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May 24

Which ARE Vignette Is The Most Difficult?

The question of which ARE vignette is the most difficult is a hard one to answer directly because there are a number of factors that go in to each vignette. For starters, every test candidate comes in to the exam with a different level of knowledge and experience depending on the subject matter for that specific division. For example, someone who has designed and detailed stairs for years will feel much more comfortable than someone without any experience. The level of difficulty for each vignette will certainly depend on your personal comfort in that subject.

Besides the actual subject matter of the ARE vignette, there are a few other factors that play a role in the difficulty of the exams. Again, some of these factors may not be a problem for you personally, but they may be for other people so it’s important to realize that everyone looks at the vignettes in different ways.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that may make a particular vignette more difficult than others:

  • Time Limit Of The Vignette

The amount of time that you get to complete each exam will vary depending on that particular ARE exam division. All vignettes will give you at least 1 hour to complete them but there are a few vignettes that are even longer. Each vignette will require you to include a different number of elements to solve the problem, so the 1 hour time frame may be plenty of time for some vignettes but quite a challenge for others.

For example, the Interior Layout Vignette of the SD exam has over 40 elements that must be included in your solution along with other program requirements. Just placing these elements in your solution alone will take some time so this is certainly an example of a vignette where finishing in time is challenging.

There are other vignettes that don’t require as many elements so finishing within the timeframe is a little more achievable. The CDS vignette and the SS vignette are examples of exam divisions that shouldn’t take you the full hour to solve. Now I’m not saying these vignettes are necessarily easier; I’m merely saying that the allotted time should not play as crucial of a role in these vignettes.

  • Exams With Multiple Vignettes

Another factor that makes some vignettes more difficult than others is the number of vignettes that you must complete. Of the 7 ARE exam divisions, 4 of them only have one graphic vignette that you need to solve while the other 3 will require multiple vignettes. Of course, many people would agree that completing more than one vignette on an ARE exam is a challenging task so this factor is definitely something to consider.

Of the 3 exams with multiple vignettes, 2 of them (BDCS and SPD) allow you a specific time period to complete BOTH vignettes. This will challenge your time management skills because you will be given a larger block of time that you will need to manage in order to complete both vignettes. Getting held up on one of them could cost you valuable time when trying to solve the other.

The SD exam is a little different than all other ARE exams because even though there are 2 vignettes, each section is divided up into different time slots. All this means is that you will have 1 hour to complete the first vignette and then 4 hours to complete the second without the ability to go back and make changes to the first one.

These exams with multiple vignettes are definitely more challenging to some people because there is a lot more preparation that needs to be done before taking the exam.

  • Vignettes With Multiple Solutions

The final factor that I’d like to talk about involves the specific requirements of the vignettes. There are some vignettes that really have only one correct solution while other vignette sections try to challenge your design skills by accepting multiple correct solutions. Some people prefer the graphic vignettes that only have one correct solution while there are others that find this type more challenging. Again, this depends on the type of person you are and how you react to different problems.

Vignettes such as the Building Section (CDS) and the Site Zoning (PPP) challenge a candidate’s ability to follow directions and apply them to architecture. These 2 vignettes really only have one solution so following the rules of the program are even more important. There is less margin for error in this type of vignette but the time restrictions shouldn’t be as big of a deal simply because you’re not designing anything.

The other vignettes all seem to have some sort of design element included in them meaning that multiple solutions can be accepted. Of course, following the rules of the code and program are still essential and are weighted much more than creativity. A lot of candidates get into trouble by “over-thinking” their solutions and trying to be too creative. NCARB is not looking for creative and award-winning vignette solutions; they simply want you to follow the given rules and come up with the most efficient solution possible.

This can be challenging for a lot of ARE test takers because the more creative they get with their solutions, the more rules they break. Depending on the type of person you are, you may find either of these vignette types more challenging.


All in all, there is no easy answer to which ARE vignette will be the most difficult. Your opinion on each vignette will depend on a variety of factors and the only way you will know will be by practicing these vignettes before taking the exam.

For more information on the ARE graphic vignettes , see here.

Keep in mind that the vignette sections are commonly overlooked by a lot of test takers. One major error on a vignette and it could negate a really good score in the multiple choice section. Remember, no matter how well you do in the multiple choice questions, you can still fail the entire exam if you don’t pass the vignettes. Practice these vignettes as much as you can and you will be just fine.


For additional questions regarding the ARE, please see the Frequently Asked Questions.