Taking The ARE’s In The Midst Of A Pandemic

2020 was a year for the books in practically every aspect. While the country was introduced and subsequently adjusting to the impacts of COVID-19, many of our colleagues, friends, and family members had to adapt their personal and professional routines. For many this meant beginning teleworking from home and for others it meant being laid off or finding new work opportunities.

For those emerging architects beginning the process of or in the midst of gaining their licensure, it also meant re-evaluating and altering their testing strategies. In early 2020 we saw the pandemic escalate drastically and by the time March came around, most areas were experiencing shutdowns and mandatory shelter-in-place protocols affecting testing centers around the country. For several months ARE candidates were unable to schedule their exams due to the closures and once the testing centers were finally able to reopen, the candidates began experiencing the new complexities of professional testing in the midst of a pandemic.

Testing centers, like many other businesses, introduced protocols such as social distancing and reduced number of visitors allowed at the same time, but many candidates also found that the complexities spread to other facets of their ARE strategies. Cafes, libraries, and other public gathering spaces that candidates often utilize for studying were still experiencing closures for much of the year. Social distancing and quarantining limited the ability for groups to study in-person. Early data from NCARB is showing that there was a significant drop in the amount of testing being conducted and ultimately affecting the number of licenses gained around the country. 2,619 exams were conducted in 2020 compared to the 3,909 completed in the year prior. Similarly, the data shows the average time to complete the exams increase from 2.3 years to 2.6 years between the years 2019 and 2020.[1]

As the Pandemic carried on through the year and into 2021, many changes were introduced to the testing experience bringing about new constraints, but also bringing several new and convenient benefits. In early 2020 NCARB made changes and adjustments to acknowledge the difficulties of testing during the pandemic:

1. Rolling Clock Extensions

NCARB issued a total of a 15-month rolling clock extension to all exam scores that were valid as of March 1, 2020. This ensures that no exam scores are impacted by the rolling clock until June 2021 at the earliest.[2]

2. Adjusted Rescheduling Fees

Rescheduling fees were waived from mid-March through December 31, 2020. Starting January 1, 2021, rescheduling fees were reinstated at a reduced rate.[3]

In December 2020, NCARB introduced the ability to take the ARE exams online and remotely. While this effort was already in the making and not in direct response to COVID-19, the pandemic did add pressure for the roll out of the new testing option. To assure consistent testing experiences, regardless if done at a testing center or done remotely, they also introduced several additional changes:

3. Introduction of Digital Whiteboard / Elimination of Scrap Paper

Regardless of exam location, the use of any kind of scrap or scratch paper is no longer           allowed. In lieu of this, there is now a tool in the testing interface that candidates can utilize. It allows you to create shapes, type text, or draw with a pencil tool. Candidates can check this out by practicing in the Demonstration Exam.[4]

4. Reduced Number of Exam Questions

NCARB has removed the majority of  “pretest” questions (new items in the testing stage of development) from each division of the exam, resulting in 20 fewer exam items in each division (15 fewer items for PcM).[5]

5. Exam Duration

Candidates are being given more time per item on each division. Because the reduction in the number of items is proportionally larger than the reduction in test time, candidates have more time to consider each item.[6]

6. Break Extension / Locked Items

The optional break time has doubled from 15 minutes to 30 minutes in each division of the ARE, however candidates should be aware that all items that were viewed (not answered) prior to taking the break will be locked after the break. This means candidates will not be able to revisit, edit, or answer any items they saw before their break. Candidates should plan to review their progress and edit answers prior to taking their break.[7]

7. Online Proctoring

As of December 2020, candidates are able to register for each ARE division to take online and remotely. In order to do this, several requirements must be met:[8]

Computer/System Requirements

  • Computer can be either a laptop or desktop, but must be either a MacOS or Windows operating system.
  • It is recommended that your monitor size is 19 inches or larger (dual monitor set-up is not authorized)
  • Must have a microphone and camera (candidates will be observed for the duration of the exam) Headphones are not authorized. Camera must show a 360 degree view of your testing area.
  • Direct ethernet connection is recommended, but wifi is accepted as long as the internet connection is a minimum of 3 mbps.

Physical Environment Requirements

  • Candidates must test in an indoor, distraction free, and quiet space.
  • Testing rooms should have a door that can be closed with no other people or animals in the room.
  • The room should be well lit, but windows must be covered to minimize distractions.
  • Computer must be on the work surface with all allowed connected cables visible and all unauthorized objects removed
  • Testing room must be free of any cell phones or other electronic devices, calculators, paper or notebooks, books or study materials, purses, food or drinks, and tobacco products.

Test Run

  • Candidates must schedule and complete a “Test Run” with the testing center well before scheduling the exam to confirm their computer and testing environment meet all requirements.
  • For a comprehensive list of requirements, please refer to NCARB’s “Guide to Online Proctoring”, “ARE 5 Guidelines”, and “ARE 5 Handbook”
  • The Test Run is free and allows the candidates the opportunity to get familiar with the online testing platform before their exam.


  • Any candidate who completes the Test Run and successfully schedules their first online proctored exam will receive a $50 online gift card rebate.

8. Exam Delivery is Moving to PSI

NCARB will be moving from Prometric testing centers proctoring the ARE’s to PSI. NCARB originally announced that this move would occur in early 2021, but just recently announced that they have delayed this move until summer of 2022. Candidates should be on the look out for more information regarding this move as NCARB issues more updates. Currently there is a Prometric Testing Center in Williston, VT. As of now, the nearest PSI locations are in Albany, NY, Springfield, MA, and Framingham, ME.[9]

Many of the changes explained above will remain in place moving forward and will not be reverted in response to any COVID-19 mitigation. As vaccination levels go up and commerce returns to normal, hopefully Emerging Professionals will begin testing and becoming licensed more in 2021! Candidates can find much more information regarding the changes in the resources referenced in this article.

As a reminder to our studying Associate AIA-VT members, the EPN has a collection of ARE study materials and resources that are free to borrow and utilize. Feel free to reach out to Sarah O Donnell, our Executive Director or myself, the EPN Director, to inquire about or request these materials. Local libraries can also be used for inter-library loan for several books and study material, as well. Additionally, be sure to inquire with your firm to see if they offer any study materials or offer incentives or stipends for exams or studying materials.

Best of luck to any of our studying EPN’s!