March 29, 2021

My Arduous Journey to Architectural Licensure

Matt Avard Working At The Office

From a very early age, I knew I wanted to be an architect. What no one tells you when you’re young is what an undertaking it will be. Step one is going to college and getting a Bachelor or Master of Architecture Degree. Second, is working under a supervising architect which will give you the experience you need to be eligible in starting your Architectural Registration Examination (ARE). Finally, once you pass every exam you can register for a license and officially be called an “Architect”. On average, this takes people about twelve and a half years. 9-year-old Matt had no idea what he was getting himself into!

In early 2016, I applied to start my licensing exams. The ARE is comprised of multiple exams, six of them to be exact. The moment you pass the first exam, your timer starts, and you must pass all exams within five years. If you do not pass the exams within the given timeline, the first test you took will expire, requiring you to retake that exam. Going through this process is a lot of pressure because five years sounds like plenty of time to complete all exams, but once you get into it, you realize how quickly five years go. In addition to studying for the ARE, I am a husband to the love of my life, Amanda, father of two beautiful children, Daphne and Tavin, friend to many, and an Architect-in-Training/Project Manager at CWG Architecture. Life does not stop just because you are studying for the ARE and licensure does not fall into your lap. You have to buckle down and sacrifice a lot. I have wanted this for the last 28 years and worked hard at it, but there have also been many detours along the way.  

My testing experience hasn’t exactly been straightforward. As of now, I have passed two out of the six exams. I’m currently focusing on the four tests that deal with professional practice and operating an architecture firm. Taking the first exam set up unrealistic expectations for the remaining exams. I passed it on the first try and felt prepared to tackle the remaining 5. After failing my second exam, it knocked the wind out of my sails. I felt extremely discouraged and wanted to quit but knew that I needed to keep pushing forward. It wasn’t until the third time taking the second exam that I passed. As fate and the “Rule of Three” would have it, I am now on the third retake of my third and fourth exams. The third failure gave me more determination than ever to buckle down and pass these exams. Through this journey, I have faced many obstacles, including exam failure and juggling the other facets of my life, but nothing could prepare me for the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused me to lose close to a year’s worth of time with testing centers being closed and/or limiting the number of people allowed in the centers. To limit further stress, I decided to take the year of 2020 off and reevaluate when the testing centers reopened. Now that they’re open and provisions have been put in place, I am back to studying and preparing to retake exams three and four.

From my experience, here are a few tips I’d like to share about the Architectural Registration Exams:

Get your family and friends involved early in your journey to licensure.

Explain to them the importance of what this means to you and what it will eventually mean for your family. It took my kids a while to adjust to me studying for my exams. They just want to spend time with their dad, which has been the biggest challenge I have faced throughout this process. I use part of my study time to explain and teach my kids which elements of the architectural practice I am learning. Explaining these architectural concepts to a 12 and 10-year-old helps me recall information later and gives me reassurance that I’m comprehending what I’m learning. Plus, it gets them involved and engaged with the licensure process and what I’m spending my time doing.

You’re not alone on this journey, others just like you are going through the same difficulties and asking the same questions.

What information should I start studying, where do I start, or which exam should I start studying for?” There may be other people in your office who are studying, that have recently passed an exam, or all the above. This is an opportunity to collaborate and create a study team. I currently study with another person at my firm. We meet during lunch to discuss sections we are reading, take practice exams, watch videos, or listen to audio recordings. I also actively share information and resources with other Architects-in-Training at my office or online study group to help aid in their journey to licensure. Each of us learns and understands information differently, so take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your coworkers, share your lessons learned, or help others that may be struggling with the exam. Each of you is a valuable resource to the other.

“You have to compartmentalize your day.”

A former employer had given me this great advice that I still use to this day, not only for work but for my everyday life. You may ask, “What does this have to do with taking the ARE licensing exams?” Everything. For any designer, there is a fine line between balancing work and personal life. This can become more difficult if you have a family and kids to attend to on top of trying to study. Schedule your study time around daily activities or family events. This will help you compartmentalize your daily routine. You will be surprised at the extra time you will find to study for the exams. At one point, I was maybe studying 8 -10 hours a week, but after compartmentalizing my day I have found time to study anywhere between 18 to 25 hours a week.

The best resource I have come across is the ARE Bootcamp.

I have known about this resource from the start of my journey but was hesitant to join due to the upfront cost. I started the ARE Bootcamp in November of 2020 and my only regret is that I didn’t start it three years ago. It has been a game-changer in my journey to licensure. I have networked with ARE candidates from all over the U.S. and I’m currently studying with other members that are in my Bootcamp group. The main benefit for me is the provided syllabus and accountability from others. My group meets three times a week, even after the ARE boot camp has ended. Most of my time spent with the group is going over practice questions, but we also have good group discussions aimed at helping each other understand the various topics and ideas. I learn more from others when I hear how they understand the content, and I truly believe that this is what helped me the most in passing my latest exam.

There are many more resources available to ARE candidates, but my top 4 choices are:

I also have an honorable mention, there is a Facebook group called ARE Facebook Group. This is a good place to post questions and collaborate with other candidates who can help answer questions or provide resources that will address your questions.  

multiple choice exam

In closing, I’ll say that not every graduate that holds a Master’s degree in architecture is destined to possess the “Architect” title. The architectural profession needs individuals at all levels. Being licensed is not for everyone and that is okay. It takes time and effort to go through the licensure journey, more time than I could have imagined if we’re being honest. I sacrifice time with my family to study for these exams and often miss outdoor adventures like skiing, hiking, or visits to see extended family and friends. In the end, I know it will be worth the sacrifices, but if I could go back and tell my 9-year-old self, one thing it would be, “The journey won’t be easy, but the reward at the end will be worth any hardships in the process!” Good luck with your licensure journey and if you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you are not alone and you can always reach out to me.

Written by: Matt Avard