The logistics of beginning the testing process are tedious and can seem daunting to those of us who stress over paperwork, so treat it like a design problem. Practice patience and try not to let the fear of a bureaucratic process be an impediment to your career.
- 1. Establish an NCARB account and an NCARB record (you likely already have one)
- 2. Meet your state’s requirements for starting
- 3. Track your hours through AXP (you likely already do this)
- 4. Prove that you have the education you need to test
- 5. Request approval to take the ARE
- 6. Book seats at the testing center or at home
- 7. Study and sit for the exams
- 8. Retake any fails without hesitation or wallowing
- 9. Celebrate with the loved ones you ignored for months
1. Establish an NCARB Account and Record
You need a free NCARB account to establish your NCARB record. An NCARB record documents your education, work experience and licensure exam details; it costs a fee annually to maintain and is the first step you need to take (if you haven’t already started).
If you don’t have a free NCARB account or haven’t established an NCARB record, go here and click on the gray “Establish Record” button. Fill out the form and confirm your account through your email when they send you a verification message. Log back in using the credentials you just created and click on the “Add” button to add an NCARB record. You’ll be asked questions about your date of birth, contact information, country of citizenship, education, and more.
2. Meet Your State’s Requirements for Starting
Decide which state (“jurisdiction”) you want to be licensed in; you can change states later if you move during the licensure process. Each state has different requirements for starting, so you want to go here and follow the instructions for your particular jurisdiction.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your state licensing administrators. The states’ websites are notoriously riddled with errors and out-of-date information; talking to a human can clear things up and give you confidence that you are on the right path. NCARB’s customer service operation is quite professional, even if your state’s is spotty: 202.879.0520 or email@example.com
3. Track Your Hours Through AXP
While your state board will grant you the license to practice, NCARB is the organization that serves as the gatekeeper for the process nationally, administering the six exam divisions and certifying your work experience.
If you haven’t already done so, register with NCARB to track your work hours (the program that tracks your hours is called the AXP). You can enroll in the AXP program to get the hours you need for licensure through the same process you used to set up your NCARB record (see above). Know that you can commence testing before you’ve completed your AXP hours (except, as of this writing, in Alabama–but they’re thinking of changing that).
Here are the seven things I wish I knew before taking the AREs.
4. Prove That You Have the Education You Need To Test
Most states require proof of an accredited architecture college degree before testing can begin. (Though not all states do: I’m talking to you, Wisconsin.) If your state says so, you’ll need to have your university registrar’s office submit your official college transcript directly to NCARB.
Don’t send a copy of your transcript to NCARB yourself; they want to open an original sealed transcript mailed directly from the university. First, though, check your university’s website or call the registrar’s office to find out about online options for submitting the NCARB form & requesting your transcript. You’ll complete and submit this form to your alma mater’s registrar. Know that this step may take weeks, subject to the speed of your registrar, and our experience suggests you often have to follow up with someone.
About one in six newly licensed architects do not have an accredited architecture degree (but many of them have a four-year non-NAAB-accredited undergraduate degree in architecture). Whether you can move forward without an accredited degree depends on the peculiarities of each state but generally, you’ll need to document two times the normal AXP hours if you have a four-year non-accredited architecture degree.
Some states may grant a license to those who didn’t major in architecture or even to those who didn’t complete a college degree at all. This will require some phone calls on your part. (Young people: yes talking on the phone sucks most of the time, but don’t hesitate to pick up the phone throughout this process. . . it’ll usually be more helpful than wasting 45 minutes on a failed web search before sending an email that may not be responded to.)
Are you a licensed architect in another country looking to establish a license in the US? Go here to pursue the Foreign Architect Path.
5. Request Approval to Take the ARE
Once you’ve created an account with NCARB, established a record with NCARB and started the AXP, you will request approval of your eligibility to take the ARE from your state.
Typically, this submission can be found under the “Exams” tab of your NCARB Record page. NCARB handles all of this process for most jurisdictions, but in some cases, you will submit additional forms to your jurisdiction’s licensing body.
For instance, Arizona requires three licensed architects you worked under to submit a form demonstrating your experience — two of them must be your supervisors. What if you have only ever worked in one small office under only one licensed architect and therefore don’t have three licensed supervisors who can vouch for you? In that case, you can submit the one reference form, add an explanation and wait for the board to approve it. It’s complicated like this in several states: you’ll have to do your homework. You can click here or here to start.
In most cases, you should receive a reply back from NCARB on your request that confirms your eligibility to sit for the exams within a few days. See also NCARB’s official ARE 5.0 Handbook document.
6. Book Seats at the Testing Center or at Home
Congratulations! Once you’re approved to take the exam, you can book seats at the testing center or set up an at-home self-proctored exam to take each of the six ARE divisions.
We recommend booking all of your exams at once to fall in a tight cluster beginning 18 weeks from the day you are cleared to test. The order of the exams doesn’t matter, despite what you may have heard. This all-at-once advice intimidates some, but for most people, scheduling the exams first and then studying is both the shortest and surest path to licensure.
While there has always been a good deal of overlap in content between exam divisions, the overlap is the defining characteristic of ARE 5.0, so better to take all of the tests as-a-group after studying for all of the tests as-a-group. The penalty for failing one division is low–simply retake it at least 60 days after the fail–so better to be aggressive and take the three-point shot if you’re open. Your goal is to win the game, not to make this particular three-pointer, so work with the odds and know that fortune favors the bold.
We are all busy deadline-oriented people: scheduling the exam first gives you a hard deadline. If 18 weeks sounds too short, you can pick a different time window; if taking all the exams at once is not possible for you, that’s fine too. Remember that as a subscription service, we make more money if we can convince you to drag this process out longer. Our goal, however, is to get you licensed as quickly as possible so we encourage an aggressive testing schedule.
If you’re not feeling aggressive and don’t want to follow the all-exams-at-once path, that’s fine. . . but get at least one exam on your calendar. Exam durations in the testing center vary between divisions, but fall in the 3.5-hour range, plus the 30 or more minutes it takes to get you queued, checked in and booted up on the computer. Each exam division will cost you $235. To sign up for your exams: log in to My NCARB and click on your NCARB Record.
7. Study and Sit for the Exams
Study. How should you do that and where to begin? Enroll in the Amber Book online animated video course. That’s all you’ll need for your next attempt at each division; it’s a shortcut, but it’s not short.
Search for “Amber” on the NCARB Community forum to see what others are saying about us, or just ask around at the office and believe what your colleagues tell you. We’ve helped more than 17,000 emerging professionals before you, and we can help you too.
8. Retake Any Fails Without Hesitation or Wallowing
Failed divisions can be retaken after a 60-day waiting period (but no more than three total attempts in a 12-month window). NCARB will send you a “Fail Report” when you don’t pass an exam: unless that fail report suggests that you failed spectacularly, schedule the retakes for the first available spot and take the test again.
At this point, most people watch the Amber Book course videos again, but if you think that you understood the content and don’t need a refresher, you should cancel your subscription and start pursuing other study materials specific to the exams you are retaking.
Click here to schedule a free 20-minute Zoom call with us and ask us more about the exam process. We love to help people get licensed.
As long as you are not failing spectacularly, keep retaking every 60 days. Don’t tell people or post that you are taking an exam because if you fail it sets up an awkward conversation when they ask you about your day in the testing center. Instead, tell everyone only after you’ve passed a division and keep the fails to yourself.
9. Go Celebrate!
Once you’ve passed all the exam divisions, go celebrate with the loved ones you ignored while you were studying. Then, let me know too at firstname.lastname@example.org.