Passing the ARE’s 5.0


Passing the ARE’s 5.0

Congratulations to Neil Ginty, our latest team member to pass the grueling battery of National Council of Architecture Registration Boards (NCARB) examinations and be one step away from being a licensed architect!

Did you know NCARB certification requires passing six exams that together total 21 hours of test time? Whether you’re a designer or a potential client curious about the knowledge base that’s part of the value of hiring an architect, read on for Neil’s reflections on passing:

Take More than One Test at a Time

NCARB say otherwise but I felt there was a lot of overlap between the divisions. I studied for PCM (Practice Management), PJM (Project Management), and C&E (Construction & Evaluation) together and did them a week apart. I definitely recommend it. You can also group PPD (Project Planning & Design) with either P&A (Programming & Analysis) or PDD (Project Development & Documentation). I found the last three to be the harder exams, so grouping them together might be a stretch.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Pass rates are currently hovering just over 50%. I was bang average on the first go around—passing three and failing three. Don’t be deterred by fear of failing. It’s worth going through the process and establishing what you’re weak on.

Use Multiple Sources of Study Material

You cannot rely on the third-party material alone for these exams. The reading list in the ARE 5.0 Handbook is critical, although not all of it. The handbook mentions a lot of information-heavy books—so skim some and be selective. Make sure you understand what you do read, though. My personal favorites were the Ching books Building Construction Illustrated and Building Codes Illustrated, plus the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, the Architect’s Studio Companion, and Architectural Graphic Standards (depending on the exam of course).

Together, the ARE 5.0 Handbook and the third-party books are good for helping identify what you need to study and also good to revisit as an exam draws closer.

Practice with Mock Exams

I mostly used the Ballast practice exams. While not bad overall, these are riddled with discomforting typos.

To study for my final exam (PPD) I tried Brightwood, Designerhacks, and Black Spectacles. None of them fully reflect the type of questions you’ll see, but they’re a great learning tool nonetheless:


This didn’t have a great pool of questions and effectively became flashcards for me—not a bad thing. They give you an option of 10 or 25 question pop-quizzes or a full exam—the shorter ones were good for BART commutes

Black Spectacles

This format was almost identical to NCARB’s and had pretty decent pool of questions.


I found this to be the most difficult one (which was good), and the custom exams are great for focusing study on weaker areas.

Try My Exam Strategy

Initially, I tackled the questions in order, meaning I faced the Case Studies last—by which time I was usually exhausted. For me, doing them first proved much better. There can be a lot of information to sift through for an answer. Being fresher made that easier.

Explore the ARE 5.0 Community

NCARB maintains an online forum for people to chat through their experiences. Check it out for some good write-ups on what and how to study effectively.