Want To Understand The 7 Exams Better For the ARE? Group Them.

A few weeks ago, we talked about all 7 divisions of the Architect Registration Exam on the ARE podcast including which order we recommend you take the exams. Today, I’d like to take a look at grouping the exams and make a recommendation on which ones to start first.


When I took the ARE some years ago, there were 9 exams. I began taking the exams right after they implemented the new format, transitioning to a computer based format. I never had a game plan when I started to take the exams. In my defense, I was in unchartered waters as the entire exam transitioned from pencil and paper at this time so information was minimal and this was before the explosion of the internet.

I started with Programming because it sounded easiest to me at the time (with absolutely nothing to base that on). The lack of strategy didn’t work because not only did I not pass, I later found out that the Programming exam at the time encompassed content from several of the other divisions of the ARE.

I never sat down and grouped the exams together to see which ones might have overlapping or similar content. I wish I had because it took me 7 years to complete the Architect Registration Exam and if I did a little more planning and strategizing up front, I know I would have knocked out the ARE much, much sooner.

Currently, there are 7 exams for the ARE. 6 of the 7 exams consists of both a multiple choice format and graphic vignette problems to solve. Schematic Design is the only exam that consists of only solving Graphic Solutions.

So let’s take a look at grouping the exams together as this will help in formulating a game plan. We’ll put them in three groups;

• Easier Exams (Not Easy)

• Harder Exams

• Graphics Only Exam

The “Easier” Exams consist of:

1. SPD – Site Planning and Design

2. PPP – Programming, Planning, and Practice

3. CDS – Construction Documents and Services

The “Harder” Exams consist of:

1. BS – Building Systems

2. SS – Structural Systems

3. BDCS – Building Design and Construction Systems

The Graphics Only Exam consist of:

1. SD – Schematic Design


So there is the grouping of the exams. Now, I understand that I am taking some liberty with grouping these exams and not everyone will agree with this grouping, but hang in with me here.

Some of you may find Structural Systems to be a breeze, and if you do, congratulations because I’m jealous and you’re in the minority. Most candidates consider the Structural Systems to be one of the most difficult exams.

And by putting an exam in the Easier grouping, I’m not saying it’s an easy exam, because it is not. I’m saying that it is generally easier than Structural Systems or Building Design and Construction Systems for most of us mere mortals.

The other reason I wanted to group the exams this way, is because I wanted to put them in a grouping according to relationship.

As you can see, the Easier Exams all share similar content and concepts related to running an architectural practice and construction documents and services. So by understanding this grouping, you can better plan out your strategy for taking the exams in the Easier Exams grouping.

It would be wise to take the Easier Exams one after the other. I think the order is less important, but taking them in the group will allow you to be prepared for any spillover content from one exam to the next. If I was going to begin taking the exam today, I would start in the following order:


In a future post, I will take a look at each of the exams that make up the Architect Registration Exam in the three groups.

Do you agree or disagree with this grouping? Please let me know your thoughts below?


By |2019-01-21T18:39:50+00:00October 31st, 2013|Categories: NCARB, Study Advice|8 Comments

About the Author:

David Doucette
David Doucette, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP is founder of Architect Exam Prep and CSEprep.com and has been helping candidates successfully prepare for and pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for the last four years. He also hosts a podcast dedicated to preparing for the California Supplemental Exam as well as CSE Video Tips at CSEprep.com.


  1. Avatar
    Rita December 14, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I definitely agree with your 3 groups. That’s why I am anxiously waiting for your roll out on Building System & Structural Systems. Please hurry!

  2. David
    David December 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Rita! we are anxiously awaiting too 🙂 We’re going to start working on SS on January 1 which should take about 6 weeks, then we’ll work on BD which should be about 4 weeks.

    Thanks for the comment and hope you’re having a great holiday!


  3. Avatar
    David June 4, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I agree with the break out of the groups. I also agree that the order is less important but helps with “spillover”. The concern I have is a good number of people have said having taken PPP that you can’t possibly study for the wide array of materials that the test could cover.

  4. David
    David June 6, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Hi David, yes PPP is certainly wide ranging because it does cover some contract stuff, some history and other practical knowledge. I have since revised my order to be CDS < PPP < SPD. That way, if you do CDS first, you'll have a good working knowledge of the contracts for the PPP so you can study all the other stuff for PPP. Thanks for checking out the blog and leaving a comment. Good Luck and keep us posted! David

  5. Avatar
    Jamie July 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

    David, what happened to SS? I see it’s the only one not available now. Seeing as I just got the dreaded *F* on that exam, I’m looking for help anywhere I can find it! Thanks 🙂

  6. David
    David July 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Jamie, we are working on it as we speak. We’ll have it available in mid to late August.

    Thanks, David

  7. Avatar
    ADF September 17, 2014 at 7:28 am

    HI David,
    I’ve taking the site and programing exam and failed. A lot of history was added to the exam. Do you address History to all prep courses?

  8. David
    David October 1, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Hi ADF,

    Sorry to hear that, but hang in there you’ll get it. We do address history in PPP and SPD per NCARB’s exam guide. Stay the course, you will get there!

    Thanks, David

Leave A Comment

15 + 13 =

About Architect Exam Prep LLC

We are two licensed architects who have a love for teaching and helping people get their license.  For the last decade, Architect Exam Prep has helped thousands of candidates pass their AREs through their fun and innovative study guides and coaching programs.

About the A.R.E.

The Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) is an exam of 6 divisions used to assess your knowledge and skills regarding the practice of Architecture. Developed by NCARB, the exam is accepted by every state in the U.S. as a pathway to becoming a Licensed Architect.