1. Important:  Each copy of the Study Guide is Authorized on Only One (1) Computer.  Once you authorize your copy on a computer, that is the only place it will run.
  2. Important:  Pick the Computer where you want to install the study guide.    Once you authorize your copy on a computer, that is the only place it will run.
  3. Make sure it meets the Minimum Requirements.
  4. Download Drumlin Reader.
  5. Verify that the Drumlin Reader is working on your computer.
  6. Download The Site Zoning Vignette Study Guide.drmx (download file).
  7. Send $18.00 via PayPal to “”.
  8.  Receive Email with authorization code
  9. Authorize your copy of the Study Guide within Drumlin Reader.

After the Transition – ARE Score reporting delays: A speculative history


I doubt the big issue causing reporting delays is a backlog of scores.  Instead, I suspect it’s a database issue.


And I suspect that NCARB grossly underestimated what would be involved in making the transition from a nine division test to a seven division test.   And a little bit of history, and a little bit of database knowledge goes a long way toward supporting my suspicion.


Understanding a bit about the potential database issues is key, and for businesses these issues are a big deal and the reason why programmer analysts exist.  Databases are organized around schemas which describe how the data are organized.  They have input programs for entering candidate information, entering scores, and other such factors.  They have reporting programs for generating score letters and various other pieces of paper.


Even without knowing the schema, you can input candidates, assign candidate ID’s, and generate pass/fail letters.  The important thing is that once the database is set up and running, you don’t need the schema unless you want to change your business logic, and if you have much sense you’ll try to avoid that however you can.


Now off the top of the head, switching from nine tests to seven doesn’t sound like too big a deal.  Even when you have several hundred thousand records spanning dating back over many years, it still doesn’t sound like too big a deal, after all it’s all on computer.


But with the ARE there is an elephant in the room – the legal issues surrounding licensure.  It’s not enough to get it mostly right.   And that means you can’t prune out troublesome data, even if it’s as close to worthless and meaningless as possible.


But enough about that.


What do I think is happening?

I think that NCARB may have been trying to kill two birds with one stone regarding the transition.

The first is the obvious and easy one:  Changing to format that eliminates the candidate’s ability to pass the ARE while failing a graphic vignette.  It’s been ongoing for some time, but the only real way to do it was to get rid of BT.

The second dead bird, may just be a figment of my imagination.  But I believe they are trying to migrate existing records into a new database because:

  1. Creating a new database to handle seven divisions is a whole lot less work than trying to modify a database setup for nine divisions to work with seven.
  2. Creating a new database for 4.0 (seven divisions) facilitated an on schedule rollout of ARE 4.0. 
  3. Creating a new database provided maximum glory for those involved upfront and put off the unglamorous grunt work of translating existing records for a year…at which time key people been rewarded for their success.
  4. Creating a new database is consistent with NCARB’s recent focus on backend technology (e.g. e-Evr reporting).

The last point is critical.  The first versions of the ARE were administered in 1982.  From that time until 4.0 in 2008 (26 years) the ARE had nine divisions, so  It’s quite possible that the database for handling candidate information and score reporting dates back that time.

There’s nothing unusual about a business running a legacy database, even one pushing 30 years if there’s no change in the business logic and the database works.

So what’s the evidence?

  1. Let’s start with the delay.  The surge of tests isn’t that big…and tests were surging for at least six months before the end of 3.1.  The delay is affecting only those tests whose scores were expected to be reported after July 1.
  2. Early problems with 4.0.  There were a number of pass/fail letters in the early days of 4.0.  Remember a pass/fail letter is nothing more than a report generated from the database.
  3. The extra $1,200,000 spent on the ARE last year.  Tracking down eight people for cheating just doesn’t cost that much considering that their IP addresses were available from forum servers, some used real names, and that the costs of prosecution were borne by the State boards who had jurisdiction.
  4. The “If it ain’t broke” approach NCARB takes toward ARE software.  Consider that ARE 4.0 test vignettes are still authored using Windows Media View version 1.3 (that’s the reason the practice software says portions copyright 1985-1990 by Microsoft) and the application engine uses Sirlin to process  (copyright 1993).
  5. The new test surcharge.  Translating and validating a data transition is expensive (particularly if it has to be done by hand).
  6. NCARB in technology upgrade mode.
  7. The general difficulty in transferring legacy database information into a new engine and the tendency of lay persons to underestimate what’s involved and to over-estimate the likelihood of success.  For fun, try to find software that can manage the .M13 files that the NCARB practice program depends on.

Why NCARB needs to add requirements for supervisor conduct to the Model Code.

Twenty five bucks a day.

Maybe NCARB should add a training setting ‘X’ for ‘exploitation.’

Do you think this person is going to get IDP credit?

Architectural Intern (Chelsea)

Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-07-01, 5:24PM EDT
EOA/Elmslie Osler Architect is a design-oriented architectural practice whose work includes residential and commercial projects such as houses, apartment and townhouse renovations, retail, showrooms, galleries, and offices. We’re looking for an architectural student or recent graduate who is very efficient with 3D programs (Rhino, SketchUp, whatever you prefer to use) to assist the architectural team in all phases of the design process. In particular, you will be helping with a proposal for a large industrial building in Brooklyn. You will also help produce renderings and drawings for retail stores, apartments, and community projects.

Please be motivated, organized, friendly and have some work experience. Please send your resume, portfolio samples, and availability to Be ready to interview and start immediately.

Compensation: We can pay you $25 per day to cover lunch and travel.

  • This is an internship job
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

PostingID: 1249252717

Architectural internship is primarily a means by which firms are able to exploit graduates.

There’s nothing on the ARE that can’t be taught in school…Actually I’m not sure that there’s even anything on it that isn’t found in most school’s cirriculum.

If the experience requirements for architectural license are necessary protect public health, safety and welfare (which I doubt), then it follows that explicit and objective regulation of those providing the training is also necessary.

When traing is actually meaningful, training settings are regulated. Medical school graduates don’t do their residencies in Doctor’s offices.

New test fee: What expenses is it really for?

NCARB is covering their butt and blaming it on ARE candidates.

The new test fee is just to cover the fact that they’ve been spending money like drunken sailors…on themselves.

In 2004-2005 Lenore Lucie’s salary and defered compensation was $233,000.   In 2007-2008 it was $313,000.   That’s a 34% in four years.

In 2004-2005 Mary de Sousa’s salary and defered compensation was $118,00.   In 2007-2008 it was $207,000.   That’s a 75% in four years.

But that’s nothing. 

Stephen Nut was hired at $159,000 in 2006-2007.  In 2007-2008 he made $201,000.  That’s a 26% raise last year.  And that’s not even the something.

In 04-05, the board and senior staff got reimbursed for $57,000 of expenses.

In 05-06 it was $67,000.

By 06-07 it had nearly doubled to about $110,000.

Last year though, they really outdid themselves…to the tune of $343,000…a sixfold increase in four years.

Gordon Mills had over $60,000 in expenses alone.

Of course that’s just part of it.  NCARB’s new digs cost $1,305,799 last year.  The old place was $765,982 in 2004-05. 

I sure hope they’re half a million dollars a year nicer.

And remember, all this (a good fraction of $1.1 million) is before they were dealing with “cheating.”

BTW, those salaries don’t require sealing plans either.

04-05 return

05-06 return

06-07 return

07-08 return

NCARB Certification Timeline

How Long Does it Take to Become NCARB Certified?

It depends.  The typical timeline for recently licensed architects appears to be about six months.  Some take longer due to NCARB’s workload,  paperwork SNAFU’s, and other factors.  A few are able to become certified in about a month.

The factors speeding up certification appear to be:

1.       A current Council Record with fees up to date.

2.       Seeking Certification immediately after initial licensure.

3.       A proactive state board.

4.       Location in a state that requires certification for reciprocity.

5.       Prompt attention to the matter by the recently licensed architect.

NCARB’s Standard Timeline

As I understand it based on my conversations with NCARB in 2007, the standard timeline is:

1.       Council Record holder requests certification from NCARB customer service.

2.       NCARB sends a Supplementary Application to the record holder within 30 days [30 days is probably typical].

3.       Transit time in mail.

4.       Council Record holder uses Supplementary Application to describe activity since initial licensure, and mails document back to NCARB.

5.       Transit time in mail.

6.       NCARB reviews Supplementary Application and prepares letter to applicants state Board(s) to request verification of license [within 30 days, as I recall].

7.       State Board(s) receive request, process request, and transmit confirmation of license status back to NCARB [time unknown and highly variable].

8.       NCARB receives and processes licensure verification [14 days?].

9.       NCARB then reviews Council Record for certification [30 days?].

10.   NCARB sends final paperwork to Council Record holder [mail transit].

11.   Council Record holder fills out paperwork and sends back to NCARB with fees [mail transit].

12.   NCARB reviews final paperwork and issues certificate [14 days?].

The Typical Math

If it takes the State Board only 30 days to respond to NCARB, and if the candidate only takes 3 days to process the paperwork [x2] and the mail takes four days for delivery [x4], then the process is 170 days.

Throw in a delay at the State Board and a candidate who doesn’t complete the paperwork the day it arrives, and you’re at six months…without NCARB delays.

Recommendations for ARE Candidates

1.       Keep your Council Record current.

2.       Seek Certification the day you are licensed.

3.       Let NCARB know you will be seeking reciprocal licensure through certification.

4.       Call your state board and request that they send confirmation of licensure to NCARB prior to NCARB’s request.

5.       Call NCARB and find out the name and number of the next person processing your paperwork.

6.       Overnight all your paperwork so that you have a confirmation of delivery.

7.       Call the person processing your paperwork to let them know of the confirmed delivery.

8.       Ask the person processing your paperwork for the name and number of the next person who will be handling it.

Remember Who You are Dealing With

Processing a Council Record within one year is considered “rush processing” by NCARB.  Stunningly, some NCARB staff expressed surprise when I told them how import certification and licensure were to me.


[Copyright 2009]

Many architects, and each and every intern or Architect Registration Exam candidate must deal with NCARB.  Often these dealings are made more difficult by confusion regarding NCARB’s various programs.

Once you throw in a general misunderstanding of what NCARB actually is, the process of becoming licensed becomes an ordeal of frustration.

First things first:  What’s NCARB?

NCARB stands for National Council of Architect Registration Boards.  The key word here is “Boards.”  NCARB is a club for State, Provincial, and Territorial, Architecture Boards.  You cannot become a member of NCARB.  No person can.  Only organizations can join.  And the only organizations that can join are those that license architects, AKA licensing boards.

NCARB is a Council of the State Licensing Boards

NCARB’s particular area of counseling is in regard to the licensure of architects.

But it cannot be over emphasized:  the state boards license, and NCARB councils.  NCARB does not council and license, it only councils.  NCARB councils primarily in two ways: 

First, it creates and promotes architectural licensing standards.  The Architect Registration Exam is a prime example.  All member boards use the ARE to qualify architects for licensure.

Many other NCARB standards are not universally accepted by the state architect boards.  Examples include Broadly Experienced Architect, the five year rolling clock for testing, and ethical standards for practice.  The primary reason is that the state boards are government agencies and must comply with their state statutes and regulations when formulating public policy.  This means the boards live in the political environment and are subject to political pressure and neglect, and therefore implementing change often requires the expenditure of political capital by a board.

Second, NCARB evaluates and reports an individual’s experience, education, and examinations to the state licensing boards in a uniform format.  Legally speaking, NCARB does not approve candidates for licensure or to sit for the ARE.  It merely compiles reports evaluating candidates’ experience, education, and examinations against NCARB’s standards:  again, standards which a particular state board may or may not require for licensure.  The key is that NCARB’s reports are in a uniform format.

NCARB’s Program for Architects and Licensure Candidates

NCARB only has one program for individuals, and it’s not membership.  Remember only State Boards are members of NCARB.

NCARB’s Program for Individuals: The Council Record

The NCARB Council Record program is the mechanism by which NCARB councils the state boards regarding a particular candidate’s experience, education, and examinations.

When you first apply to NCARB you apply for a Council Record.  Every check you write to NCARB is for something related to your Council Record.  You pay NCARB a fee to establish it, maintain it, transmit it, and to certify it (though some of these fees are waived in certain situations).

After you establish a council record, NCARB compiles a record your experience, education, and examinations and evaluates it against NCARB’s own standards for licensure.  It does not evaluate it against the standards of your state board.[i]  It reports your experience, education, and examinations to your state board using your Council Record.

Intern Development Program

It is best to think of IDP as one of NCARB’s standards.  And to imagine that your council record is evaluated against this standard by NCARB.  Your state may or may not have adopted IDP as a standard for licensure…or it may have adopted only part of NCARB’s IDP standard.  Your state will license you based upon the State standards not necessarily NCARB’s.

The IDP standard has several parts.  One part is a standard for the settings in which interns are trained.  Another part is a standard for content areas.  Other  parts include standards for supervision and mentoring.   Finally IDP includes a standard for the minimum amount of experience in each training area.

“IDP” as a source of confusion

The term “IDP” is slippery.  It may refer to the entire NCARB standard.  It may refer to specific requirements of a state board which differ from the NCARB standard, usually with regard to the duration of training…but wait that’s not all!

“IDP” is also used to refer to the mechanism by which interns report their experience and have it recorded in their council record.  State boards are notorious for saying things like “candidates must be enrolled in IDP.”  Of course you cannot enroll in a standard, and NCARB does not have an IDP program you can participate in.

All you can do is establish a council record.  Once you do so, you report your internship experience on Form 123 “Experience Verification Report.”[ii]  By default, you are enrolled in IDP, and it is the only option for reporting internship experience in your council record.  All these legal issues are probably the reason California has a separate CIDP program.

Mitigating the Confusion

Think about it this way, what you report to NCARB is your experience.  All of it goes in your Council Record.  When you report, you allocate some or all or none of your experience to each of the IDP training areas.  

Now here’s the trick.  Some or all or none of the experience you allocate to the various IDP areas goes toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard and some or all or none of it goes toward meeting the licensure requirements of your state board.  And critically, what gets allocated toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard is not necessarily the same as what goes toward meeting your state’s licensure requirements.

Take California or any other state allowing licensure without a professional degree.  A candidate with no degree would open an Council Record and report their experience.  In reporting their experience they would allocate Training Units to the various IDP categories.  None of this experience would be counted toward meeting NCARB’s IDP standard because of NCARB’s educational prerequisites.  On the other hand, all of it could potentially be counted toward meeting the experience requirements of the State Board.

Mandatory participation in IDP is not the same as mandatory completion of IDP.  If documentation of your experience via a council record is mandatory, then so is your participation in IDP.  A degreeless candidate is required to participate in IDP, but can become licensed without completing it. 

“IDP” is not a synonym for “architectural internship” even though it’s the only game in town.  What our degreeless candidate must complete to become licensed is an architectural internship, not IDP.  Since NCARB is far more invested in IDP than in architectural internship in general, they tend not to draw attention to the difference particularly given the minimalist nature of their public communications.

NCARB is not unique in this regard.  Organizations such as the AIA and individuals in the academy and practice tend to gloss over nuance and distinction to a degree that would be unacceptable in an instrument of service such as a specification section.

The Relevance of IDP

There are two times that IDP is relevant.   And when it’s relevant it’s very much so.  First is if your state requires completion of IDP for licensure (rather than completion of an architectural internship).  The second is when you wish to hold a regular NCARB Certificate.

NCARB Certification

NCARB also has standards for the certification of architects.

Architects who meet these standards are eligible for certification.  Currently there are three certifications:  Standard, Broadly Experienced Architect, and Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect.

The Standard Certificate is recognized by every state because it is based upon the most stringent education and experience requirements found among the various states.  However, it is based only upon universal testing requirements (Architect Registration Exam) rather than the most stringent.  Therefore it does not fully qualify an architect for licensure in states with supplemental testing such as California.

The Broadly Experienced Architect and Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect certificates are accepted by a limited number of states because they are based upon criteria other than the most stringent found among the state laws.  Both these programs require personal interviews and portfolio reviews with NCARB staff.

Certification is a part of an architect’s council record, and as always, remember, only State Boards are members of NCARB.

[i] In Direct Registration States NCARB is subcontracted to evaluate your record against state licensure requirements as a separate service to the state board. 

[ii] The an exception is if you completed your experience prior to 1996, then you have the option to use “Form 123-%” which allows the allocation of TU’s based upon the percentage of your time spent in each content area.  If you need this form, you must contact NCARB directly.  It is not available on their website.

Theory of Architect Registration Exam

[Copyright 2009]

I have never been involved with the ARE in any official capacity other than as a test taker.  So I cannot offer inside information.  

Although probably I have looked at more resources and spent more time contemplating the Architect Registration Exam than most people, my advice and recommendations regarding the ARE are based on a theory, or a group of theories.  I do not offer secrets from NCARB’s vaults, just my insight gained from research and contemplation over the last few years.

Premises of the Brudger’s ARE Theory:  Part A, Test Design

Understanding the Architect Registration Exam would be much easier if I had a copy of NCARB’s test specification.  Though it might even be possible to get one, I’ve never asked.

Without the test specification, I’ve worked to develop my theory in two directions: first working from the inside out based upon the information NCARB publicly provides (such as the study guide and practice vignettes), and second from the outside in based upon well established principles the testing and measurement field and in the legal aspects of public administration.

Premise 1:  The ARE is Designed Using Established Methodology

The ARE was designed by Educational Testing Service (ETS).  They are a not for profit and the market leader for the testing industry in the United States.  ETS is an organization chock full of test making experts.

It’s important to remember what the ARE is and is not.  It is not a studio assignment; it is an instrument intended to determine minimal competence to practice architecture.  It was designed by people who design tests for a living.

Premise 2:  The ARE is well designed

A well designed test does two things; it measures what is intended to measure and doesn’t measure what it does not intend to measure.

Supposing that the Architect Registration Exam is poorly designed is a great starting point for a tirade, rant, or critique; but a poor one for gaining insight into the test.  In a poor designed test instrument, there are an infinite number of possible reasons for each aspect of its design .  On the other hand, by assuming that the ARE is well designed, the range of plausible reasons behind various test elements may be logically reduced.

Generally, the first two premises are part of my beliefs that experts are experts.

Premise 3:  The ARE is Unlike Most Standardized Tests

In many standardized test environments certain principles apply.  The ARE is unlike most standardized tests.  It’s not written in a succinct manner or at an eighth grade level. 

The Architect Registration Exam is designed to determine professional competence.  It is designed to measure the candidate’s ability to read complex technical documents and determine what provisions apply and more importantly what provisions don’t apply. 

Most importantly, it is in part designed to force the candidate to focus on requirements rather than assumptions and conventions about the way she has worked previously.  It is designed to force the candidate to judge what is important.

Architect Registration Exam: The Problem with Multiple Choice Test Preparation Materials

There are many topics touched on in the ARE and candidates need to have a basic familiarity with them.

However, the test is broad but not very deep.

Based upon this, it is my opinion that attempting detailed study of every topic covered by the test is unproductive.

It is also my opinion, that the readily available commercial study materials such as Kaplan and Archiflash offer a reasonable approximation of the depth of the test.

Test Structure

Every topic covered on the MC tests has a pool of new questions in development and undergoing validation.

These questions are not scored and appear in clusters on a particular test. 

For example a test might contain six cut and fill questions.

This is standard test development practice.

It is common for candidates to report a subject as important when they encounter a large number of questions regarding it.

Because all subjects have questions in development, over time every subject is reported as important.

My conclusions

Basic familiarity is sufficient to correctly answer any scored question (any more than this would tend to invaidate the exam).

One or two questions on a single subject will not make or break passing – and you will miss topics in your studies.

The more time spent studying for depth means less time studying for breadth and the less breadth the more likely the candidate is to fail.

Cheating and the Architect Registration Exam Part 2

I’ve been thinking about what I would do if I was responsible for curbing cheating on the Architect Registration Exam via Areforum.

The anonymity the board affords creates opportunity for both disseminating exam content and catching those who do so.

Maybe I’m more devious than the folks on staff at NCARB, but I’d run an ongoing sting. 

It would be pretty simple to create a group of  users whose posts [and PM's] give others the impression that they are willing to disclose exam content…and more importantly accept exam content from other users.

In some ways it’s perfect.  The NCARB identities could provide plausible but incorrect information to candidates under the expectation of a quid pro quo.

Candidates nailed for disclosure would hardly suspect someone who gave them “exam content” to be an NCARB agent…and the agent could remain undercover for quite some time.

Another advantage would be how little real work would be required once the fake users were established…compared with actually reading and monitoring the high volume of posts.  Word of mouth would probably draw people directly to the agent.

Some people might even find it fun to post outrageously through multiple avatars while engaged in undercover work…

Anyhow just a few thoughts.

Cheating and the Architect Registration Exam: 01

Unlike an exam given in a typical classroom, a small percentage of cheaters has a dramatic effect on ARE pass rates.

This is due to the difference in context.  Test takers get one shot to pass in a classroom exam, but a very high proportion of failing ARE candidates keep taking a section until they pass.

A typical ARE version 3.1 multiple choice exam has a pass rate of about 75% for all test takers [first time and retakes].  This means:

  1. For every person who takes two attempts to pass a section with a 75% pass rate, two people pass the first time.
  2. For every person who takes three attempts to pass a section with a 75% pass rate, five people pass the first time.

A test pool of 2000 tests represents 1500 candidates [1500/2000 = 0.75].

If 1% of candidates [15] cheat and take only one attempt to pass rather than two the pass rate goes up to 76% [1500/1985 = 0.76].

If another 1% of candidates [15] cheat and take only one attempt to pass rather than three the pass rate goes up another point [1500/1955 = 0.77]

Finally, if 1% of candidates [15] cheat and take only one attempt rather than four the pass rate goes up another two points [1500/1910 = 0.79]

In this example, 3% of the candidates cheating drove the pass rate up 4%.

The final group, the candidates weakest in the subject area, are probably the most likely to be tempted to cheat.  They are also the group which has the most dramatic effect on pass rates (1% of candidates creating a 2% jump in pass rates).


As an aside for those who think NCARB’s pass rates are driven by revenue concerns, note that for 1500 candidates the difference in revenue between a 75% pass rate and an 80% pass rate is less than $20,000 per year at $150 per exam…at best probably not enough to cover the administrative costs of adjusting the pass rate.