In preparing to take the ARE, the first thing I did was make a high-level study plan. I organized it around the six divisions of the ARE and the content each would address. I then gathered all my own resources that I still had from college, including textbooks, manuals, notebooks, old exams, graded homework assignments, and pretty much anything that I thought could help me. I assessed what I had and what I would need to cover all the content in the exam itself, and I researched where to purchase exam prep materials. Fortunately, there were (and still are) several providers of exam prep materials, including books organized into chapters with quizzes and a full mock exam at the end.
I then set aside a period (usually a month) to focus entirely on just one division of the exam. I read all the materials that I had on the subject, using a highlighter to identify stronger points and concepts presented in the materials and underlining what I considered key points. After each chapter of study, I took the quiz. My rule of thumb was, if I scored 80% or higher, I would move on to the next chapter. If I scored less than 80%, I re-read the materials and tried again. When I finished reading a study guide as well as all the content that I had from college related to the subject, I would take the full mock exam at the end of the study guide. Again, if I scored 80% or higher, I would consider myself done (for now). If not, I would re-read sections and re-take the mock exam a few days later with fresh eyes.
I basically repeated this approach for each division until I had made it through all the study materials. I then went back through each study guide and the materials that I had from college, and re-read all the highlighted sections, paying even more attention to the things that I had underlined. As I was doing this, I started a handwritten notebook summarizing all the content that I thought represented the most important concepts, formulas, ideas, and so on. I made one of these notebooks for each division of the ARE. Then a few days before taking a given division of the exam, I would only re-read my notebooks. I did not go back and review the study guides or the large college textbooks. I really wanted to have the strongest concepts and points related to each topic in the forefront of my mind as I was about to take the exam.
This approach worked well for me. I passed all of my exams with scores in the 90s. I took the studying very seriously. I did not get paid time off from work to take the exams, and I had to pay for the exam and my study materials myself. So, with my money on the line, I wanted to give each exam all that I had to avoid further expense, both in time and money.
In the end, this all worked well for me for several reasons. First, it was an organized approach that broke things down into manageable pieces (areas of study). I never felt overwhelmed because I was taking things one step at a time. Another reason my approach worked was because I forced myself to identify the key concepts and most important aspects related to each section of the exam. I was conservative for sure, and probably over-highlighted my study guides, but in the end, it worked!
I hope this will be helpful to you as you prepare to take the ARE. Just as a career in architecture is complicated and demanding but can be highly rewarding, the same can be said for preparing for the ARE.
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