8 Tips to Keep Calm and Pass the ARE
The foundation for success on the ARE 5.0 has a lot to do with research, strategy, planning, and work. Take a look at my "Top 10 Tips for Passing the ARE 5.0" blog post for more detail on those initial steps. In this post, I will focus on how to stay calm on exam day and the days leading up to it.
The best ways to stay calm and pass the ARE:
1. Stay on track with a study plan
I know I said I was going to focus on strategies to stay calm close to exam day... but I have to start by reminding you that the best way to have a calm experience on exam day is to feel well prepared. And the best way to feel prepared is to follow your study plan! If you need to catch up a little in the last week, that's okay, but try to front-load it so that you are not trying to cram the night before.
2. Practice getting to your exam location
Depending on where your exam will take place, this tip could feel excessive. However, if you're really unfamiliar with the exam location, it may be worth doing a "dry-run" before exam day. That just means driving (or taking public transportation) to the test site, so you know exactly where it is and how long it usually takes. Going somewhere new for the first time can add a lot of stress to exam day. Even though a dry run takes some time, the peace of mind might be worth it for you.
3. Relax the night before
The most important thing to do the night before your exam is to relax. If you really feel the need to study, the most I would suggest is doing a light review. You can do a quick review of your study notes to keep things fresh, but then put it all away. It is really important to get your mind off studying so that you feel fresh tomorrow. Tonight, do a calm relaxing activity like going for a walk or watching a movie. Eat a good dinner and be sure to go to sleep early enough that you can get a full night sleep.
4. Good-night sleep
I often struggled sleeping well before exams but if you can manage, it is one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself. Do everything you can to set yourself up for a good night's rest. I found it helpful to get in a good workout the day before so that I was not too stressed. Do whatever works for you.
5. Get up early
The day of your exam is about reducing stress and setting yourself up to have an easy morning. Almost as important as a good night's sleep is to get up with plenty of time to spare before your exam. I found it helpful to wake up with around an hour of extra time so that I could review some flashcards and make sure I was awake before heading to my exam. Be sure to eat a well-rounded, healthy breakfast. Leave your home with plenty of time to get to your test location. It is far better to get there early and potentially have to wait than to feel rushed and arrive stressed and panicked.
6. Know what to expect
You do not want to leave anything up to chance on exam day so take some time to carefully read the procedures sent to you by your test center. In 2020, NCARB also began a remote, online testing option. Both in-person and online exam appointments will continue to be offered going forward. The check-in procedures are similar for both options are the same, but you should obviously budget for travel time with an in-person exam. Here are the basic steps to beginning your exam:
- Check in 30 minutes minimum before your exam start time.
- Have a photo ID ready
- Don't bring scratch paper, pencils, or a calculator (you are online allowed to use the onscreen versions of those tools)
- Your proctor will get your exam ready and explain any other testing procedures. For example, for in-person appointments, testing centers typically have a specific way they want you to ask for a proctor's attention if you're going to take a break since they need to escort you in and out of the exam room.
As you may have noticed, most of these tips really center around strategies to stay calm during your exam. That is because being calm allows you to answer the questions with greatest amount of mental clarity. Once you're in your exam, you have already studied what you could and just need to answer everything to the best of your ability. By staying calm and keeping track of your exam time, you won't feel rushed. Feeling like you are running out of time can cause you to panic and not read comprehensively, which could make you miss questions that if you were able to answer calmly, you would have gotten correct.
If you feel your nerves picking up before or during the exam, take a few moments to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus on lowering your heart rate and remind yourself that you've prepared for the exam and just need to answer as best you can.
8. Take Breaks
In 2020, NCARB revised the break policy, which applied to both in-person and online testing appointments. You are now allowed up to 45 minutes of break time which can be used all at once, over several breaks, or not at all. NCARB does not require you to take any breaks, so adding this time is completely optional. The other really important change to take note of is that now when you return from a break, all previously viewed questions will be locked. That means after a break, you cannot go back to past questions to revise your answers.
Despite the complication this locking policy adds, I still think it is best to take a break in all of the divisions. Even if you don't feel like you need it, pausing the exam to let your mind rest for a few minutes can help you come back with renewed focus. For my first few exams, I was nervous and just wanted to get through it, so I didn't stop for breaks. Later on, once I started adding a break to my exam, I realized that I should have been taking them from the beginning. Even taking just 10-15 minutes to stretch, walk around, and get your mind off the exam can really help you stay calm if any tricky questions come up.