Architalks #31: Seven years of highlighters and post-it notes

This is my monthly contribution for “Architalks”, a network of practicing architects who blog about common topics.  The topic for October is The Registration Exam.  


Really, who wants to read about my experience with the exams?  And do I dare stir up dreary memories from this time in my life?  Ok it goes.


I was an Intern Architect for seven years.  I admit, it was a bit of a shock, to be freshly released from grad school, suddenly faced with the constraints of a relentless office lifestyle.  And then there were the exams.  My non-architect friends were all out there living life, having fun, meeting life partners while I was hunched over either my computer or stacks of binders.


The exams themselves only took me a couple of years.  Nine NCARB exams.  Combined with 7,934.50 hours of work experience to scrape together the required sub-categories of work experience, seven expensive courses at the architectural institute, and an oral review to finish it all off.  That’s what we had to do to become a registered architect in British Columbia in 2002.  Our province has since eliminated the NCARB exams from the process, replacing it instead with a Canadian version called the ExAC.  


The registration exams make me think of the stuffy testing center where I diligently “wrote” (more like clicked away on a screen for hours) my NCARB exams.   It was a horrible hovel of a place, tiny and tucked up in a strange tower at a huge mall out in the suburbs.  I always thought I’d do a bit of shopping after I finished an exam, but that never happened.  The whole experience was gross.  The cramped lobby had dark and worn fake-mahogany office furniture, probably from some kind of enormous office depot.


Once my appointed exam time would arrive, a rude attendant in ill-fitting polyester “office wear” would guide me to an even more horrible testing room with buzzing fluorescent lighting and broken office chairs.  We would be given several hours per exam to complete the endless multiple choice exams.  I spent a lot of time in that room.


It always felt like I was doing time somehow.  Like an abuse that we had to endure, to make sure that we really wanted to be architects.  


Studying for the NCARB exams was a foolish exercise.  Mountains of books to study, yet only a fraction of the material in the books would appear in the exams.  We didn’t really have the resources that are now available online.  There was one online forum that we could check, where members would post complaints, offer tips.  


Once the NCARB exams were through, we also did an “oral review” at our local architectural institute.  This was the most useful exam, and I learned a lot studying for it.  Because the exam was spoken, I found a gang of study buddies and we would fabricate questions and we would talk through our answers and ideas out loud.  


Let me wrap up with a few tips for anyone who might be starting the process of the architectural registration exams:  

  • First of all, just do it.  And do it quickly.  Don’t drag your registration process out for ever like I did.
  • Definitely finish your exams before you have kids, if at all possible.  It’s just easier that way.
  • If you break up from a relationship or something, seize the moments of depression to book some serious study time.  It will send you into a spiral of serious despair.  Why not?  Try it out.
  • Think about how great it will be to actually be able to call yourself an “architect”.  Finally, drop the “intern” from your title.  It’s a big deal.
  • Learning is fun.  Learning is good for you.  It could help prevent you from getting dementia.
  • Learning will not stop, even after your exams are through.  That’s the benefit of being a professional.  You will never be through with enlightenment.  It’s a good thing.
  • Figure out systems for yourself to study.  Try to have some fun with it.  And definitely let yourself nerd out about it.  Fully nerd out.  Get really into colourful pens and office supplies.
  • Don’t give up.  Find study buddies.  Don’t let the exams accentuate the hermit in you.  Make it social.  Find a friend or two that are really good at studying.  They will make you feel lazy if you don’t bury your head in the books.

This is my latest post for “architalks”, a network of practicing architects who blog monthly on common topics.




Please take a moment to read what others have written about the topic:

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
What is the Big Deal about the ARE?

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
what A.R.E. you willing to do 

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Take the architect registration exam, already

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
ARE – The Turnstile

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
the architect registration exam

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I forget

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
The Architecture Registration Exam

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
What is the Benefit of Becoming a Licensed Architect?

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Every Architect’s Agony

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
To do or not to do ?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Test or Task

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Passing the Test

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Part 3!

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
How to Become a Licensed Architect in Italy

  • leecalisti

    October 10, 2017at8:00 pm Reply

    I was thinking that no one I’ve ever spoken with shared their story where the environment was anything becoming or that the endless process of studying was remotely fun. However, it’s the difficult things in life that make us grow and the most satisfying things in life are the ones that are hard, take time and challenge us. Otherwise, it’s a cheap sugar high and we’re bored with no sense of accomplishment. I bet the bad fluorescent lighting hummed or flickered in your testing room. That’s at least the way I picture it.

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