Top 10 Tips for Passing the ARE 5.0
1. Do your research
The number one thing you can do to help you pass the ARE is to research all known ARE topics before you take the exam. I have known many people who dove into the ARE headfirst, picked a division at random, and quickly became overwhelmed and discouraged. Take the time to research all six divisions and the exam structure as a whole. Spending a little extra time before you start studying will help set you up for success.
2. Determine a Strategy
There are three exam strategies you should consider:
Follow NCARB's published exam order which also follows the typical project phases used in practice. This method builds complexity from one exam to the next. I think this is the best strategy for younger ARE candidates who do not have as much real-world experience.
Another method is to start with the hardest exams first. This can mean that you'll have to study really hard at the beginning, but your later exams will be easier. This strategy can work well if you have more years of professional experience but can be difficult if you do not.
Lastly, some candidates swear by studying for all exams at once. Since a lot of the topics relate, it can be beneficial to gain contextual knowledge by studying for all of them. I think it would be easy to get lost by trying to study this much content at once, but it is worth considering if this approach might be right for you.
3. Review your schedule
Take stock of what you have coming up personally and professionally over the next year or two. I recommend taking a really honest look at the time you have available so you can set appropriate expectations. Do you have a major deadline at work and a wedding to go to in the next few weeks? It is best not to schedule an exam right after. If you plan ahead, it's possible to account for whatever deadlines, events, or holidays you have coming up, just be sure to leave yourself a buffer of focused study time.
4. Make an exam schedule
After looking at your plans for the next year or two, begin plotting when you want to take each exam based on the studying strategy you determined. If you have nothing else going on, one exam a month might be enough time to study but given other factors, you may want to plan for more time. I think 6-8 weeks of studying per division is a better place to start. Once you have taken a test or two, you might be able to adjust the amount of studying time you need.
5. Make a Study Plan
Once you've decided what your first division will be and have a goal date to take the exam, the next thing you need to do is make a study plan. You can typically find examples for each division online, but you need to break up the study materials you want to cover over the number of weeks you have planned to study. You will have to do research to figure out what study materials you'll need to get through, but the NCARB ARE 5.0 Handbook1 and this blog are both suitable places to start! You can then get more granular and plan what you want to study each week, but I think a plan for the week is good enough.
After you've taken the previous steps to strategize and plan, you now need to stick to your plan. This can be the hardest part! But the work you've already done will help keep you on track and set you up for success. Keep track on your study plan of all the content you've covered. If things come up, try to add missed content to another day rather than pushing out your goal exam date. If you're really struggling to stay on track, try telling a friend or coworker your goal exam date so that you stay accountable to your study plan.
7. Schedule your exam
In general, it is best to spend a week or two studying before scheduling your exam. Maybe you thought you only needed four weeks to study, but when you get into it you can tell you will need more time. That being said, in some places, exam appointments fill up early. If you are in the earlier planning stages, take a look at the testing centers in your area and see how far out they seem to be booked. If they are super full, you may need to book early and change it if your plans shift.
8. Commit to a study schedule
Beyond your exam schedule and study plan, I also found it helpful to establish a regular schedule for studying. For me, that entailed some very brief flashcards during lunch (5-10min) and at least a half-hour of studying every night after dinner. Often, I was able to study more than that, but I found it helpful to set realistic expectations for what I could get done every day, and anything else was extra. I found video and audio content to be especially great because I could workout at the same time!
9. The night before
This may be common sense, but it is worth pointing out that taking care of yourself the night before your exam is really important. As far as studying goes, the most I would suggest is a light review to keep things fresh. Cramming rarely works for exams like these. It's much more important to eat a healthy meal, relax, and get a good night's sleep before your long day of testing.
10. Test Day
On exam day, it is most important to stay calm so you can think as clearly as possible on your exam. Get up early enough that you can really wake up and don't feel rushed. Eat a well-rounded healthy breakfast. Leave home with plenty of time to spare, so you don't have to stress. If the exam location is really unfamiliar to you, it might be worth the peace of mind to do a trial run of getting there before exam day. Lastly, take some deep breaths and know you've done everything you could to prepare. Good luck!