Believe it or not, the ARE exam order that you take your tests actually plays an important role in your success.
Now, there are a lot of different opinions out there from people who want to share their success or lack of success in passing the ARE and most of them discuss the exam order at some point.
The order that you take your ARE tests in should not be something that you dwell about for a while, but knowing a little bit about each test and when you could take it will certainly calm you down a little bit. Having a good outline or game plan for taking the ARE can help keep you on track so you don’t start slacking off in your test taking.
Game Plan and Stick To It
Take some time before you start taking the ARE to come up with a game plan for passing the exams. Before you get started, try ranking the 7 ARE exam divisions from what you THINK will be the hardest to what you think will be the easiest. To do this, make sure you have a general understanding of what topics are covered in each of the 7 divisions. This ranked list is definitely not set in stone, but it will help you determine what exams you should take and when.
In addition to the rankings, try laying out a timeline of how long you want to give yourself to study for each ARE exam. Once you get started taking the tests you’ll probably have a better idea as to how long each test will take, but estimating it now will give you a rough idea. By doing this, you’re setting up milestones for yourself to help keep you focused.
ARE Advisor Tip:
When I initially made my list of exams, I gave myself a year and a half to complete all 7 tests. Here is how I initially ranked them (from hardest to easiest):
Looking back on this list now, I’d say this list was pretty accurate in terms of the materials that I found the most difficult and the amount of studying that went in to each exam. Remember, this list will differ for everyone depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses.
Group Similar Exam Topics
There are certainly some ARE exam divisions that cover topics that have some overlap. The Construction Document and Services (CDS) and Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP) exams are actually quite similar in the fact that they both cover the administrative side of architecture. There are a fair amount of questions regarding construction administration that you’ll see on both of these tests.
Similarly, the PPP test and the Site Planning and Design (SPD) exam both overlap some topics as well. Issues such as site development, utilities and municipal services commonly overlap on these 2 exams as well.
Taking overlapping exams near each other in your ARE exam order is good approach to start with. Since you’re already studying the materials for one exam, why not take advantage of that and take a similar test while the topics are still fresh in your head.
ARE Advisor Tip:
Personally, I took PPP a few months after I took CDS and found a lot of overlap in content. If I would have waited to take PPP until after taking some other exams, it would have required a lot more studying to remember some of the construction admin issues that I learned in CDS.
Spread Out The Hard Exams
No matter what people tell you, there are certainly some ARE test divisions that are more difficult than others. Granted, what you think is difficult may certainly differ from the opinion of someone else who is more comfortable with the material.
Try going back to your original exam rankings and note which tests you think are the 3 hardest and try to space them out so you don’t take 2 of them consecutively.
Passing the ARE takes a lot of time and preparation for each exam and by the time you actually take the exam, your brain is fried and you’re not ready to tackle another test. This process gets even harder when you schedule 2 of the more difficult exams one after another. It may be a good idea to give your brain a break after taking a hard exam and take one that you think is easier.
Note: Of course, none of the ARE tests are considered “easy” but you may be more familiar with some topics than others and that may be what you use to rank each test.
ARE Advisor Tip:
Try to stagger your 3 “hardest” tests in the middle of your ARE exam order but not consecutively. You also don’t want to start off or finish with one of these difficult tests because it may hurt your confidence. For me, I considered BS, BDCS, and SS to be the 3 hardest so I grouped them in the middle of my order. I made the mistake of taking BDCS right after BS and unfortunately it resulted in a failed score. If I were to go back and do it again, I would have taken a different test after BS.
Basically, the ARE exam order that you choose needs to be based on what YOU think and not what anyone else thinks. You should ask yourself what your personal strengths and weaknesses are in some of the exam topics in order to see where you may have to spend more time. By coming up with a good game plan at the beginning, you can save yourself a lot of stress later on in the game.
Of course, there will be obstacles and setbacks on the way (like a failed exam) so you may have to adjust and modify your plan. Keeping the game plan nearby and and reviewing it frequently will also help to make sure you’re staying on track.
For those of you who are curious, here is the order that I took my ARE exams:
– CDS (November 2010) – Pass
– PPP (February 2011) – Pass
– BS (April 2011) – Pass
– BDCS (June 2011) – Fail
– SS (August 2011) – Pass
– SD (September 2011) – Pass
– SPD (October 2011) – Pass
– BDCS Retake (December 2011) – Pass
I never gave myself less than a month to prepare for a test, even SD which is only vignettes. As you can see, I completed all 7 tests in just over a year and that included failing one. If I could go back and change anything about my exam order, I would have tried to split up BS and BDCS or BDCS and SS with the SD test. I realized I needed a break after studying for BS and taking SD would have helped give my mind a break.
If you compare my test order to my original rankings, you’ll see how I grouped similar tests together and also put my “harder” ones in the middle.