ARE 5.0
Illustration: Michael Glenwood aka Michael Gibbs

For the next 18 months, future architects will have at their fingertips more exam options than ever before. In November, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) launched ARE 5.0, the next version of their Architect Registration Examination.

The first new version in eight years, ARE 5.0 is NCARB’s reassurance to the profession that its exams will stay relevant with current practice. Its divisions—six instead of ARE 4.0’s seven—include the new Practice Management, Project Management, and Project Planning & Design areas, which attempt to test emerging architects more effectively on elements of daily architecture work. It also includes case studies and adopts a more modern graphical feel—as opposed to the dated and pixelated (if beloved by some) graphic vignettes that will be retired with ARE 4.0.

With this new version comes uncertainty: Which exam path is best for you? 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 individual need.

“To me, it’s about playing to win,” says Drew Bell, Assoc. AIA, of Atlanta-based 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 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,” Bell says. “It seems like playing not to lose.”

The traditional approach isn’t dead and buried, however. As Bell notes, a smorgasbord of study guides and test prep materials await licensure candidates who aren’t interested in the new and unfamiliar. This is 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.”

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 towards 5.0 for logistical reasons but still sees the value in NCARB’s latest offering.

Moeller received an M.Arch. 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 about 18 months, pushing right up against the June 30, 2018, date when ARE 4.0 will be removed from test centers and ARE 5.0 will become 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 within the profession, is compelling.”

Ultimately, most emerging professionals view the ARE with a similar mix of necessity and reverence. While completing all of the necessary tests is 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.”