Preparing for the Structural Systems ARE Exam

Developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) is the only exam by which architecture candidates can become registered professionals in the United States or Canada. While there are 7 divisions of the exam, the Structural Systems is the one that stands out from all others. Not only does this exam assess architecture candidates with the most questions (a total of 125), but also the exam has the highest technical level out of all others. Here are some useful guidelines to prepare for the Structural Systems ARE Exam.

Don’t Memorize

Given that architecture candidates must be familiar with the Manual of Steel Construction published by the American Institute of Steel Construction, candidates often make the mistake of trying to memorize all tables and charts presented in this manual. It is not a good idea to waste time trying to memorize all charts and tables because all required information to solve any question will be provided during the exam.

Furthermore, candidates should prepare by using the free ARE software available for download. Savvy candidates will realize that a series of equations, tables and formulas are always available within the ARE software by clicking on the “References” button.

Understand the Differences Between CAD and Exam Software

While knowledge of computer-aided design or computer-aided drafting (CAD) software such as AutoCAD will allow you to advance rapidly in your profession, no prior knowledge of CAD is necessary to complete the Structural Layout vignettes of the Structural Systems ARE Exam. As a matter of fact, candidates should understand the significant differences between CAD and the drawing tools used on the exam.

Additionally, remember that vignettes are graded, not on style, but on their conformance to the exam’s requirements and instructions. Avoid wasting time creating aesthetically pleasing designs and drawing unnecessary elements because every minute counts on this exam. When tackling a vignette, read carefully the instructions to create a list of program and code requirements. Then check your work as you develop your drawing.

Establish a Study Schedule

Experienced candidates often believe that they need very little, or none at all, preparation for the Structural Systems ARE Exam. It is important for candidates to keep in mind at all times that the language of each question should be interpreted literally. keeping an eye for negatively worded questions is also wise. Therefore, it is key that candidates establish a study routine that allocates ample study time each week. A review of online forums on ARE exams reveals that candidates should prepare anywhere from 2 to 6 months before taking the Structural Systems ARE Exam.


In order to be successful for the Structural Systems ARE Exam, candidates should avoid memorizing all reference materials, should understand the differences between CAD and exam software, and must establish a study schedule.

Reference: Hardt, John. (2011). Structural Systems Questions & Answers 2011. Kaplan Construction Education. La Crosse, WI.

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