On failing the same test

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

Failing the same test again is a hard pill to swallow. You thought you did everything right, you fixed everything what you did wrong preparing for the previous test, but you still failed. What is wrong with you? What is wrong with NCARB? Your employer? Your life??? Nothing is wrong with you! You, just like me, happen to be in this bunch that does not respond as well to the way current ARE exam is set up. And that is completely okay. I know that your head is full of self doubt, sick of seeing your peers breezing through these tests. Your fails, however, don't mean that soon in the future you will not make one badass architect that people will ask for help and advice. You will succeed in this licensing game only if you are persistent. ARE is going to make you grow your persistence muscle. As crazy as it may sound, that's really good news. If you zoom out, it's much better to be learning persistence while taking AREs, than learning to be persistent while trying to conceive again and again, or helping your loved one go through addiction problems, for example. Our brains are wired to focus on instant results and gratification. We know we worked hard, and we want to relish the results of our hard work. We forget about the process. We forget that we didn't wake up one day, immediately stood up and knew how to walk. All you need to do, as hard as it sounds, is to think of fails as guidelines. They are telling you that you need to do something differently. You will need to think carefully and identify mistake that you made. This is a crucial step. Be honest with yourself, don't dwindle in self pitying and denying. Acknowledge your feelings, take your time to heal, be honest, and move on stronger. Celebrate what you learned about yourself. That's the recipe of persistence.

Below is my story of my recent Programming and Analysis second fail, what I did wrong, and what I learned from my mistake. I hope you will find my experience helpful, and you won’t make the same mistake I did.

I failed my Programming and Analysis exam the second time. Ouch! What happened?

My first PA attempt fell short on Code and Regulations and Building Analysis. Just as I suspected, as I was studying for retake, I realized how much I had been missing for my first attempt - I was weak on building efficiencies, historic stuff, adjacencies, tables in the code, parking… As I studied all those topics again, my confidence was increasing. I slowly started to think that my first exam was actually easy, and I was simply unprepared. This pushed me to study more, turning my weak spots into my strongest ones. I am stubborn like that. I wanted to be the master of everything that used to be frightening. Some people will say that PA is one of the hardest exams because there is so much included in it, and some decisions will seem fairly subjective. I haven’t taken PPD nor PDD yet, but compared to the PcM-PjM-CE trifecta, PA is quite different. There is indeed a lot to cover, and if you don’t have a ton of pre-SD experience, this test is going to require some serious effort. I will write more about that specifically in one of my later posts. I felt really strong going into my test. I put so much effort in preparing for this retake. Skyped with Jasmin every night for a week prior to the test, wrote a ton of notes, drew a bunch of diagrams, watched all Pluralsight videos, took quizzes and practice exams, talked to Kayla and Kaela. Like I did with the exams that I passed so far, I was revising up to the last three hours before the exam. I thought “There is just so much that this exam covers. I studied so hard, and I need to make sure that I don’t forget anything.” It worked before, and there is no reason why this wouldn’t work now. Can you see already what I missed and where I am going?

As my husband was driving me to the Prometric center, suddenly I got this feeling that was telling me “I wish I didn’t revise this morning. I wish I went to bed earlier last night….” It was a fleeting feeling that quickly became overpowered by “I am going to crush it cause I studied a ton and I feel ready. I believe I deserve to pass.” Coming into the center, I am all happy and cheerful. Starting the test, first ten questions - easy breezy. This is going to be an easy pass. Fast forward fifty questions - ugh, where are those case studies, I really need a break… Case studies were not coming yet, and I was determined not to take the break before case studies. During the break, I am thinking “The test is starting to kick my butt, but I need to find a way to bounce back. Recompose, you can do this, take a deep break, do some yoga stretches, drink some water and get back in there.” 1hr 17min left, I am panicking a little bit because I wanted to have at least 1h 30min going into case studies. But it’s okay, I need to try my best. Case studies look hard, even though in reality they are not crazy difficult at all. I can detect that some questions are not even evaluating my judgement as an architect, but simply evaluating my ability to find information in the sea of attached references. Anybody could do that, right? At this point, I cannot. My brain is simply burnt out. I make my best attempts and judgements, revising flagged questions with 15min left. They look good, let’s wrap this up. I think case studies are killing my chances to pass. I am running out of time, I can’t go back, but I am still hoping. Answer the survey questions quickly. Yes, I want to see my preliminary result. Looking at the little bar in the bottom right corner while it’s loading. Visualizing both “likely pass” and “likely fail”, but really hoping and praying for “likely pass”. I don’t want to be going through this again. “... you will likely fail this division.”

I left the building, sent a text to my family and study buddies. One tear watered my right eye, but inside I cried hundreds of tears. Why again? Why can’t I pass this? Why??? I am not a dummy! I am not a dummy!!! If I felt this tired on 65th question, how in the world am I going to pass PPD and PDD that have 120 questions each? How??? I spent the rest of the day with my husband outside. Summer is almost gone, and lately I’ve been really craving some vitamin D. I desperately needed a break. Being outside of the ARE bubble, I decompressed a little bit. It didn’t take me very long to figure out why I failed this test. I did not fail because of lack of preparedness, I failed simply because of lack of rest. I fell into the familiar trap of thinking “If I am busy, that means I am productive, I am good.” As you can see from my example, being busy busy busy is bad bad bad. It screws you up.

I took my old advice to perceive a fail as an opportunity. It indeed is an opportunity! In my case, I will make damn sure that I am very well rested going into PPD and PDD after I pass PA next time. If I fail them, it’s not going to be because of lack of rest. Those are big fish, and I need to be ready for them. Both in terms of having the knowledge, and being fresh and well rested. I got to know more about myself. I really needed to take some rest before the test. What worked for previous tests, didn’t work this time. PA is just a different beast. This fail is a learning opportunity to take a moment to breathe, to cherish all the small things, and recognize that everything is going to be great as long as I have my dear ones around me. I am taking a couple of days off and then I am going back to studying… mindfully.

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