By AIA Virginia JEDI Committee

Since 2006, all candidates for Architecture licensure in the U.S. have been bound by NCARB’s Five-Year Rolling Clock, which required that all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE) must be passed within a five-year window of the first passed division of the exam. If the window ended before all divisions were passed, test-takers had to accept that a new clock would begin from the next oldest passed division, and the first division would expire and need to be tested again.

As of April 30 of this year, the rolling clock policy is no more, replaced by NCARB’s new Score Validity policy. Previously expired divisions of the ARE 4.0 will be reinstated for consideration under the Score Validity Policy going forward after May 1, 2023.  This allows all passed divisions to remain valid through the lifecycle of the exam version they were taken under and used for a translation credit for the next version of the exam. What it means is candidates who passed ARE 4.0 divisions will be able to apply them towards the ARE 5.0 following previously established transition tables.  

Once the ARE 6.0 starts delivery, those 4.0 divisions (and any 5.0 divisions they were translated into) will expire.  As the ARE 3.1 and earlier exam divisions are already 2 versions out, they will remain expired.  Additionally, NCARB will be providing refunds to candidates who have an exam appointment scheduled or have purchased exam seat credits that they will no longer need due to this policy change.  Finally, NCARB has promised to provide at least 18 months’ notice before transitioning from ARE 5.0 to ARE 6.0.

Here’s the bigger picture:

It is important to note that while NCARB is changing their policy, Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation’s Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers and Landscape Architects (APELSCIDLA) still has its own timeline specific requirements.  To be eligible to sit for any division of the ARE, candidates for licensure through Virginia must have an active eligibility.  This eligibility period is a three-year window and starts when your application to test is approved.  Candidates who do not pass all the divisions within that window can apply to be made eligible again.  Under the current rules this must be done within 6 months of their eligibility expiring, and at least one division must have been attempted during the expired three-year window.  All candidates who need an extension on their eligibility must file a new Architect License Application.  If one or more of these requirements is not met candidates can still apply to reinstate their eligibility but will also be required to provide new references in addition to the application form.  It is important to note that having a lapsed eligibility does not impact the validity of a candidate’s previously passed exams; what it does do is prohibit them from making an appointment to sit for any new divisions.

Here’s why NCARB hopes it will improve equity and inclusion:

NCARB has stated that their policy change is a direct result of their efforts to combat unconscious bias in the licensing process. A review of their data showed that the Five-Year Rolling Clock was disproportionately impacting women and people of color, who additionally already had lower exam success rates. As members of AIA Virginia’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee, we applaud this move by NCARB to help remove structural bias in our profession.  Additionally, we call on our state board to review our current three-year eligibility policy to confirm that it does not put an undue burden on women and people of color.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

We asked around to see if these changes were welcomed (they were, we found), but also to see what impact will be on a emerging professionals and professionals, which our respondents said, are distinctions that conceal a much greater degree of diversity and a more complex reading of career “stages.” Our respondents illustrate that people of color and women have most definitely been impacted by the previous Rolling Clock requirement regarding their progress through the ARE. They made some other good points, too, about barriers of licensure in general for individuals who are candidates sometimes engaged in a second career, or who are parents, or who are entering the workforce with lower pay and/or higher student loan balances than previous generations, or whose first language might not be English at all.

To better understand how NCARB’s rolling clock has had an impact on our profession here is what four individuals said, which we’ve anonymized for their benefit by assigning numbers, but it’s a group that includes Connie Owens, RA, Brian Gore, Amina Oulmi, and Linda Coile, RA.

What has your experience going through the ARE process been like?

  1. My experience started when I decided to embrace Architecture again after being away for many years. The most challenging part was trying to gain more experience and improve my skills along with taking care of my kids. Finding the right time and dealing with the anxiety of brutal exams while trying to have a balanced life has been a big challenge.
  2. It’s been long and tiring!  I’m finally down to my last few exams, but it has been a STRUGGLE getting here. 
  3. My husband and I completed our M.Arch. at the same time but he began working in the field before I did and therefore had more IDP hours completed before me.  We decided he should do his ARE first. We  had some overlap in studying and test taking because we wanted to start a family after waiting four years. I began studying and took my first test on Aug. 1, 2014 (I also passed the CDT exam four months earlier). I wish I’d started my ARE’s prior to starting a family and I tell every young woman in architecture that: finish before you think of having a family.  I do think it’s easier now, as candidates are allowed to test early before finishing the AXP hours, but that was a new thing when my husband and I were starting our IDP/ARE, and we weren’t aware of that advantage.  I started under 4.0 and then it switched to 5.0 midstream.  I ended up taking a total of eight tests, two of which I failed, so a total of six to pass.
  4. So far, I’ve had to squeeze study time in between project deadlines and workloads from week to week.

How has the rolling clock affected you?

  1. It added a lot of stress and made me think about not proceeding because of fear of hitting that time deadline!
  2. It’s added a lot of extra pressure. Juggling work, life, and studying is hard enough without having, what has felt like, an arbitrary looming deadline over my head the whole time.  One of my exams was about to expire at the end of this year, so it was a relief to hear it was being retired.  Obviously, I don’t want to be testing forever, but it’s nice to know that I can now do it at whatever pace works for me.
  3. Having three kids derailed my testing and while I was grateful for the six-month extension for each new child, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the extensions everyone received, I would NOT have made it!  Six months is kind of laughable to think that a new mother would be ready to jump back into studying, when she’s probably just jumped back into the workforce too.
  4. The rolling clock has not affected me personally, as I have recently started the examination.

How has the Virginia 3-year timeline affected you?

  1. I am not affected yet since I am still taking tests.
  2. It’s also added pressure that feels unnecessary, especially since it was out-of-sync with NCARB’s rolling clock and costs money and time to renew if it lapses.  I don’t know the origins of the three-year timeline, but it isn’t clear why this needs to exist at all.
  3. I had to reapply multiple times, and during the pandemic it fell off my radar and I ended up having to fully re-up instead of just renewing. It also oddly doesn’t align with the rolling clock or ARE’s timeline.
  4. It has not affected me yet.

How long has this process taken you, whether you have completed it or not?

  1. This is my third year.
  2. 6 years.
  3. It took me eight years, with three kiddos and a pandemic, and I finished the last one 10 days before my first exam was set to expire on the rolling clock.  I signed up for Amber Book when I only had two tests left, the PPD & PDD beasts, with two months to go before that test expired.  I finished their content within 1 month and took the tests two weeks apart!  My husband took care of the family and I basically had to ignore them all for that time to actually get it done.  The only good thing about the rolling clock is that it lit a fire under me that I needed. However, it only really worked because that summer was the first time in nearly eight years (besides a six-month period when I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old) that I hadn’t been pregnant or nursing/pumping, there was no pandemic, and/or my kids were on longer hours at summer care giving me time to actually study.
  4. I have been in this process for about seven months.

Has this process affected you in your role at your office?

  1. I am fortunate to work in a healthy office atmosphere without pressure, who value my input and expertise despite the licensure status.
  2. It doesn’t seem like it’s affected my role in a significant way (I can’t say for sure), but it has held me back from larger pay increases.
  3. My boss was very understanding and supported my taking time to study when I didn’t have kids underfoot and making up hours at odd times.
  4. It hasn’t affected my role in the office, but it has affected my personal life and how much time I have to do anything outside of my job-related duties/activities.

How many years of professional architectural experience do you have?

  1. 8 Years.
  2. 8 Years.
  3. 14 years
  4. Going on 3 years of experience.

Do you identify as a minority group?  Which group or groups do you identify with?

  1. Women and ESL
  2. Yes, I’m a Black woman.
  3. The only minority group I identify with is as a mother practicing architecture, and a mother of young children at that. Many mothers stop practicing architecture while their kids are young and come back later, but I’ve been told it can be difficult to get back in, so many move on to other things.  A mother of young children is a very underrepresented group in architecture.
  4. Yes, African American and male.

Were you aware of the variety of resources available to you?  

  1. Not really
  2. I knew about study resources through my office and colleagues who had recently passed or were taking their exams but didn’t know much about mentoring when I first started testing. I’ve recently found a mentor through another organization who has been really supportive and encouraging as I get through testing.
  3. I had study guides provided by my office, and the ability to talk to colleagues who had recently taken their exams but I don’t think I was aware of other resources.  But, if I had known about it, I’m not sure I would or could have taken advantage of it.  
  4. Yes, whether provided by my job or elsewhere.

Did you have access to mentoring and support, and how did it look?  

  1. Yes, but not in a formal way.
  2. I’ve recently found a mentor through another organization who has been really supportive and encouraging as I get through testing.
  3. Mentoring and study groups always sound nice but it’s one more thing to put on someone’s plate.  Work, parenting, possibly nursing, studying, and now fitting in mentoring, it’s enough to mentally break anyone.  
  4. Yes

Was the mentoring and support through your firm or another organization?

  1. AIA, Young Architect Bootcamp and friends. 
  2. Structured mentoring through another organization.
  3. It was through my firm. My firm has a Teams channel focused on ARE support and resources. I can also rely on coworkers who have recently gone through, or currently going through the process for any I need.

What would help or would have helped you achieve your goals more easily?

  1. Well organized and accessible resources, study groups and psychological support.
  2. If I’m being honest, reduced work hours would be extremely helpful.  It’s difficult working 8-9 hours a day (sometimes more for deadlines), studying for at least a couple of hours a day, and keeping up with everything else (sleep, groceries, housework, exercise, etc.). I know it’s wishful thinking, but finding the time to study consistently has been the biggest hurdle for me.
  3. Being able to push pause on the rolling clock would have helped.  Longer breaks during testing for a nursing mother. Those breaks are very short for a mother who has to pump and then jump back into the test on time. 6 months credit on the rolling clock for a new birth is laughable, 1 year minimum is when it actually might be helpful.
  4. I think that even with the rolling clock being removed, the cost of the exams and the cost of materials and resources are outrageous. I would’ve started the examination process a lot sooner if the cost wasn’t so great. I think the next task is to tackle the high cost of the ARE.