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What's The Deal With ARE 5.0 Study Material?

NALSA participated in the NCARB test prep provider meeting in the spring. While we learned some very important things, we were also left with some big questions. How will candidates prepare for this exam, and how will NALSA help them do it effectively?


By design, we do NOT have a release date for our ARE 5.0 study tools. Our objective is not to be first to market, but to provide the most effective study tools possible. This is our challenge. We've heard the chatter about ARE 5.0 study materials from various test prep companies. To buy, or not to buy? It's a legitimate question, and many candidates are justifiably skeptical.


New ARE 5.0 divisions and subject matter mean that simply repackaging ARE 4.0 content will leave gaps in content coverage, and sample quiz questions aren't going to cut it. More importantly, the way candidates will be tested requires understanding complex topics across multiple divisions.


The new ARE 5.0 testing model makes it easy for NCARB to test a candidate's knowledge about a specific topic from the perspective of any division, relative to any phase of a project, and at any level of cognitive complexity. This makes preparing for any single division much more challenging for a candidate.



ARE 5.0 requires a different approach to studying. Here's why.
Vignettes aside, ARE 4.0 tests candidates from six distinct repositories of information. Questions about site design are in the SPD division. Questions about construction documents are in, you guessed it, the CDS division. This compartmentalization makes studying fairly straightforward.


ARE 5.0 on the other hand tests holistically. This was evident in the transition calculator, and is confirmed by the ARE 5.0 Handbook. Most ARE 5.0 divisions include content from several ARE 4.0 divisions. For example, in ARE 5.0 the Project Planning & Design division includes content from five ARE 4.0 divisions; SPD, BDCS, SS, BS, and SD. The content is no longer isolated within each division.


Let's take the topic of project delivery methods as just one example.  


 ARE 4.0: Project Delivery Methods ARE 5.0: Project Delivery Methods
 Construction Documents & Services Practice Management
  Project Management 
  Project Development & Documentation
  Construction & Evaluation


The difference is that each of the ARE 5.0 divisions deal with the topic of project delivery methods somewhat differently. For example:

PcM: Which project delivery method is appropriate for a particular project?

PjM: What documents are required for a particular project delivery method?

PDD: How does the project delivery method affect the drawing set?

CE: What are the architect's preconstruction responsibilities based on delivery method?


Let's look at project delivery methods in terms of ARE 4.0 vs. ARE 5.0.

NCARB sample ARE 4.0 question:

A local bank has a budget of $30,000,000 to construct a new main office. The bank wants to use contractors who are customers of the bank; however, none of the bank's contractor customers can bond the entire amount of the contract. Which of the following delivery methods would be best suited to meeting the bank's contractor selection goal?

□ Design-build
□ Fast-track
■ Multiple prime contractors
□ Additive change orders

Makes sense, right? The question is clearly from the Construction Documents & Services division. It has a relatively low level of cognitive complexity, and assessing one factor in the question leads you to a single best answer choice. 



NCARB sample ARE 5.0 question:


An architecture firm is expanding into the healthcare market and has been selected to design a new hospital building on a previously undeveloped site. The client requires a design-bid-build delivery method be used. When preparing the proposal for professional services, which factors should the architect consider? Check the three that apply.

□ Capabilities of the contractor
□ Requirements for a brownfield site assessment
■ Level of risk associated with the project
■ Project schedule
□ Guaranteed maximum price (GMP)
■ Specialty consultants required


Is this question from the Practice Management (PcM) division or the Project Management (PjM) division?

It has a high level of cognitive complexity, there are several variables to consider, and a candidate must select multiple correct answer choices. This question is from Practice Management (PcM). However, modify one or two variables in the question and you might find it in almost any ARE 5.0 division.




What does all of this mean to ARE 5.0 candidates?

It means that, among many topics, candidates must understand project delivery methods in preparation for at least four ARE 5.0 divisions. Candidates study for one division at a time. How will a candidate study a topic like project delivery methods from the narrow perspective of each division?


As a means to better assess the ability of a candidate to practice architecture, the new ARE 5.0 format, subject matter, and item types all seem like a step in the right direction. Great, right? For the health of architecture as a whole, perhaps. But, for candidates trying to pass the test? Maybe not.


Other than having on-the-job experience in every facet of practicing architecture, the challenge for candidates is, how to prepare for any single division? NALSA's objective is to design and deliver effective content that will prepare candidates for success on ARE 5.0 – that's what we're working on.

Graphic Vignettes: Metaphorically Speaking

Solving a vignette is very similar to baking. Consider this. Each vignette is an item to bake. Building Section Bread, Mechanical & Electrical Plan Pie. Stair Design Soufflé. Follow the recipe exactly and it'll be delicious. Seriously, stick with this for a minute. 


Think of it this way. The NCARB vignette practice software is like an ARE test kitchen and you are going to bake a graphic vignette. Let's say, a Building Layout Birthday Cake. NCARB gives you everything you need!



Most cakes have the same fundamental ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs. So does the Building Layout vignette; doors, windows, stairs, corridors, an elevator, bathrooms, a high space with two exits, a view, etc.



Cakes are made by carefully following a recipe. Likewise, the Building Layout vignette is solved by following NCARB's program. The view is to the north, face main entrance to the west, R must be near L, direct access from LR to MP, etc.



Does the recipe call for nuts? How many eggs? What temperature oven? How long should it bake?
To solve any vignette correctly, use NCARB's ingredients and follow their recipe.



A few variations in the ingredients and the recipe results in a very different kind of cake. 

Here's the key. On test day NCARB won't ask you to bake them a Building Layout Birthday Cake. They'll ask you to bake them a Building Layout Fruit Cake, Coffee Cake, Bundt Cake, or whatever. No sweat! The fundamentals are the same. You know you're going to bake a cake.

Same thing with Building Section Bread. Rye, Pumpernickel, or Pita? No matter. You know you're going to bake some bread.




The NALSA Practice Vignettes work the same way. Use NCARB's kitchen, tools and ingredients, but follow the NALSA recipe. With practice, you will learn how to follow any recipe with delicious results.

You get the idea. Check out the NALSA ARE Blog posts for more tips and insight.


Now, get into the kitchen!

ARE Nameophone Challenge

ARE Nameophone Challenge WIN a FREE NALSA Division Package and Archiflash iPhone/iPad App.

Here's a fun distraction from studying. It's called "The Nameophone Game," and at NALSA, we're obsessed with it. A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. A Nameophone is just like a homophone, but with names. Think of a person's name that means something else. Here are a few classics:

Paige Turner
Bill Board
Justin Time


You get the idea. Now, how does this relate to the ARE? It doesn't, really. But we've come up with a few architecture and construction related nameophones:

Belle Tower
Millie Meter
Russ T. Nail
Kerry Attid
Paulie Urethane
Matt Finnish
Archie Texture - Yeah, it's a stretch...


It's addicting. Send your best architecture-related nameophones to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . On May 5th, 2016, the NALSA crew will vote for our favorite. If you're the winner, we'll set you up with the NALSA Division Package of your choice, and an Archiflash iPhone/iPad app for free! Spread the word.

UPDATED: What You Need To Know About ARE 5.0 NOW

After attending the NCARB ARE Test Prep Provider Conference in March 2016, we have a lot to share. We did our best to consolidate the top takeaways of our 2-day experience into one exciting blog post. We'll all embrace ARE 5.0 eventually, but first...


1 - Test in ARE 4.0.

  • If you are currently testing in ARE 4.0, continue, no additional action is necessary.
  • If you haven't started testing, become eligible to test in 4.0 before 5.0 launches on November 1, 2016. You don't have to take a 4.0 exam before 5.0 launches, you just need your eligibility to test prior to the launch of 5.0. Then you have the choice of self-transitioning at any time until June 2018.
  • Only candidates who gain eligibility to test after 5.0 launches are required to test in 5.0.


2 - NCARB has stated that candidates will like ARE 5.0 because there are no vignettes and only 6 divisions, but we're not convinced that the difference is so cut and dry.

  • In the world of ARE 4.0, candidates are familiar with the two distinct sections. First, multiple choice questions that test what you remember about a specific topic at varying degrees of difficulty. Second, graphic vignettes which are well understood, and the only part of ARE 4.0 that can be practiced and completed successfully with a high degree of certainty (provided that you have the proper study tools). ARE 5.0 introduces a new style of questioning. NCARB is expecting candidates to have an assumed base level of knowledge in order to answer questions at a higher level of cognitive complexity.


Here is a simplified example.

ARE 4.0: On a standard traffic light, what three colors are represented?

A. Red, blue, orange

B. Red, yellow, blue

C. Red, yellow, green           ANSWER

D. Red, blue, green 

Rationale: Only knowledge of the facts is required to answer correctly. No understanding of traffic light functionality is necessary.


ARE 5.0: On a standard traffic light at a four-way intersection, the red lights are flashing in all directions. Two drivers meet at the intersection. Which of the following is the correct scenario?

A. The driver on the left must yield right-of-way to the driver on the right.

B. The driver second to arrive at the intersection must yield to the first driver.

C. If the drivers arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left must yield.

D. If the drivers arrive simultaneously from opposite directions, the driver turning left must yield.           ANSWER

Rationale: A judgment or determination regarding a set of criteria must be made to answer correctly. Answer D is true in all cases.

A. The driver on the left must yield right-of-way to the driver on the right. This is true, but is required only if they arrive simultaneously, are perpendicular to one another, they will cross paths, or they want to go the same direction.
B. The driver second to arrive at the intersection must yield to the first driver. This is true, but is required only if they are perpendicular to one another, will cross paths or if they both want to go the same direction.
C. If the drivers arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left must yield. This is true unless the drivers arrive from opposite directions.


  • Because of the associated resource material required to answer the questions, Case Studies have the potential to eat up a significant amount of your testing time, but all questions on the exam are weighted equally. You don't get more points for answering one of the Case Study questions correctly vs. answering a Hot Spot question correctly. Take a look at NCARB's Case Study Question Type Video, if you haven't already. Additionally, any of the ARE 5.0 questions types, including Hot Spots and Drag and Place, may be used in Case Studies.
  • Two of the new ARE 5.0 divisions, Practice Management and Project Management, cover topics that are barely touched on in 4.0. For example, Practice Management will require knowledge about topics such as Profit & Loss, Revenue/Expenses, Payroll, Employment Laws, Business Planning, and Negotiating Contracts.
  • For those candidates planning to Finish in Five by taking PPP, CDS and SPD in 4.0, the two ARE 5.0 transition divisions are the biggest and potentially the most difficult. Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation are each composed of 120 items and cover information from all but one 4.0 division. Please consider this if you're planning to transition.


3 - If you insist on taking ARE 5.0, wait 6 months.

  • For the first few months, it will take longer for candidates to receive results. NCARB needs a certain number of candidates to test before they can say with certainty what score constitutes a PASS. Why be a guinea pig?
  • Until ARE 5.0 is finalized and vetted, study material availability will not be comprehensive.
  • Give yourself time to fail. The 60-day retake rule still applies, and your rolling clock remains in effect throughout this transition.



We've fielded a number of ARE 5.0 questions from confused candidates. If this blog post hasn't cleared things up for you, PLEASE This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We have a pretty good grasp of the new exam.

Stay tuned. As we learn more, we'll share ASAP.

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