I recently passed ARE5.0 in five months fresh out of school. Afterwards, I shared some of my tips and study suggestions in a previous post that you can find here:
It come to my attention that there are some misunderstanding about my original posts regarding the exams and the necessity of education/AXP experience, especially from people on the other side of spectrum: folks who have lots of experience but have difficulties passing the exam. Therefore, I think it is essential for me to share my thoughts and clarify my point of view. I hope this may start a good discussion about how to get most out of ARE and AXP for a candidate who are on the track for architectural licensure.
First thing I want to emphasis is the irreplaceable position that formal architectural education stands for gaining basic knowledge of architectural design. From my previous post, I cannot emphasis enough that my university education prepared me with a huge amount of exam contents from planning and designing to technical knowledge such as mechanical and structural systems. I also learned architectural history and theory that may not directly related to my day-to-day work, but indirectly influence my judgments and critical thinking on every design case on hand. Thus, I do not believe a person who graduate with a non-architectural related major and have no architectural experience can pass all divisions of ARE in a short time by simply studying listed materials in the ARE handbook. If they do pass, I do not see why grant him or her a license would be a problem. As many of us know, a huge portion of the listed study materials are actually our textbooks in school or at least a similar version. Let me ask, how many of us who holds an architectural degree actually finish reading them front to back while in school? In fact, this person basically studied the whole architectural curriculum very well and all done by himself/herself. For a folk with such a motivation in architecture, should we doubt his or her ability to protect the health and welfare of the general public? Not mention that him or her will still need to finish AXP and even required to gain more experience before officially licensed as an architect.
As for getting a NAAB accredited degree or not, I think a close analogy would be choosing between store brands and name brands cereals. Both are supposed to fill you up and gives you energy in the morning. However, name brands usually have higher reputation that generally relates to better quality control. I do not mean that store brands cannot be a good or even better value sometimes, but it may take trial and error to figure out. In the case of a person’s higher education, the choice is usually once in a life time, so one do not have too much rooms for errors. Nevertheless, if you ends up buying a bar of cereal scented soap (yes they exist) for breakfast, name brand or not, it will definitely not fulfill your intended propose in any imaginable way and you may ends up in an emergency room. Thus, education also depends on personal choice.
Now, I want to discuss my opinions on working and AXP experience. Needless to say, I am a supporter for decoupling passing exams from gaining experience, and let them as two separate requirements for architectural license. I believe this is also the general direction that more and more US jurisdictions are pursuing. From my observations, ARE and AXP accomplishes two very different aspects in preparing a candidate for architectural licensure: ARE is all about orthodox and comprehensive; AXP, on the other hand, is all about flexibility and expertise. For folks who fresh out of school without too much working experience, taking and passing ARE concludes formal architectural education. The exam also established a comprehensive knowledge base and skill set to practice architecture in a traditional setting. When completing AXP, candidates start to realize how design and practice can either follow or deviate from what considered as “orthodox” in a truly chaotic world. This feeling of uncertainty and complexity develops candidates’ flexibility and expertise so they become more competent and eventually finish the endeavor for the professional licensure. If you follow my logic, you can see that it is actually advantages for people to be able to sit on the ARE before finishing the AXP.
I want to use my recent experience of shop drawing review to further demonstrate my argument. The shop drawings I checked are for a large mix-use commercial project, so some of them can be very complex in nature. Needless to say, I received tremendous amounts of help from both senior level associates and junior level peers. However, before diving deep into specific details, I understand there should be relevant sections of project manual to read through. Also, I have a general idea about how my work fits in the overall flow of construction administration and what are the details I should pay closer attention to. All of which I would not understand if I had not studied for the ARE. In this project, since both the architect and the structural consultant have direct contract with the owner, I observed the influence of this arrangement on the line of communication and on each parties’ responsibility. I also compared this arrangement with the traditional structural engineers as architect’s consultant mode of operation. In other words, the experience of shop review is not one-dimensional anymore. Instead, I gained multiple dimensions of experience that is fun and satisfying. Imagine how frustrated I would be, if I dived deep in the miscellaneous details only to be told later to recheck them because there is a file called project manual in addition to construction drawings that contains specific requirements to pay attention to. Think how confusing I must feel, if I had no idea on why I even need to look at details from fabricators if our issued drawing set already had those included. Do not even ask what conclusions I could draw when witnessed structural engineers communicating directly with the owner as I had no clue about the supposed flow of information in a traditional construction project. Therefore, decupling ARE form AXP have the potential to create a far more fruitful AXP experience for candidates than mandated sequential necessity. When finished the required 3740 hours, the equivalent experience a candidate gain can easily double or triple the base amount.
For folks on the other end of the spectrum, the frustration is also real. It seems that there are so many “common sense” that just do not apply or are not accepted in the context of ARE. In addition, there are so much “unnecessary” information to study that may never appear outside of the exam. There may be people passing ARE by only completion of AXP, but the general consensus is that this situation is almost next to non-exist. The completion of AXP will help passing the ARE to some degree but has never resulted in a definite outcome. Thus, instead of complain about how unfair the exam is, why not considerate it as a great opportunity to back check your current practice and find if there is any room for improvement? With new material and technology developed in an ever increasing speed, why not embrace them and find out how to utilize them in a new way? Or maybe just simply read through newer versions of AIA contract and building codes to familiarize yourself with the current climate of building industry? In ancient time, architects was called “master builder”, giving the position of god’s helper because general public had faith that architects have the full set of knowledge about building houses and temples. When structures gets much more complicated in modern times, architects seek help from consultants forgetting the reason why they were in such a high position originally. Specialty may be unavoidable in an architect’s career development, but it should not be used as an excuse for not having a good set of basic knowledge in all aspects of architectural practice.
As a standard tests itself, ARE definitely had its limitation and draw backs to ensure fairness and comparability for all candidates who sit for the exam. Also, it has always been clear in the ARE handbook that ARE is not testing on how well a candidate can design a building, because what a good design requires should always exceed basic code requirements. Hopefully, AXP will be able to give candidates the final push to conquer the mountain.
There is always a survey question in the end of each ARE division asking if I feel well-prepared for the division through the AXP experience, and my answer has always been “no.” The reason to my answer is not because I depreciate the whole AXP process, but because I consider AXP and ARE as weights on two side of a scale: balanced yet independent. Had there be a question asking me if studying for the ARE will improve my AXP experience, my answer would be undoubtedly a big “YES.”
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