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Failing the Architect Registration Exam

If you are afraid of failing the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) or you have already failed it, this is for you to read.  

Did you study after work, after class, while cooking dinner, or any time you weren’t doing something? Study, work, sleep, and maybe a little eating in there - that was the order in which I did things while studying for the Construction Documents and Services Exam.  

There’s one thing that most people in my position don’t talk about openly.  It’s a reality that so many recent graduates face, and a challenge that is difficult to relate to until you live it yourself.  Passing exam after exam to become an architect is no easy feat.  Balancing studying with a full time job, your personal life, and sleep is not a task for the faint of heart.  And after all the hours you put in to study and prepare, you still may not pass the test.  This is what happened to me.  I failed the ARE exam, and that experience has actually made a positive impact on my career.  Here’s why.

Don't Fear Failure

Yes, after all that studying, I can admit it. I failed the ARE Exam. At first, it was very hard to believe.  I opened up the NCARB record, clicked on the exam, and saw the FAIL in bold letters. In that first moment, it felt as though my heart dropped out of my body. The worst part of it was that I opened it at work, so I had to hold it together.  I told myself in my head “Keep it together, it’s going to be okay,” although that’s not how I felt inside. All I could think about was everyone who told me I could do it, and especially everyone who told me it was too soon for me to take the test. Did I let the people down that believed in me? Should I have waited until I gained more experience at work to better understand the material? Was I taking the exam to prove something to myself? This was the constant battle in my mind after feeling like a failure.

If this happened to you, I have great news! Just because you failed one of the ARE exams doesn’t mean you fail in architecture.  You already made it through architecture school, and we all know that wasn’t easy.  Going through this experience helped me overcome my fear of failure, and I’ve learned a lot about my own strengths and limitations along the way. 

You are what you know in architecture.

My journey to licensure has taught me to strive to understand every aspect of architecture.  This is something I think everyone should focus on, rather than that nagging feeling of needing to study.  I had a realization: Isn’t the exam supposed to test my knowledge of architecture?  To better my career, don’t I want to absorb as much knowledge as possible?  This realization has made me a better employee, and inspired me to ask more questions.  My motto is “you are what you know in architecture.” As long as you strive to learn, the more value you will bring to your place of work and to your career.  I have overcome my fear by challenging myself to continuously learn, and not letting the FAIL on the ARE exam define who I am.   This is a habit that I know will be essential for my entire career in architecture, since there will always be another certification to achieve, another test to pass. 

This journey you are taking towards licensure is not the smoothest road, but the bumps on the way will pass, and when you get to the finish line you will look back and see it is all worth it.  Don’t let fear of failure hinder you – use it to your advantage, and think of learning as a continuous goal.

Set Your Goals, and Know When to be Flexible

Now that you have overcome this fear (or if you are working on it), it’s time to get back on the path to achieving your goal of passing the ARE. I found this article by Forbes, 6 Ways to Achieve Any Goal, helpful to plan how to meet goals I set. The biggest help for me is to write my goal down in my calendar to help keep me on schedule.  Hard deadlines are a great motivating factor!  For example, my goal was to take an ARE exam once every 3 months, and the date seemed more real as the exam day got closer and closer on my calendar.  No matter what, make sure the goals you are setting are realistic to your learning style and capabilities. If it takes you a little longer to learn things (I am speaking to myself as well when I say this), give yourself the extra time. Although you have a deadline, learning at the right pace is more important; do not feel the need to rush through it at the expense of learning.

Don’t let fear of failure hinder you – use it to your advantage, and think of learning as a continuous goal.

Remember to Balance Work, Studying, Life, and Sleep

When taking the ARE’s, or working towards any professional goal, you can’t forget to balance life as well as your career goals. My tips on balancing 40+ hours of work per week, studying, and being the best wife I can be is to tackle one goal at a time.  Know your limits, and how much you can do in one day. Trust me, I learned the hard way that there are not enough hours in a day to get all the things done you need to get done if you don’t have a plan. If you break out your goal into steps, the process seems less overwhelming and makes your goal seem more easily attainable.  Plus it feels great to accomplish small stepping stones along the way (and is much easier to stay motivated)!

I had to learn what was the most important to me when tasked with balancing my career goals with my everyday life. I found myself not devoting enough time to my husband and family by only focusing on work and studying, but then I started neglecting studying when I focused more on my family. I have learned that you have to create your own balance, and find what keeps you motivated. I study about 2+ hours on weekdays, and keep up with it by going to the library right after work (of course after grabbing dinner or a snack to keep my brain going!).  I also make time for family and friends, and stick to it, because they are so important to me. 

To be successful, you have to know yourself and your limits.  I found the right balance by trying different ways of studying, and by getting support from others working towards passing the exam.  Study groups can be a great resource and motivating factor (the Boston Society of Architects has a wonderful program called the ARE success team to find study partners and study materials), and I certainly have benefitted from them. 

In the end, remember you are not alone, and that failing the ARE exam is more common than you may think.  I chose to learn from my mistakes, learn about my own abilities and limitations, and it has made me into a motivated life-long learner and a better employee. Whatever you do, think of it as a learning experience, and keep absorbing all you can about the ever-changing industry of architecture! 

Did you fail the Architect Registration Exam?  Do you have tips for balancing life, work, and studying?  Share your experiences in the comments!