Urban Art Museum

*The Importance Of The Asterisk

If you are an ARE candidate and have taken an ARE exam then you are somewhat familiar with the grading criteria or lack there of on the exams. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of studying and testing for these exams do not worry you will be trapped in The Matrix soon enough. The only difference is that there is no blue or red pill available for you to find the truth.  To think of it, NCARB has a lot in common with the blockbuster movie The Matrix.  This may make a fun spoof article, but that is for another time.

For those of you who have taken an exam, you can skip this paragraph, I want to make sure that the ridiculousness of the asterisks is completely understood so that everyone can appreciate the lack of logic behind NCARB.  After taking an exam NCARB usually in an untimely manner (8 weeks or so) will issue your exam results in the form of a score report.  The score report will rate your performance on the identified content areas, if your exam has a multiple choice section.  Now all of the exams contain at least one graphic vignette and the score report will also rate your performance for each individual vignette.  We will examine the Site Planning & Design ARE 4.0 exam for clarification, which contains 65 multiple choice questions and two graphic vignettes.  The exam contains the below content areas and vignettes as listed on the NCARB website:

Content Areas
Environmental Issues
Codes & Regulations
Materials & Technology
Project & Practice Management

Site Grading
Site Design

The content areas and vignettes are assessed on a pass, fail and completely fail scale.  The grading system is noted on the score report.  The 3 tier grading system that NCARB uses on their exams has been transcribed below for convenience of discussion:

Content Areas and Vignettes are reported at three levels of performance as follows:

-clearly meets the Content Area or Vignette requirements (the Content Area or Vignette is not listed below)

-fails to meet the Content Area or Vignette requirements [MODERATE DEFICIENCIES] (the Content Area or Vignette is listed below WITHOUT an asterisk)

-fails to meet the Content Area or Vignette requirements [MAJOR DEFICIENCIES] (the Content Area or Vignette is listed below WITH an asterisk)

The feedback is designed to identify general areas of weakness so that a candidate can gain additional knowledge prior to retesting.

This Content Area or Vignette listing is not indicative of your future performance.

Why have an asterisks?
Why not?  It would be great if the existence of the asterisks on your score report existed as a courtesy by NCARB to let you know, “Hey buddy, you really bombed this part, better study a little harder next time.”  The asterisks has a hidden meaning that is not discussed in the score report.  If you take an ARE exam and fail the test, STOP, let me clarify.  If you take an ARE exam and a single solitary Content Area is listed WITHOUT an asterisk, you have failed the entire exam.  Logically you could presume that you were very close to passing the exam, in fact you were very close.  For instance if the exam that you failed was the Site Planning & Design ARE 4.0 exam, you could easily infer that the 65 multiple choice questions are easily divided equally into the 5 content areas, which means that there is probably on average 10-15 questions in each content area.  For ease of discussion let us assume that there were 10 questions in the second that you had moderate deficiencies in.  Perhaps the grading scale is something like this:

Correctly answered 7-10 questions = PASS

Correctly answered 4-6 questions = Moderate Deficiencies

Correctly answered 1-3 questions = Major Deficiencies

In theory you can begin to easily see that you WERE very close to passing the exam, and that you now have doubts about the legitimacy of a few of the questions that were asked.  Hell, most of the questions are suspect due to the best answer format of the exam.  So you decide that you are going to pay NCARB $300.00 to appeal the results of the exam, which depending on the state you live in, will include a fee of $75.00 to the state (all they do is mail the paperwork to NCARB).  After spending all of this time and money, you receive a letter from NCARB acting like you are an idiot for not knowing that the only way that you can appeal the results of an ARE exam is if an asterisks is listed.  Bombshell.

Well, the account that I just gave is an experience that closely resembles my most recent experience with NCARB.  After nearly 8 months, I am still working with the state to refund my $75.00.  The funny thing is that the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation was also unaware that an ARE candidate can only appeal exam results with an asterisks.  What sense does this make?  Why allow candidates the ability to appeal exams only if they have Major Deficiencies?  The $375.00 in appellate fees are usually enough to defer candidates from appealing exam results.  In my case I was on a fast track to getting my license, taking all 9 exams in 6 months.  I had passed all 8 exams only to fail my last one, so rather than waiting 6 months to retake the exam, I thought the money would be well spent to gain an insight into what had caused me to fail the exam.

If you are able to successfully appeal the results of an ARE exam, there is still a catch.  That exam is only valid in the state that appealed the exam results!  Want to practice in another state?  You have to retake the exam in that state.

I hope that this article was thorough in answering all questions related to the NCARB appellate process, and there will be more articles to come that seek to uncloud the murkiness that is NCARB and the architectural licensure process.  Comment below.