Hello Future Architects,
On Friday, November 15th, I was given one of the greatest birthday gifts I have ever received: six passes on the six exams of ARE 5.0! The feeling of knowing that my days of being done with studying, sacrificing Friday nights out, and making the dreaded drives to the local prometric center was indescribably euphoric. My girlfriend and I found out the news 10 minutes before arriving at a vineyard in Temecula, CA. Needless to say, we got unapologetically trashed on wine shortly thereafter.
The ARE 5.0 Community on the NCARB website has been a tremendously useful tool for passing my exams; so much so, that I felt obligated to write a post of my own and pay some positivity and motivation forward to other ARE candidates. This post is about something that I feel is one of the most important things to be aware of while you are on your ARE journey: wellness. This post is NOT about which material is best to use in your studies. There are plenty of posts already on here that I think are more thorough than any study plan I can write, so if you are looking for a list of what to study, you may stop reading now.
Before I begin telling you my “ARE 5.0 Health Plan”, here is a brief history of my work history and a timeline of the tests I passed so you may gauge your work and testing experience against mine:
6 ½ years of combined work experience between 2 architecture firms (from the time I finished the last exam).
All exams passed on the first try (except for C&E) in a 9 ½ month time frame in 2019:
01/29 – Begin Studying
03/01 – PcM – Pass
04/09 – PjM – Pass
05/23 – C&E – Fail
07/02 – P&A – Pass
08/20 – C&E – Pass
11/12 – PPD – Pass
11/14 – PDD – Pass
Conquering the ARE 5.0 was one of the most grueling journeys I have ever put myself through, but now it’s done and totally worth it! I could not have done it had I not stressed the importance of physical, mental, and social wellness each and every day. These are the things I made a priority each day in 2019:
PRINT A CALENDAR
On the day I finally decided to rip off the figurative band-aid that is scheduling the first test, I printed out a blank 2019 calendar. I began on January 29th, then blacked out every day I knew was already reserved for travel, birthdays, holidays, etc. Then, I blocked out an average of 4 ½ weeks of study time for each test, followed by roughly a week of rest. By the time I was done blacking out non-study days and hypothetical test days, it turned out I could be pass every test in less than a year, if accomplished on the first attempt. I held up the calendar in front of me and realized, “hey, I can do this!” Finally, I booked PcM, and kept checking up on my calendar ever since. Once I failed C&E, I made tweaks to the calendar and also started to discover other people’s testimonies of studying for PPD and PDD together and taking each test close together. After tweaking the calendar, I found out I could still be done by my birthday, November 15th. And sure enough, I took the last test on November 14th and celebrated on the 15th.
I didn’t eat like a rabbit for the entirety of 2019, don’t worry. I did become “that guy” in the office who always ate salad for lunch, but was a little less strict on myself for breakfast and dinner. On the weekends, I still treated myself to burgers, fries, pizza, and ice cream. Before each study session, however, I made it a ritual to eat a couple pinches of raw spinach. Spinach gave me a quick boost of energy and helped me stay focused while my nose was in a book. When you eat healthy, you definitely feel it, and it’ll help you read more efficiently and retain more information.
I set my alarm for 5:30 AM every day before work and, if I mustered the strength to leave my cozy bed, I went to the gym and ran. Nothing gets my brain more awake and activated than running. Whenever I ran before work, I was a lot more productive and had a lot more clarity compared to a day when I didn’t run. I could still feel the endorphins running through my body even after work, and I carried that energy into my study sessions.
MUSIC / WHITE NOISE
Whether you study at home, the office, a library, or a coffee shop, there is going to be some sort of distraction of sound around you. Also, if it’s TOO quiet, and can cause sleepiness while reading. During each study session, I listened to one of two things: music or white noise. My music of choice can be found by going to YouTube and looking up the word “Chillhop”. YouTube will give you an endless set of playlists associated with this word. The music selection is filled with relaxing beats, but not too relaxing that it’ll put you to sleep. Also, more importantly, almost none of the tracks had lyrics, it was music only. Whenever I caught myself listening to music with lyrics, it made it impossible to study and hear someone else’s voice at the same time. When I wasn’t listening to music, I busted out my white noise app on my phone. This app played looping audio clips of crashing waves, rain, sprinklers, and rivers. It was just the right type of noise to drown out other noises surrounding me, and it improved my laser focus on the pages I read.
I occasionally drink after work and on the weekends. I did not really change my drinking habits in 2019, except for when it was study time and when it was almost test time. I found out the hard way that having a beer or a glass of wine BEFORE studying is a terrible idea; it made me sleepy and it prevented me from retaining information. Drinking AFTER studying, however, didn’t really have an impact on my ability to recall what I just studied. For at least a week before each test, I quit drinking entirely. This helped me focus a little bit stronger for the final push before test day, and the idea of a post-test drink acted as a dangling carrot of motivation.
Do not study on a couch or a bed…PERIOD. You WILL fall asleep each time. I thought a couch or a bed would make me comfortable and relaxed for reading. I got the part about comfort right, but soft surfaces immediately made me pass out. Instead, I opted for upright dining chairs with hard surfaces. Except for maybe 2 times, I never fell asleep at the dining table.
DON’T DO IT ALONE
What’s equally important as keeping your body in good physically shape is not trying to tackle the ARE monster on your own. I am very fortunate to work at a firm filled with positive people who continually checked in with my testing status and kept me motivated to complete the whole thing. I am also very fortunate to have a girlfriend who kept me disciplined in my studies and made sure I did not slack off each night. I give my social circuits a large chunk of the credit in my completing the ARE.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
There will definitely be some days when you're unable to study. Things like important holidays, birthdays, and other prior commitments will come up and prevent you from studying, and that is OK. There will also be some days, especially when you're in the final days of studying before test day, when you feel mentally beaten to death from all of the required reading and video-watching. Be very self-aware of days like this. When it feels like your mind and body are telling you to sit still and not study one day, LISTEN. You are going to need this day to recharge and feel refreshed for the following day. More than once, I refused to study on nights within a week of test day due to feeling absolutely terrible, and I chose rest over books. Sure enough, the rest paid off and gave me energy to carry me through until test day. No test is worth more than your physical and mental health. If it feels right to take the night off, do it.
THE NIGHT BEFORE, PART I: DON’T STUDY
I never studied the day before a test. Ever. I always studied as much as I could in the final days leading up to a test, made sure I was at a comfortable place in knowing what I knew on the final night of studying, and came to terms with what I knew and did not know. At the point of the last moment of studying, I either knew the facts or I didn’t. This tactic left the night before a test free for relaxation and calming my nerves.
THE NIGHT BEFORE, PART II: MEDITATE
Throughout your weeks of studying, you almost certainly will have feelings of self-doubt. "You're going to fail" and "you're not smart enough" are examples of thoughts that may poison your brain. To combat this, I did a form of meditation before I went to bed the night before each test. I won't go into detail of my method of meditation, but it was basically a tactic of erasing negative thoughts out of my brain. By the end of my mediation session, I felt much more relaxed and confident in myself, and I carried that confidence into the next morning.
TEST DAY: THE MORNING ROUTINE
TEST DAY! This is a very specific routine I followed in the hours before each exam. This method might not work for you, so take it with a grain of salt. Figure out what gets you energized in the morning, and do that every time before getting in the car to your testing center. I took all my tests at 8:00 AM and did the following, beginning at 5:30 AM:
Blast hype music.
Breakfast: spinach, avocado w/ EVOO, cereal, banana, coffee, water.
Go to YouTube and play that scene from Trading Places when Dan Aykroyd gets Eddie Murphy pumped up before entering the trading pit.
Kiss my girlfriend.
Drive to the Prometric center.
SCHEDULE MINI VICTORIES IN ADVANCE
Schedule a celebratory lunch after each test. I opted for the greasy and the savory, and something with alcohol if it was offered. Pass or fail, you’ll have an impossibly delicious meal that’ll make you realize you don’t have to study for a few more days. Knowing you have a nice lunch waiting for you after an exam will give you something to look forward to and be happy about while you’re hitting the books. For one of my tests, my girlfriend even scheduled a surprise day trip to Bryce Canyon the day after taking C&E the first time. Positivity is key while studying!
On day one of your ARE 5.0 journey, you are going to have to look in the mirror and acknowledge to yourself that the final stage to licensure is boring, challenging, and physically and mentally wearing. Studying (almost) every night is going to be a new lifestyle that you are going to have to get used to. The mountain may look steep to climb, but you CAN do this! I didn't think I could pass the ARE 5.0 at first, but all I did was commit to my daily routine of preparation, and I completed it all! If I can do it, you can do it!
Good luck to you all!
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