NCARB ARE Exam Guide: What Every Aspiring Architect Needs to Know

December 14, 2023

Did you know that the NCARB Exam, also known as the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), is a significant milestone on the path to becoming a licensed architect? But what exactly is the NCARB exam? How hard is it, and is it worth the time and effort? We are about to unravel the intricate aspects of this crucial step in an architect’s professional journey.

The NCARB exam is not just a test; it’s a validation of years of education, professional experience, and dedication to the craft. With the right knowledge, preparation, and focus, it’s an achievable goal. This comprehensive guide is designed to answer the pressing questions about the NCARB exam and equip you with everything you need to succeed.

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What are the NCARB Exams?

The NCARB Exam, known formally as the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), is developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). It is the principal examination that assesses the knowledge and skills of aspiring architects in the United States, including the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

A Comprehensive Breakdown of the NCARB Exam

Six Divisions of the Exam

The ARE is made up of six divisions that comprehensively cover various aspects of architecture. Candidates must pass all divisions to receive eligibilities to become licensed architects. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Practice Management (PcM): This division focuses on the essentials of running an architectural practice. Topics include business operations, ethics, and law.
  • Project Management (PjM): This area emphasizes project management in the context of an architectural project. Key concepts include contracts, budgeting, and coordination with other stakeholders.
  • Programming & Analysis (PA): In this division, candidates are tested on their ability to conduct site analysis, determine feasibility, and assess environmental impacts.
  • Project Planning & Design (PPD): This area of the exam focuses on the beginning stages of design, including layout, zoning, materials, and integrating building systems.
  • Project Development & Documentation (PDD): This division tests candidates on the ability to integrate and detail project design aspects, including construction documentation.
  • Construction & Evaluation (CE): This section assesses the candidate’s understanding of construction administration, project handover, and post-occupancy evaluation.

Each division has multiple choice questions, case study questions, fill in the blank, drag and place, and “check all that apply” type questions, ensuring a comprehensive assessment of the candidate’s skills.

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Test Formats and PSI Test Centers

The NCARB exam is administered in-person at PSI Test Centers, making it a standardized process across locations. The exam formats include:

  • Multiple Choice Questions: Candidates answer questions with pre-determined choices.
  • Case Studies: Real-world scenarios assess practical knowledge.
  • Drag and Place: Candidates need to position items correctly in a given scenario.

By understanding the structure and content of each division, candidates can better prepare for the NCARB exam and be one step closer to achieving their architectural dreams.

Is NCARB Exam Hard?

The NCARB Exam, with its six divisions, is considered challenging for most people. Each division presents different aspects of architecture and demands a thorough understanding of various subjects. Here’s a closer look at why it’s seen as a difficult exam:

In-Depth Knowledge Required

The exam tests candidates on everything from practice management to construction evaluation. It requires not only theoretical knowledge but also practical understanding. Subjects such as building systems, electrical systems, and project development require a deep dive into technical details.

Comprehensive Study Materials

The breadth and depth of study materials needed for preparation can be overwhelming. Resources ranging from textbooks to practice exams are essential for a complete understanding. Finding and studying these materials takes considerable effort and time.


Don’t just passively read or watch your study materials. Engage with them by taking notes, discussing with peers, or teaching the content to someone else. Active engagement can boost comprehension and retention.

Time Commitment

How long does it take to study for the ARE? Preparing for the exam is a significant time investment. Most candidates spend several months preparing for each division, often balancing it with professional commitments.

What Percentage Do You Need to Pass NCARB Exam?

Passing the NCARB exam requires a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Each division has a different cut score determined by NCARB through a statistical process. Though the exact passing percentage is not publicly disclosed, the scores are set to accurately assess a candidate’s ability to practice architecture safely and competently.

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Is NCARB Certification Worth It?

Pursuing the NCARB certification is a valuable step for anyone looking to become a licensed architect. Here’s why:

  • Professional Recognition: The NCARB certification is a nationally recognized credential that validates your skills and knowledge in architecture.
  • Eligibility for Licensure: Passing the exam is a prerequisite in most states to become a licensed architect. It’s a critical step in meeting the education requirement and gaining professional recognition.
  • Career Advancement: Achieving NCARB certification often opens doors to more significant career opportunities, including leadership roles within firms and the ability to take on more complex projects.

PrepArchitect: Your Partner in Success

At PrepArchitect, we know the journey to passing the NCARB exam can be both challenging and rewarding. That’s why we offer specially curated study materials, practice exams, and resources to guide you every step of the way. With our focus on comprehensive preparation and a user-friendly platform, we aim to make your path to becoming a licensed architect as smooth as possible. Why not give us a try? After all, your success is our success.

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