How to find affordable Study Material for the ARE 5.0 Exams

Are you interested in learning how to get affordable ARE Exam study material? If you’re just starting out in your ARE journey, or if you’re preparing for your next exam, it can feel overwhelming to choose which resources to study from.

There’s so much to study for your ARE exams, and so many resources to choose from. According to NCARB’s ARE 5.0 Handbook, there are over 40 suggested study materials (excluding contracts). I decided to price it out.

If you were to buy all of this material new, you would spend over $3,500.

This was my cart total after adding 38 suggested study resources.

That’s a lot of cash! Is it reasonable to expect someone on an intern architect salary to pay that much? No. But rather than be intimidated by that price tag, here’s what you can do to make your dream of becoming an architect as affordable as possible.

Start taking advantage of as many free resources as you can.

Borrow from your firm. Even if you work for a smaller-sized firm, you may have an entire trove of resources at your disposal, from books to sample contracts. 

Use the NCARB ARE 5.0 Community. It’s online, it’s free, and it’s full of candidates who are going through the exact same process that you are. It’s a forum broken down into individual test sections.

Use free online resources. I recommend Jenny’s Notes, Caroline’s Notes, and the Schiff Hardin lectures.

Check your smartphone app store. Since I started my exams *cough* several years ago, there have been an increasing number of free/cheap apps for practice exam questions.

Facebook Groups. There are so many online Facebook communities, including groups specifically for ARE Candidates, women in architecture, and more. I highly recommend joining! The support you get is so valuable, especially when studying can feel like such an isolated endeavor.

Quizlet. It’s an app for studying a wide variety of topics, but there are study sets that have been created that deal with content for the ARE exams.

Your AIA Chapter library. Many AIA chapters have their own libraries of resources that can be loaned out to ARE candidates. The downside is that you may have a limited amount of time with the material (e.g., two weeks) so that all candidates can have equal access. It may be useful to help you sample a book and see if you need to buy a copy for yourself.

Your local library. Although it may be less likely that your local library has exactly what you need, it’s worth a shot. Check in with your librarian and ask if they can help you.

Borrow resources from a friend. Odds are you have a friend who is going through, or has recently finished their architect licensing exams. Why not ask if they could loan you some of their materials? Be sure to treat them to a coffee to thank them.

Use textbooks you still have from architecture school. You have them somewhere, right? Go find them!

Suggest as gifts from friends and family. I hear Architectural Graphic Standards and The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice make exceptional Christmas gifts.

Here’s how you can pay less for material you still need.

Set up price alerts for books. I used a browser extension called Honey (*not sponsored, there are many other apps/extensions that do the same thing) to notify me of price drops on ARE books. I was able to get a pretty pricey book that I needed for only $40. Not bad! When you get that notification, you need to move quickly.

Rent expensive books for a fraction of the price. I couldn’t justify the price of certain textbooks to own, but I could justify the price to rent. Just make sure you mail it back on time. Some companies will even put the money you paid towards renting towards the purchase cost of the book if you change your mind and decide to buy it.

Buy old editions where appropriate. It’s not going to be appropriate for every book. You need to use your best judgement on this one. As a rule of thumb, I don’t recommend student editions. You’re not a student anymore – you’re an aspiring professional.

Buy digital copies if that’s your thing. I was able to save some cash (and neck strain) by doing this. I also enjoyed having books that were more easily available on multiple devices.

Split the cost with another ARE Candidate. If you have someone in your office going through this process with you, why not split the cost of a couple of books and share if you can?

Don’t worry about paying more for some material.

Some of the highest quality, most informative study material has been created by professional architects who were once in your shoes. Buying their study material means supporting their small business, as opposed to a third party publishing company. Be proud to support their work! Pay full price for that awesome content, and thank them for sharing their knowledge with you.

It’s important to approach your studies in a self-aware way. Take time to think about the content areas that you need more knowledge in, and use that to help you decide which books and resources will give you the most value. There are many ways to study for these exams, and you should approach the material in a way that will make you a well-rounded professional.

When you’re done with your exams

When you’re done with your exams, you can recoup some of the money you spent by reselling your exam material. If you’re feeling generous, I highly recommend donating it to your firm or local AIA chapter to build their lending library to help future architects succeed just like you. If there were resources that were especially helpful to you, hang onto them and build your own library. 

Remember that you’re never really done learning

“You'll never know everything about anything,
especially something you love.”
Julia Child
American Chef

Passing your exams is really just the beginning. There’s so much in the field of architecture to learn and appreciate. Stay open to new ideas, technologies, theories, and design, and approach the things you don’t know with a sense of curiosity.

How to find affordable study material for ARE 5.0

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