The Key to ARE 5.0 Test Order

  • 28 January, 2022

When you're starting to plan your overall testing strategy for the ARE 5.0, schedule is the most important component. But how to do you decide in what order to take the six divisions? There really is no right answer that can apply to everyone.

Here are a few things you should take into consideration when determining the right order for you:

In What Order Should I Take the ARE 5.0

  1. Your experience level

    Before deciding which division to take first, it's important to take stock of what your overall experience level is. You must do your planning with a clear understanding of your existing familiarity with the content. Are you fresh out of school with little to no professional experience? Or have you been working for a decade and haven't taken an exam in years? Surprisingly, for the ARE, neither is a free ride to easily passing all six exams. Having less professional experience means you'll have to study more, but since you haven't been out of school as long, you'll be more accustomed to studying. If you have more professional experience, you'll obviously have a better understanding of the content in general. However, I've heard from colleagues who went this route that having a lot of real-world experience can "muddy the waters." That is to say, if you're learning things for the first time, you're able to learn them the way the ARE intends and aren't swayed by any personal experiences that may not match best practices.

    Another great way to understand your starting point is to review the "ARE 5.0 Pass Rate by School1" page on the NCARB Website. This page allows you to select your accredited school and see the pass rates for each ARE exam over several years. Take a look and see if any divisions seem particularly difficult for people that went to your same college. It's not a foolproof method, but if for some reason, graduates from your school have by far the hardest passing Programming & Analysis, then that is very useful to know! Also keep in mind that this accounts for every time an exam is taken, not just the first time someone take it, so the overall pass rates for each person are likely lower.

    Wherever you are on the spectrum is totally fine! The important thing is to know where you're starting from.

  2. Past Experience

    The second most important component to consider is your past experiences studying for and taking major tests. Taking a moment to recall how you faced major exams in past can help you understand how you work best. Ask yourself, did you typically procrastinate and cram the night before a big test? That probably won't go well on an exam with as much content as any of the ARE divisions. Perhaps you'll need to plan shorter term milestones so you can stay on track. Personally, I realized that if I have too much time to study, I'll start to slack off, so it was important to have a rigorous testing schedule to stay focused. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but it's important to identify any pitfalls or benefits to your approach to examinations in the past.

  3. Timing

    After establishing your level of familiarity with the content and understanding your past exam experiences, the next most important aspect of establishing an exam schedule is to account for your personal and professional schedules. This sounds simple, but I've known so many people who accidentally schedule an exam right after a big trip or during a high-stress deadline at work. No matter what responsibilities you have, you can find time to study and take your exams, but your expectations and schedule must be reasonable. Really examine your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules and establish how much time you can realistically devote to studying.

Two Example Approaches

While you can really take division exams in any order you want, I believe there are two approaches that make the most sense.


This exam order follows the unofficial order from NCARB and the typical project phases. This strategy is best for candidates who have less personal experience because the study material builds logically from one exam to the next. The fact that the first two divisions (Practice Management and Project Management) are composed of unfamiliar content can be intimidating. However, the scope of the content is tighter so it's easier to study it fully. PcM and PjM rely more on traditional studying than experience so taking them first can be great way to get some early passes under your belt and build confidence.

Full disclosure, this was the method I ended up using when I took the ARE. I passed every division on the first try except Construction & Evaluation, which I fortunately passed on the second try. I believe failed Construction & Evaluation the first time largely because I took it too early in the process for me. Somewhere I had read that you should take CE before Project Planning & Design or Project Development & Documentation because (I was told) studying for CE is great preparation for PPD and PDD. While in theory this makes sense, for me, starting with CE before PPD or PDD felt like diving into the deep end. I found studying for CE really difficult but didn't recognize how much of the underlying fundamental understanding I lacked. After I failed, I regrouped and studied for Project Planning & Design. Moving from PPD, to PDD, and final CE left me far better prepared. That is why I believe that this "stepping stone" approach is best for candidates with less experience.

  1. Practice Management - PcM
  2. Project Management - PjM
  3. Programming & Analysis - PA
  4. Project Planning & Design - PPD
  5. Project Development & Documentation - PDD
  6. Construction & Evaluation - CE


The next ARE testing order strategy to consider is probably best for exam candidates who have quite a bit of work experience, especially dealing with construction documents. While I know this strategy wouldn't have worked for me, since I didn't have that much experience, I've heard from many colleagues who began taking the ARE after more years of professional experience that it worked well to knock out the tougher exams first. Construction & Evaluation Project Planning & Design, and Project Development & Documentation are generally considered the toughest divisions in the series.

If you have more work experience, studying for Construction & Evaluation can be an effective way to review for Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation at the same time. At this stage of your career, these topics might tie in better with your day-to-day work life, making the content feel more familiar. Getting the harder, longer exams out of the way can feel like load off your back and keep you motivated to get through the rest.

  1. Construction & Evaluation - CE
  2. Project Planning & Design - PPD
  3. Project Development & Documentation - PDD
  4. Programming & Analysis - PA
  5. Practice Management - PCM
  6. Project Management - PjM

Whatever division order you ultimately decide on, be sure to consider the following when planning your exam strategy:

  1. Your experience level
  2. Past Experience
  3. Timing


About the Author: Genevieve Doman, AIA

Genevieve Doman is a licensed architect with over five years of professional experience working in Detroit, Chicago, and Seattle. She received her B.S. in Architecture and Master of Architecture degrees from the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

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