The ARE is graded using a “cut score” or “Modified Angoff Method,” in which a panel of experts
periodically determines the appropriate cutoff. The pass threshold is not published. According to
forum guru Kevin67, “NCARB has stated - in an interview [with] ArchVoices - that the questions are
in fact weighted by difficulty. So it is not a strict percentage issue.” [Kevin’s original post]
The “Cut Score Study” in which a panel of NCARB-certified architects evaluate the ARE and
establish “pass” and “fail” usually occurs every five years, with the last in early 2004. During that
study, score reports were delayed and communication between NCARB, State Boards, and
candidates was poor to non-existent.
Not knowing how the height of the hurdles is a frustrating aspect of preparing for the ARE, and
leaves a candidate with very little to gauge her performance on exam as she walks out of a Prometric
There is no penalty for wrong answers, so you should answer every question. Leaving questions
“Marked for Review” has no bearing on how they are graded. It is not necessary to unmark all
questions at the end of your exam.
1.2 What are the pass rates for the ARE?
NCARB posts pass rates annually. [2000-2005 data] Currently they range from 63% to 77%. The
pass rate for Lateral Forces was as high as 92% in 2003, but is currently in line with other divisions
at 76%. Graphic divisions typically have lower pass rates than multiple-choice divisions. Building
Planning and Building technology were at 63% and 66% in 2005, respectively. Bear in mind that this
data is based on all exams including re-takes. First time pass rates are not published.
1.3 How long will I have to wait to find out if I passed a multiple-choice
Multiple-choice exams are usually graded by Prometric on Thursday evenings. After Friday, ARE
Operations sends results letters to your State or Provincial Board, apparently via FedEx. Then it is up
to your board to record your score and forward a letter to you. Some boards are more efficient at this
than others. Some Boards have “Direct Registration” arrangements and pass/fail letters are sent
directly to candidates from NCARB. States such as Texas and Florida have websites where
candidates can view test results.
1.4 What is the “Prometric Trick?”
The Prometric trick was a non-foolproof method to attempt to determine if you passed or failed a
division before NCARB officially released results. The trick was possible because of a “back door”
in Prometric’s scheduling website which allowed candidates to schedule retakes of failed exams
immediately after they were graded. In early November 2006, Prometric changed their eligibility
system, and now requires candidates to wait four months after failing a division before they are able
to schedule the retake.
If you fail a division, Prometric will send you a new Authorization to Test four months after you
initially took the division. Your Candidate ID Number will not change.
1.5 How does the “Prometric Trick” work if I just took my last graphic or
The Prometric trick has been eliminated. See 1.4 above.
1.6 How long will I have to wait to find out if I passed a graphic division?
What are “graphic batches?” What is “cut day?”
The short answer is anywhere from three weeks to two months.
Graphic exams usually graded on three-week intervals, though holidays and changes in the test can
cause delays. These three-week periods are referred to as batches on the Forum. A single holiday
frequently extends the batch by a week. Batches are usually graded and results are sent to state
boards two and a half weeks after the batch ends. If you take more than one graphic division in the
same batch, you may receive those results in the same envelope, depending on your state board. The
last day of a batch is frequently referred to as “cut day” on the ARE Forum.
There are always threads at the top of the general topics forum where candidates share intelligence
on the latest batches and grading dates. Candidates also sometimes note the batch and grading dates
on the ARE Forum Calendar.
Example graphic batch: June 8 through June 28, 2006:
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Grading was delayed to July 21 because of the July 4th holiday. A candidate who took a
graphic exam on June 8th would expect results in the mail no sooner than July 26 (nearly
eight weeks after taking the exam).
1.7 If I fail, will NCARB tell me the areas in which I was deficient?
Yes. If you fail, the front of the letter from NCARB will list the Content Areas (multiple choice) or
Vignettes (graphic) in which your performance was “marginal”. If you were “below minimal
competence” in any areas, they will be listed with an asterisk. No other information is provided.
Therefore, beyond the asterisk, you don’t know how close you were to passing. [Sample fail letter]
1.8 How are graphic divisions graded?
According to NCARB:
There have been many common misconceptions about the ARE. One of the
biggest was that the paper-and-pencil vignettes were graded using
"subjective" criteria. In the past, NCARB developed very specific objective
grading criteria and trained the architects who volunteered to grade exams
in using this objective criteria. NCARB never allowed the graders to apply
their own subjective criteria to exams. With computer grading, the only
real change is that committees of architects have already determined the
objective grading criteria, and that criteria has been transferred to a
computer program instead of human graders.
The computer-delivered vignettes, like the paper-and-pencil vignettes, are
designed to allow for many correct answers. There is no one right answer,
with the exception of some very technical Site Planning vignettes, such as
laying out setbacks. Just as in the paper-and-pencil versions, the vignette
scoring procedures allow for errors to occur without automatically
assigning a failing score. The scoring engines evaluate the solutions to the
vignettes in a holistic manner where minor errors are compensated for by
overall compliance with the programmatic and technical aspects of each
On the issue of quality control, NCARB states:
Members of select NCARB committees establish the grading standards for
each vignette. Throughout the year, randomly selected solutions are
reviewed by these committees of architects to ensure that the software
accurately reflects the professional judgment of this group of practitioners.
It is unclear how frequently and how many vignettes are reviewed under this process.
1.9 What is the “Rolling Clock?”
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The “rolling clock” went into effect January 1, 2006, and requires candidates to pass all divisions of
the ARE within five years. Some states (notably Pennsylvania) have had their own “rolling clocks”
and have their own transitional rules. The ARE guidelines provide three grandfather clauses for the
implementation of the “rolling clock:”
§ For applicants who have passed all divisions of the ARE by January 1, 2006, regardless of
the time taken, such applicants will have passed the ARE.
§ For applicants who have passed one or more but not all divisions of the ARE by January 1,
2006, such applicants will have five years from the date of the first (non-exempt) passed division
to pass all remaining divisions. [Exams passed prior to January 1, 2006, are exempt and will
NOT have to be retaken.] If a candidate fails to pass all remaining divisions within the initial fiveyear
period, the candidate is given a new five-year period from the date of the second oldest
passed division. The five-year period shall commence after January 1, 2006, on the date when the
first passed division is administered.
§ For applicants who have passed no divisions of the ARE by January 1, 2006, such
applicants shall be governed by the above five-year requirement. The five-year period shall
commence on the date when the first passed division is administered.
1.10 Is my older edition of an ALS/Kaplan study guide adequate?
Architectural License Seminars published review material from 1986 to 2004, when Kaplan
acquired ALS. As of 2006, Kaplan has published this material in three editions, with the cover art
and the addition of sustainable design information being the only major changes. Study guides for
some divisions that had previously been published in two volumes were combined to a single
volume in the 2006 editions. The actual content of the books is largely unchanged, and many
books are poorly edited and have typographical errors and discontinuities. The largest change
to the content occurred after the 2004 editions, when sustainability and LEED topics were
incorporated. Kaplan published an amendment to the 2004 editions, which is available from the
ARE Forum FTP site. As these guides are not readily affordable (list prices around $75 per
division for the study guide), candidates usually find that earlier editions on loan from AIA
chapters or other libraries or purchased second hand are sufficient.
1.11 The six-month wait to retake is totally unfair. Shouldn’t we petition
NCARB states two reasons for the six-month wait:
First, the exams are not a test of luck. It is important to spend the time
between test administrations gaining additional knowledge and experience
in the particular areas being tested. Second, NCARB is developing a large
library of test questions and vignettes, but the library is not of sufficient
size to offer each division of the exam more than once every six months.
For a colorful discussion of this issue be sure to read “Lobbying NCARB for 6 month penalty
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relaxation.” The bottom line is that NCARB is a big ship to sink (or even sway), and your effort is
probably better spent focusing on the re-take.
1.12 In what order should I take the exams?
Since everyone has differing academic and professional backgrounds, learning styles, and test-taking
abilities, there’s no ideal game plan. Some of the strategies are: grouping exams with similar content,
starting with more focused exams (such as GS, LF or CD) and working toward more general exams
(PD, MM), or starting with general and working toward the specific.
Because the graphic divisions use a CAD interface that is unlike any commercial CAD software, it is
a good idea to take these divisions concurrently so you won’t have to re-learn the interface. Since
score reporting takes longer for graphic divisions (see 1.6 above), you may have an agonizing wait if
your last exam is a graphic division.
A good overview of exam strategies is EricB’s “Fin” post.
1.13 Can I contest a division I have failed?
The short answer is, “Depends on your state, and it would be costly and detrimental to future
reciprocity.” According to forum regular Kevin67:
There are only a few states that allow challenges or reviews. "Review"
means allowing you to see your test for a limited period of time, on a
laptop, with an NCARB representative present - though they don't tell you
what it is that you did wrong. "Challenge" means asking the state to
consider changing the result. Some states allow review only, some allow
challenge only, a very small number allow both, and about 75% of all
states don't allow either.
NCARB will not accept a "pass" that is the result of a challenge to a "fail"
on a graphic exam. The impact of that is that if you did happen to be in a
state that allowed a challenge, and if you were successful in getting your
state to pass you, you'd be considered to have passed only in that state! If
you wanted to get NCARB certified and/or get reciprocity in most other
states you'd still have to take and pass the test again to NCARB's
satisfaction. [The implementation of the “rolling clock” (see 1.9) would
further complicate your eligibility.]
Besides, it costs $300 even to look at your failed test, in the states that
See NCARB’s State Registration Requirements to determine if your state allows review or challenge.
1.14 What do I need to read to pass [PD / GS / LF / ME / MM / CD]?
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Since everyone has differing academic and professional backgrounds, learning styles, and test-taking
abilities, there’s no big red “easy button” as in the Staples television ads. NCARB states that the
ARE “is a practice-based exam and not a test of book knowledge or material learned in the academic
environment. There is no substitute for a well-rounded internship to help prepare you for the ARE
.” You will likely read very different opinions from different candidates regarding which sources
they found helpful and relevant to each division. The bottom line is that only you know what your
strengths and weaknesses lie.
Also complicating this issue is the many questions in the pool that may appear on an exam.
Candidates taking the same division on the same day may have very different opinions as to topics
that were emphasized on that division. Some candidates have expressed that the NCARB Study
Guides have sample questions that more representative of those on the actual exam than other
sources. (“Study Guide” may be a misnomer, as they contain only sample questions and answers.)
Most forum regulars recommend being familiar with the primary sources (as cited in the ARE
Guidelines) in addition to reviewing with study guides such as those published by Kaplan or PPI.
1.15 Do I have to apply through NCARB to be eligible for the ARE?
No. In some states you may apply directly to the state, and document your internship without an
NCARB record. See NCARB’s State Registration Requirements.
1.16 Do I need a NAAB accredited degree to be eligible for the ARE?
No. Some states accept a four-year and other degrees, but require more documented experience.
There are thirteen states that currently accept a high-school diploma with significantly more
experience. See NCARB’s State Registration Requirements.
1.17 Is the ARE the only exam I need to pass to become licensed?
No. Some states have additional requirements, ranging from straightforward take-home exams on
State Laws, to California’s Supplemental Exam, or CSE, a lengthy oral exam with a pass rate of
around 50%. See the specifics for your state in NCARB’s State Registration Requirements.
1.18 What is a Direct Registration state?
Some states participate in the Direct Registration Program, in which NCARB “manages all candidate
eligibility and score reporting processes.” Each state appears to have different arrangements with
NCARB. In some states, exam results are mailed directly from Washington DC, in others (such as
Colorado) results are sent to the state board and then forwarded to the candidate.
After you have passed all exams in a Direct Registration state, NCARB forwards all your records to
your state board. Then it is up to the state to issue your license. Some states have other requirements
in addition to the ARE. (See 1.18)
NCARB lists Direct Registration states with an asterisk inside the back cover of the ARE Guidelines.
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1.19 What calculators are allowed on the exam? Do I need a calculator for all
You should bring a basic scientific calculator to every division, even the graphic divisions—which
have an on-screen calculator available. You wouldn’t want to miss a question because you had to use
an unfamiliar calculator. It is also a good idea to make sure your calculator is dual power (solar and
battery). Some candidates have found light levels at the testing stations inadequate to power a solar
calculator. You may also want to bring a copy of the ARE Guidelines with you, in case the proctor
checking you in is unclear on NCARB’s calculator guidelines.
Recently, debate over foot/inch construction calculators has arisen, and though their guidelines don’t
specifically prohibit them, NCARB has said they are not permitted. You will probably find only
a few problems on each exam that require foot/inch conversions, and that a construction calculator
won’t save you much time in the long run.
1.20 Do all the questions on a multiple choice exam count toward my score?
What are “pretest” questions?
You will likely encounter some questions on the exam that NCARB is testing, and they won’t count
toward your score. According to NCARB:
In order for NCARB to know the average difficulty of a test, each question
must have been administered to a large number of candidates.
These "pretest" questions are scattered throughout each test so that
statistical information can be collected on the questions for use in future
exams. These questions do not count toward your final score.
1.21 I had a computer glitch during my exam. Where do I report this?
It is important that you report any computer malfunctions promptly. If the test center is unable to
remedy the situation, you should notify ARE Operations in writing by mail or fax. NCARB will not
consider malfunctions that were reported more than ten days after taking the test. Be sure to read all
the information under “Reporting Test Concerns” on pages 26 and 27 of the ARE Guidelines.
1.22 What is the “areforum.org FTP site?” How do I access it? How do I
The FTP site is a server where candidates can share non-copyrighted materials. Documents in this
area are frequently referred to as “the FTP documents” or “the FTP.” You can access the FTP
material by clicking the FTP button at the top of any forum area and following the instructions.
2006.08.17: First posted to http://www.areforum.org/
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2006.12.13: Updated to reflect the closure of the “Prometric Trick” loophole. Removed item
regarding exam confidentiality.
 NCARB. ARE Guidelines, Version 3.1. Page 29.
 NCARB. ARE Study Guide: Graphic Divisions, Version 3.1. Pages 10-11.
 NCARB. ARE Guidelines, Version 3.1. Page 29.
 ARE Forum. “Graphics Test Scores – NADA”
 NCARB. ARE Guidelines, Version 3.1. Page 8.
 ARE Forum. “Kaplan books full of typos, errors, omissions”
 NCARB. ARE Study Guide: Graphic Divisions, Version 3.1. Page 11.
 ARE Forum. "ARE Reviews/Challenges" and “Review and Challenge of Graphics Exams”
 NCARB. ARE Study Guide: Graphic Divisions, Version 3.1. Page 5.
 NCARB. ARE Guidelines, Version 3.1. Page 14.
 NCARB. ARE Guidelines, Version 3.1. Page 3.
 NCARB. ARE Study Guide: Graphic Divisions, Version 3.1. Page 6.
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