NCARB offered the last paper-based version of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) in June of 1996. It was replaced on February 27, 1997 by a computerized version of what was essentially the same exam. The computerized ARE was initially designed to keep the profession current with new technology, to provide for more consistent and objective grading, to ease state board responsibilities regarding administering an annual exam, and to make the exam more accessible to interns. While many of these objectives have unquestionably been realized, over the past six years we’ve also learned that the computerized ARE in practice is not exactly what the computerized ARE was in theory.
In practice, the ARE has evolved from a genuine threshold into a phase of its own on the increasingly lengthy path to licensure. One of the benefits originally touted for the new computerized ARE was that interns could take the exam ‘whenever they wanted.’ However, now that interns are doing just that, NCARB has chided those same interns for procrastinating. The reality is that “easy to schedule” also means “easy to reschedule,” with heavy day-to-day demands at work and home. While the paper exam was a grueling four-day marathon, it was also a bit like doing your taxes. There was a deadline, and there were lots of other people to help you prepare, and to both commiserate and celebrate with. If you think that interns today are just being lazy by putting off the ARE, ask how many of your friends have filed their 2002 taxes already. As one intern told us recently, “It’s a lonely process.”
Internship is also a crucial time for young people to learn about how things work in the ‘real world’–but NCARB could take a few lessons from the real world as well. And just as in the architecture profession itself, lessons learned after putting our ideas into practice only add to the overall quality of the work we’re able to produce. A small, but growing number of states have recognized this fact and allow their candidates to seamlessly merge internship with examination, thus allowing interns to use the ARE as an educational tool to validate the experience gained throughout the internship process. This idea was a specific recommendation from the 1999 Collateral Internship Summit and was unanimously endorsed three years later by the 2002 National Internship Summit attendees. Yet, no organization has stepped forward to provide leadership on this issue for interns nationally.
For the sake of reference, between 1999 and 2002, the number of ARE candidates increased 52%, while the number of divisions of the ARE administered increased only 21%. In 2002, the number of candidates increased 14%, while the number of divisions administered increased just 3%.
The centerpiece of this issue was originally supposed to be a reprint of an article from the April 1995 issue of Progressive Architecture magazine. Last night, however, one of ArchVoices’ editors was invited to give a presentation at AIA Houston and another opportunity arose. In an attempt to make other voices heard, he passed out the introduction for today’s issue and asked people to respond to it, in writing, by the end of the presentation. He made a specific plea for comments that challenge the ideas in the introduction above, and he received so many responses that we decided to have those responses themselves make up today’s issue. The P/A article is instead posted in full at http://www.archvoices.org/pg.cfm?nid=home&IssueID=1752, and we encourage you to read it along with the following.
The P/A article, published in 1995, poses the question, “Will the new ARE change the profession?” Eight years later, we ask whether the profession will change the new ARE?
“The multi-part exam puzzles me. In some ways, I appreciate the flexibility in scheduling, but in other ways I feel that I underwent all the stress of a huge exam nine times instead of one. I don’t know anyone who feels less pressure because it’s a less comprehensive, more specialized exam. I completed my exams with some sort of shellshock, from which I’m still recovering even though I passed them all the first time. I also wonder how the multi-part exam affects a firm’s ability to support its candidates (duration, randomness), as well as the candidates’ motivation and camaraderie.”
“Licensure has sort of taken a back seat in the profession in general. In some cases, being licensed does not equal being skilled. Many interns move and progress through a company, in some cases to top levels, and having a license never really becomes an issue. I think ‘architecture license’ has become just a footnote in most people’s architecture career.”
“Despite my lack of confidence in IDP and the ARE, I’m working my way through those steps because I’m committed to design and architecture. I think it’s unfortunate that the process leaves so many others with a similar passion behind.”
“I feel that the exam should be organized closer to students’ graduation date, with experience gained after the exam has been taken, much in the same way as other professions. As of right now, the exam is lost amongst the many other responsibilities of interns.”
“Architects learn to supplant personal needs with those of design and practice while in school. Students are TAUGHT to cancel plans, quit jobs, cease relationships (encouraged), and to ignore personal ambitions to meet deadlines. Of course, this behavior continues after graduation, when the student enters a firm. Are we really surprised that career and licensing ambitions are continually postponed while interns struggle to satisfy their employers? Priorities, as dysfunctional as they are in this profession, are learned.”
“It’s a problem that 1) it’s a seven-year process (IDP + ARE), 2) that interns have to stop their lives to make time to study, 3) that older experienced architects are afraid to expose interns to the experiences they need, and 4) that interns are ‘CAD monkeys’ first before architects.”
“In some ways, I feel that the low prestige of the intern out of school did a number on my lasting sense of self-worth. I watched all my fellow university graduates become ‘engineers’, consultants’, and ‘project managers’, while I remained an ‘intern’ for five years.”
“Why is there no recognition to being a registered architect? You can be a PE, RN, MD, LLM, CPA, among many others. Why are we not, ‘John Doe, RA’? I know this feeds on prestige, but it works.”
“I worked at a firm with 125 employees, but just six registered architects. When the culture of the profession has moved away from getting licensed, how much harder is it to do? It’s a vicious circle.”
“I think that architecture firms were more supportive of the time and other needs when 10 or 15 interns were taking the exam all together. Now it’s one here, one there, and it’s like the firm is doing you a favor.”
“The deeper you get into life, the harder it is to take the exam. A friend of mine finished the whole exam in five months, and I said I was going to do the same thing. But I have a child, and finding that much time to study on my own after work was just impossible.”
“When I took the exam, my spouse was incredibly supportive–he cooked, he cleaned. But it’s like buying yourself time over and above all your everyday responsibilities.”
“I understand that taking the exam before you get the required experience might be harder, but it’s also pretty hard to study for the exam as an extra-curricular project in addition to regular work. Because of the way the exam is structured, we can’t take off a single block of time like most other professions.”
“The dwindling number of architects is alarming. I think it is in the best interest of everyone in the architecture community to recognize the problem that statistic raises for the future.”
“If we can’t excite architecture students to pursue ‘a traditional architecture career,’ how can we expect that career to be valued? I appreciate the concern that architects need to know a great deal about a variety of topics in order to effectively take a design through construction. I’m not convinced that the current licensure process ensures that.”
“The mentorship process needs to be stronger. The IDP needs to not be dictated according to a time frame, but according to the industry of architecture the intern chooses to pursue. The additional cost to take the exam plus study material, plus the IDP is outrageous.”
“The exams should be immediately after graduation. In the past the internship was necessary because you had a mentor that would mentor the intern. Today with the computer in the workplace there is no longer the communication with the mentor. Interns are forced to learn on their own. The mentorship does not exist like it did in the past.”
“I’m almost 2 years out of school and have been working in a firm for 18 months. Since I started, only one of about ten eligible interns has taken the ARE (any divisions) and passed.”
“The three-year internship is a joke due to the way an architecture firm works. It is difficult to follow one project from start to finish and beyond. Getting construction administration experience or programming experience is hard when your marketable skills only include AutoCAD/drawing.”
“In my experience, licensure is for the person who wants to start a new company. Only one registered architect is needed for an entire firm.”
“Though I’ve been cornered in the same construction administration/project management task for almost nine months, I’m not bored or worried about my progress (still quick out of school). I was an average student in college and active in AIAS–now active in the Intern/Associate Committee–and tried (still do) to challenge myself to be more assertive.”
“Lucky for me, I have an extremely supportive firm that will let us take days off work to study for the ARE. I’m less reluctant to start than I might be elsewhere. Quality of intern experiences are so hard to gauge, but I think simple aggression is the key. To my surprise, my actions have initiated more action amongst my fellow interns.”
“As someone who just went through and completed the process the old way, I think it’s a great idea that Texas allows interns to take the exam at the same time as fulfilling IDP. This prevents a lot of the useless waiting for paperwork to be processed and allows a continuous effort directly towards licensing. My darkest hours during this process were related to frustration with paperwork, so it would have been nice to intersperse paperwork efforts with exam studying.”
“You would have more people taking the ARE (and passing) if the employers/firms made it a requirement. Apparently, employers don’t really see the benefit in it.”
“The four-year degree can be a huge burden for new graduates. If ‘we’ only made minimum wage, we would have a huge incentive to go back to school for a professional degree. I was told by a registered architect that the best way to go was a four-year degree, a couple years of working, and then back for the masters. If only I didn’t have a truck payment, house note, and other bills to pay.”
“I have found in my experience the AIA is joked about by being called a ‘club.’ I was taught in school that the AIA was the lobbying group installed to help architects get legislation (or other literature) passed by representing the masses. Many ‘non-licensed architects’ don’t want to waste their money on an organization that doesn’t do anything for them.”
“Engineers and interior designers must be kept separate entities, but shouldn’t being an architect encompass all these disciplines? I come from both an interior design (undergrad) and architecture (grad) background. There is often much bias in making the distinction–a designer cannot be an architect and vice versa. I agree that there should not be a distinction, but to do this I decided to get licenses in both. The NCIDQ I.D. licensing exam is a two-day, three-part exam. Though not as broad, it does cover many areas. The ARE was probably best left in this format.”
“I’ve been out of school a year and a half and find it difficult to keep up with the demands at work and allowing time to keep up with IDP and studying for exams. I feel like the importance of licensure is there, only the steps in getting there is difficult. Hopefully, becoming more involved with courses geared towards helping interns prepare for exams will be useful.”