How to Get Motivated after Failing Your ARE

Starting the ARE exam is hard enough by itself, but retaking after you fail is even tougher.

When I asked the Women Architect Collective what their goals are this year, most of them answered: get motivated again after failing the ARE.

How to Get Motivated after Failing Your ARE Exam

The pass rate on ARE 5.0 ranges from 50% to 61% in 2017 according to NCARB. That means at least 40% of us are failing these exams every single day.

Including me.

So in this post, I’m going to show you the steps you can take to get motivated again after failing the ARE.

So you can pick yourself up and reach your goal of becoming a licensed architect.

Get Motivated After Failing Your ARE

Imagine Failing Your ARE Exam TWICE…

Before I became a licensed architect, I was extremely scared of the Architect Registration exam.

I started my ARE journey back in 2014, but didn’t finish until a couple months before my rolling clock ran out.

It took me a long 4.5 years.

At the beginning, I was really confident about these exams. Until in September 2016, I failed my SPD exam - the first exam I ever failed in my life.

Failing ARE 5.0 | Joann Lui

I was always a straight A student. I always do my best on everything I do - aka a perfectionist.

So failing the same exam twice was like a knife stabbed in my heart.

I was ashamed to tell everyone that I failed.

For the next 6 months, I rescheduled my retake for SPD over and over again.

I dragged my feet. Gave myself every excuse in the world to avoid the tests.

Have a deadline at work? Let’s rescheduled.

Got a little sneeze? Let’s rescheduled.

Haven’t studied enough? Let’s rescheduled.

At the end, it took me 6 months of rescheduling to retake SPD. But when I took it again in March 2017, I failed. Again.

With my second fail, I completely lost my motivation to finish my ARE. Not to mention how much money I wasted on rescheduling.

I procrastinated, stressed about it, worried if I’ll ever finish, and procrastinated even more for almost a whole year.

But when my rolling clock started kicking in, I knew it was time for me to finish what I have started.

Passing ARE 5.0 | Joann Lui

So in Jan 2018, I passed my third SPD attempt! And subsequently passed my last two exams - PPD & PDD in June.

Getting motivated again wasn’t easy. Motivation isn’t a gift that you can ask Santa for.

But along the way I’ve found some helpful tips to get my motivation back and I hope these tips can help you pick yourself up again to finish the ARE exam.

01. Surround Yourself with Very Positive People

This is so important, but no one really thinks about it hard enough.

I only got motivated again to take the exam when my closest coworker Mitts encouraged me to take it together with her.

We didn’t study together as we both like studying alone, but we supported each other everyday to go through it together.

I also made sure to let my family and friends know that I’m busy taking exams.

All of them are very understand and supportive of my career so I don’t have to feel guilty missing a birthday party or holiday dinner if I have to study.

Career gurus out there always say surround yourself with 5 people that you want to become.

But I think it’s even more important to surround yourself with positive people (even just one) that push you through difficult times.

02. Accept Your Fear

If you look deeply inside, you’ll realize the reason that you’re procrastinating is because of fear.

  • You’re scared that you’ll fail again.

  • You’re scared that by failing again it proves that you can’t be an architect.

  • You’re scared that you’re gonna lose more money if you fail one more time.

What’s the biggest reason a guy won’t go up to an attractive girl to ask for her number? He’s scared that she’ll say no.

But how do we get rid of fear? We don’t. It’s normal to be scared of something that you care.

The only thing we can do is accept it. Accept that we’re scared of failing. After all, architects are all smart people so failing really isn’t an easy feeling for most of us.

Once I accepted my fear of failure, I was able to work with my fear to get back on studying.

Failing is just a temporary stage. If you never try because you’re scared of failing, you’d never know if you’ll ever succeed. The next girl might say yes.

The next exam might be a pass.

03. Remember You’re Not the Only One

Like I said before, at least 40% of us fail the ARE. So you’re definitely not the only one.

There’re many communities online where you can find others who might be in the same boat with you. Here are just a few:

  • The ARE Facebook Group by Young Architect

    • This is a great group of people who’re either currently taking the ARE or staying around after they finished the ARE. When I was taking the exams, I was actively posting on the ARE Facebook Group asking questions, seeking advice, and helping others on their test. Michael —- also has a blog young architect that provides a lot of helpful information on the ARE.

  • ARE 5.0 community by NCARB

    • If you have any questions for NCARB, you can post it here and one of their community managers usually answer it. A lot of people also post their pass and fail experience on the community so it’s good to see what others are going through as well!

  • ARE Coach

    • This is one of the earliest ARE forums out there and I started using it back in 2014 when I started my exams. Everyone on the forum is super helpful and resourceful. You can also sell and buy used ARE materials on there.

Women Architects Collective

While we’re not an ARE focused community, a lot of women in WAC are taking their exams. Actually this post was inspired by a lot of women architects that said they wanted to get motivated to take their ARE again. If you’d like to be around a large community of dedicated young women, you can join it right here.

There is no reason to be alone on this journey. When you’re in a group of like-minded people, you’re more likely to succeed.

04. Prioritize Your Weaknesses

After failing an exam, the first thing I did was reading through the ARE Score Report. While NCARB doesn’t show you the exact questions you failed, they do let you know the specific categories that you failed.

ARE Scorecard | Joann Lui

With that, you know exactly what you need to study more on.

I encourage you to study the whole exam again when you retake your tests. It’s good to know what your weaknesses are and focus on those a little more.

This is the strategy I used every time before I start studying for any exams.

First, I would go through the specific exam in the ARE Handbook.

Let’s say I’m taking the PPD - Project Planning & Design and these are the sections that are listed in the exam handbook:

  • SECTION 1: Environmental Conditions & Context

  • SECTION 2: Codes & Regulations

  • SECTION 3: Building Systems, Materials, & Assemblies

  • SECTION 4: Project Integration of Program & Systems

  • SECTION 5: Project Costs & Budgeting

Right away I know I have studied for SPD 3 times for my retakes, so the first section - Environmental Conditions & Context I’m pretty confident with.

I also know that I’m very well versed in the second part - code & regulations - it’s what I do everyday. I know I can read IBC if they give me a case study and I have memorized most of the ADA dimensions that we use in a daily basis.

The only 3 sections left are the ones that I focused most of my efforts on because I knew those were going to be my weaknesses, especially MEP systems.

So my study strategy was clear and simple. I prioritize my weaknesses first so I have more time to study for them.

I can’t stress this point enough - especially if you failed your exam once already. Without identifying your weaknesses & strengths first, you’re just going to spend a lot of time on things that you already know.

Prioritize your weaknesses. Then when you have time, go through the other topics.

05. Stop Making Excuses

  • “It’s too hard.”

  • “I’m too busy.”

  • “I have to travel for work.”

  • “I just can’t find the time to study.”

...Sounds familiar? We’ve all made an excuse as to why we’re not study. Why we haven’t scheduled that exam.

Trust me I’ve been there. I have made every excuse in the world to avoid retaking these tests.

When my friends asked me when I’m gonna retake the test, I would get defensive and made up an excuse - usually “I don’t have time” - to brush it off.

But soon l realized all these excuses didn’t matter.

  • It doesn’t matter if it’s too hard - it’s a difficult journey for everyone that’s why we’re here for you.

  • It doesn’t matter if you’re too busy - life will get in the way more and more if you let it.

  • It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work - you can study on the plane, in the hotel, at the airport waiting to board.

  • It doesn’t matter if you can’t find time to study - most of us work full time job, some has kids, some has to teach, but they get it done. So why can’t you?

Let’s start making progress and stop making excuses!

06. Set a Deadline

I suffer from a big case of indecisiveness, and every time I go schedule my exam a million questions run through my mind.

  • What if I should’ve taken another exam first?

  • What if I’m not ready by the time the exam date comes?

  • What if my project deadlines land on the week of the exam?

It was even worse when I failed my exam.

  • What if I fail again this time?

I start to feel anxious, nervous, even when I’m just looking up a time to schedule one exam.

  • What if I can’t wake up that day?

After many years of flip flopping, not making decisions, letting it ride…

Set a deadline

I had to do something with this indecisiveness.

I started setting a deadline for everything I can’t decide on. As architects, we’re really good at meeting deadlines. It’s almost like our whole architecture school was just to train us on how to meet deadlines.

So when I can’t decide on something - an exam date for example, I put a task on my calendar on a random date to schedule an exam.

When that date rolls around, I have had enough time (usually 1-2 weeks) to accept the panic and all the worse case scenarios I have played in my head. At this point, I feel pretty confident to make a decision and schedule an exam.

This method works not only for the ARE, but pretty much everything you can’t decide on. If you’re an indecisive person like me, I encourage you to try setting a deadline for yourself.

07. Remember the Why

Why do you want to finish the ARE? Did you ever ask yourself that question?

  • Is it to get a promotion at work?

  • Or has it always been your dream to become a licensed architect since you were a little kid?

  • Or you just want to get over it so you can spend more time with your family?

There are no right or wrong answer. I wanted to finish it because I am simply stubborn so I have to finish what I started.

My stubbornness drove me to finish the exams.

ARE  Study Books

But my love for architecture gave me joy while studying for the exams.

If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be able to get through the fear.

If you don’t actually love being an architect, can you really read through all these books?

Here’s the deal - anything we do out of fear won’t last long.

If you’re always checking your significant other’s phone because you’re scared they’re cheating on you, that relationship won’t last forever.

Decisions that you made on the basis of love are powerful.

I wouldn’t spend all these time studying if I didn’t love architecture and want to become a better architect from learning.

Don’t let fear stop you - take action. Fear is just a feeling. It’s often not real, but the actions you take are.

Now it’s your turn!

Let’s hear about your ARE story.

Which tip from this list are you going to start with to get motivated with your ARE?

Do you have other tips that you want to share?

What advice do you have for others to get motivated again after they fail the ARE?

ExamsJoann Lui1 Comment