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May 22

Failing An ARE Exam

Let’s face it, failing an ARE exam is something that we all dread and don’t want to even think about but the harsh reality is that most ARE candidates will fail at least one exam in the process of taking all 7 tests. There are so many factors that go into whether you pass or fail and ARE test and most of these factors are unknown to candidates because there are no set guidelines for passing or failing an exam division.

Encountering a fail in the process of taking your ARE exams can completely affect some people while there are others that don’t allow a failed score to affect their motivation. There’s no way of knowing how you will react to failing an ARE exam until you go through the process yourself. The real test will be how you let that one failed score affect your preparation for the other tests.

A failed ARE test is certainly something that makes most candidates uncomfortable, but I think it’s important for everyone to be aware that failing does happen but it’s not something to be afraid of.

What Factors Result In A Failed ARE Test?

The first question that most people want to know is ‘What will cause me to fail a test?’. I wish there was an easy answer to this question but there isn’t. NCARB does not set a hard line at the number of questions you need to get correct on an ARE exam. There are some theories out there that people have regarding about how many questions you need to get right, but there is nothing official from NCARB regarding this.

First, it’s important to remember that each ARE exam is typically broken down into 2 sections; a multiple choice section and a graphic vignette section. Each of these sections are treated separately and you must pass both sections to pass that specific exam division. This means that even if you get all multiple choice questions right but you have a fatal error on the vignette, you will still fail that ARE exam.

*This is why I always stress balancing your preparation between exam material and vignette practice because if you make a critical error on the vignette, it will negate all the studying you put into the multiple choice.

  • Multiple Choice Section

Unlike the LEED test, the ARE does not set a specific percentage of correct answers that you need to get right on the test in order to pass. Instead, NCARB breaks down each ARE exam division into “content areas” that you need to be sufficient in. The number of content areas varies per test but it’s essential that candidates are diverse enough in their knowledge to cover all major content areas. There is still no known number of questions that you need correct in each content area, but it’s probably safe to assume that you need to show your skills in all areas without completely bombing one area.

Personally, I failed the multiple choice section of the BDCS exam and according to my fail letter, I was deficient in 2 areas: “Environmental Issues” and “Materials and Technology”. The other content areas on the BDCS exam are “Principles”, “Codes & Regulations” and “Project and Practice Management”.

I wish I could give everyone more exact information on why people fail the multiple choice section, but that information is not made public. Many people have theories to how many questions you need to get correct but in the end, those are just theories. My advice to you is make sure that prepare for all content areas of each ARE exam. The more diverse you are in you studying, the better off you’ll be on the multiple choice exam.

  • Graphic Vignette Section

The other section of each ARE exam is the graphic vignette section. A graphic vignette basically requires you to solve a problem graphically in the form of a CAD drawing using NCARB provided software. On the ARE graphic vignettes, you will be provided a given a basic program with a specific problem and will be asked to solve this to the best of your abilities. Within each vignette, there will be a number of requirements and guidelines that you will have to meet in order to pass this section of the ARE.

Unlike the multiple choice section, you will have a better idea on what causes a failed vignette result because there are so many direct rules in the given program. Forgetting any major element in the vignette section or drawing any major element incorrectly is almost certain to be a fatal error when it comes to the vignette. The graphic vignette section is definitely less forgiving than the multiple choice questions because one wrong move on the vignette COULD fail your entire ARE exam. The one nice thing about the vignettes is that all you have to do is follow the rules of the program to pass that section of the ARE. Many candidates struggle with following these rules and almost trick themselves into making a fatal error.

When it comes to passing the vignette section of the ARE, it’s important to read through the rules and follow the program EXACTLY. There is very minimal margin for error in this section.

* Remember, failing just one of these 2 sections will result in your entire ARE exam division to result in a fail. Make sure you prepare for both sections of each exam.

You Failed, What Now?

Alright, I know it’s hard to think about but let’s say that you just received the letter in the mail and saw the 4 letters that you dread the most, F-A-I-L. I’m sure you will go through various phases of “grief” after learning that you failed an ARE exam. It may start off with anger and denial but may eventually move into the acceptance phase. People handle a failed score in a number of different ways but I want to stress one thing; how you deal with failing an ARE exam will certainly make or break your future goals of passing the ARE.

Many people can’t handle the fact that they failed an exam division and will simply quit taking the exams while others may put off taking their next exam for over a year. There are other ARE candidates that don’t get phased by a failed score and just move on to the next test without worrying at all about the fail. I know from experience that it can definitely be hard to forget about a failed test, but the sooner that you move on to another test, the better off you will be.

The rule that NCARB has made regarding a failed ARE test is that you can’t re-take that exam until 6 months from the date you took that exam. NCARB will send you a letter after about 4 months that basically says you can now sign up for your retake but you won’t be able to schedule it for a date earlier than the 6 month date.

In my opinion, the best thing you can do in that 6 month window while you wait to retake a test is to schedule at least 1-2 other tests. Waiting around 6 months for a re-take without taking any other tests is probably the worst thing you can do for yourself (unless you’re waiting to pass your last exam of course) because you will sit and dwell about your failed score instead of focusing on the material for the test. By moving on to another ARE exam division, you get your mind off of your failed test and re-focus you studies on the new test. I would certainly recommend moving on as quickly as you can and pass a few other tests while you wait for a retake.

After I failed BDCS, it took me a few days to fully sink it but then I immediately scheduled my SS test and began studying. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I would have stopped studying for a few weeks. I can’t guarantee that I would have had the motivation to finish the rest of the exams if I didn’t rebound quickly. Anyways, I was able to pass SS, SD, and SPD in the 6 month time frame before I could even retake BDCS again. I would definitely recommend this to anyone trying to rebound from a failed score.

Retaking An Exam

The final issue I want to talk about is what happens when you start studying for your retake exam. Depending on the section of the exam that you failed, you will need to change your focus from the first time that you studied. Some of the material should still be familiar to you from the first time you studied for this ARE exam, but you will need to review all of the content again.

If you failed a multiple choice section of the exam, your failed letter should let you know which content areas you were deficient in. I would certainly spend some extra time reviewing these specific areas but don’t neglect the other content areas as well. For all you know, you could have been close to failing another content area too.

If you failed the vignette section the first time around, try to go back and remember what you might have done to result in a fail. Some people are able to remember what they did wrong on the vignette whether it was forgetting a major element or simply running out of time and submitting an incomplete solution. No matter what the issue may have been, take some time and practice these vignettes again to make sure you’re comfortable enough this time around.


I know that most people want to know the tricks to passing the ARE, but I think it’s just as important to know how you can use a failed exam score to motivate you even further. It’s so important not to let a failed score get you down; instead, use it as motivation and challenge yourself to pass the ARE without failing another test.

To some people, failing an ARE exam can be a wake-up call that they need to study and prepare more for the tests. Trust me, many smart people fail an ARE exam somewhere along the lines so don’t let it set you back.