28 JAN 20 | Marcel passed the ARE exam!

Call me an ARchitEct.

November 25th 2019 ; the day I finished the last of the 7 Architectural Record Exams (ARE’s). The weight that fell off my shoulders after this nearly 4-year battle was indescribable!

Ever since I was in middle school, I played this story in my head that I was not a good test taker. Looking back, it’s difficult to know the source of this story, but it has impacted my entire educational experience. As an architectural designer, I always desired to become a licensed architect. As I set off on this long and arduous journey, the tests stood high as my most challenging obstacles. These tests have a pass rate of 48%, so my self-confidence really took a hit as this reality set in.

I was so frustrated, disillusioned, and exhausted with the whole study process ; so much so that, for my last exam (which I failed 3 times), I did everything possible to pass. I changed my diet, kept a log of my study hours, and slept in our spare bedroom so our 4 dogs would not interrupt my sleep. I stuck to my study calendar as if I was preparing for the Olympics, joined an online study group, cleared everything off my calendar for the next 10 weeks and bought every book that was recommended.

Working full time and spending over 20 hours a week studying, and not getting enough exercise, only added to leading an unbalanced life during this time. It is a massive struggle to spend years studying and have to say “no” to everything: social events, hanging out with friends, spending time with family, etc. There were times during this process where I got so sick of studying that cleaning the refrigerator seemed like a vacation.

What I gained during this time was a group of fellow ARE students that became my friends. I signed up for a program called “Bootcamp” started by Michael Riscica at Young Architects. Michael has put together a stellar syllabus and online study group where people can study together, generate mock exams and bounce questions off each other. Having these “bootcampers” to study with has proved invaluable!!


3 years, 11 months (almost another college degree)
$8000 (a good second hand Prius)
2500 hours of studying (that more than one year of full-time employment!)
5 hour-long exams (three good movies)
7 tests passed
14 test taken (50% passing rate)

For my last exam, I studied 10 weeks for a total of 208 hours….that is a part-time job!!


4 years of undergraduate school; degree in Environmental Design
2 years of Graduate school; Masters in Architecture
3500 hours of working under a licensed architect in a variety of categories. This takes most people 3 to 5 years.

Below is a breakdown of the cost to pass all these exams:


An architect is not just someone who provides pretty renderings or floor plans, we actually have to take an obscene amount of exams….more so than any other profession. The passing rate on these exams is around 48%….yes, you read that correctly. Out of 100 people that take the exam only 48 pass! So I fall right in the middle of that bell curve with my 50% passing rate:

Bar exam for attorneys, passing rate: 60% – 80% (depending on the state)
The medical exam for doctors, passing rate: 78% (nationwide)
Mechanical, electrical, plumbing engineering exam: 69%

What is crazy is that architects are expected to know an insane amount of information for these exams such as mechanical system sizing, duct size calculations, beam deflection, shear allowances, modulus of elasticity calculations, copper piping requirements, electrical power requirements, and calculations….have I lost you yet? It sounds like a syllabus for an engineering class, right?!.

In the real world, architects hire engineers to do all these calculations. We have structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, civil, and acoustical engineers. In fact, the jurisdictions that review construction documents and issue building permits require engineers to stamp and sign their drawings.

Why do Architects have to know all the engineering information?

Part of an architect’s responsibility is to coordinate all the engineering disciplines and their systems to make sure they fit into a building. Furthermore, architects need to make sure that all pieces of the puzzle fit. We need to have comprehensive discussions with the engineers when coordinating all the parts and pieces and be able to suggest alternatives.

Although this was an incredibly challenging experience, the professional and personal rewards are profoundly gratifying. Looking ahead, I look forward to the added responsibilities at WORKSHOP8, a place I value and hold in high regard.

Thanks for Reading!

I have to thank my lovely wife, Monika, who took on so much of our daily chores around the house, walking our 4 dogs and putting up with me when I was grumpy. I also want to thank all my coworkers who picked up the slack when I disappeared over lunch every day to study. I owe a big thank you to Michael Riscica and the bootcampers in my group for the great program and study help! Last but not least my bosses and friends Joseph and Brandy; they gave me the freedom to take days off and study over lunch and put in the minimum 40 hours a week.

Marcel van Garderen | Almost Architect (just waiting on DORA to assign me my license number)!!