Studying for the ARE Exams is a long adventure with its ups and downs along the way. While studying for the exams, I felt like I didn’t do my homework well initially. So it took a bit of trial and error to find what works best and what doesn’t. Among all the other tips, I think these four would be the most beneficial if someone had told me earlier in the process. So here we go…
1. Find Some Study-Buddies
To pass the ARE exams, you must read many books. Between 6 exams, I probably read over 12 books cover to cover. Sometimes I had to reread them. Let’s face it, reading MEEB on your own is no fun… But here is an idea!
What if you found a few people who are also trying to read MEEB and read it together instead of on your own?
You can use the NCARB Community, the ARE Facebook Group, or other social platforms to meet people and use online meeting platforms to meet regularly.
How to Study with Your Group?
First, I would recommend interviewing people before agreeing to become study partners. Because it is important to have similar schedules, expectancies, and mindsets. If you don’t sync with your study buddies, it will not work. If you leave work at 6 pm and your friend is leaving late every day (because they have an incompetent boss), the timing will not work. Or if you have three kids and the only time you can study is between 5 am to 7 am, your study buddies should have a similar study schedule. So interview each other and make sure you can meet regularly and you have the same goals.
Secondly, you must be studying for the same exams. Find people willing to read the same books you want but struggling to do it themselves. If someone thinks they don’t need to read any books, and they will follow another path, wish each other good luck, and part ways…
Third, assign a group leader who will run the meetings. Someone should keep an eye on the clock and ensure the conversation is not drifting away. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and move to the next topic.
Fourth, make a schedule for each book and follow it strictly. Let’s say you will read AHPP, the bible, for PCM, PJM, and CE exams. Make a schedule to read 2-3 chapters in the next two days and meet to discuss together at the end of the two days. For example, every group member will read chapters 1, 2, and 3 on Monday and Tuesday nights (by themselves), and the group will meet on Wednesday night to discuss the chapters together. Make sure everyone brings a few flashcards or questions to the table to quiz the rest of the group. This active discussion is priceless. This way, you will not be reading alone anymore. You portion the books and digest them with your group, which makes everything stick to your brain in the best possible way. Knowing someone will quiz you about what you read in two days makes your brain engage more actively. The social pressure is no joke. No one wants to feel humiliated in front of their peers. So you do your homework and read carefully. Besides, you also have to be prepared to ask some questions. So while reading yourself, your brain constantly works to find challenging questions for the group. Which makes you think deeper and comprehend better. No more snoozing while reading the books:))
2. Take Good Notes
I know this sounds too obvious, but I will repeat it one more time because I know school was a long time ago for many of you. So you forgot how much note-taking was involved in your student years. But rewriting the concepts in your own words is a great exercise for better comprehension. I had a sketch/notebook I loved and used during most of the process. Having everything in a big notebook is great! I also used some erasable pens to take my notes and draw details.
3. Get Digital Books, Instead of Printed Versions
I like digital books because you can search for keywords and find the topic you want to study much more efficiently. You purchase the pdf version of many resources from their publishers. They are typically cheaper than printed books. Get back in touch with your college and see if you can still access their online libraries. My husband was studying for his doctorate while I was studying for the exams, and I used his college’s online library a lot.
Another reason to prefer digital vs. printed books for me is a “more organized desk”. Between the notepad, pens, and other tools, having two 2000-page books open side by side on the desk is no fun. I have always been a fan of working on at least 2 monitors. So get your digital books on two different monitors instead and get yourself more workspace on your desk to study more efficiently. If you only have one monitor at home, then I would recommend getting a lightweight, portable monitor to make things more efficient. I have been using this portable monitor for a while now and can’t recommend it enough. It is lightweight, affordable compared to its counterparts, and does the job perfectly. It was one of the best recommendations I got, and had to pass it by.
Lastly, if you have dyslexia and cannot read long books or want to listen to some books while walking to work, cooking, or doing other chores at home, you can use some pdf read-aloud options. Adobe has its read-aloud function. Please click here to see how to activate this function on Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you don’t like Adobe’s read-aloud performance, check out Speechify. I used Adobe, but I should admit that I am not a huge fan of it. It is a bit dry. But at the time, I didn’t want to spend money on anything else. Adobe was free, and I didn’t have dyslexia, so I wasn’t using this function all the time. But if you will use it for almost all of your readings, you may need something better, like Speechify. They have a 3-day free trial, so maybe you can see it yourself first.
4. Practice Questions
I think taking practice questions is the one thing almost everyone favors over other study methods like reading books. Because they are more engaging and less boring. So find as many practice questions as you can and solve them over and over until it all makes sense. If there is a feeebdack in the question, refer to it to dig deeper into the content. Your goal should be learning the content so use each question as an opportunity to study further into that topic.
While taking questions, also try to develop some test-taking strategies. Especially when you are solving the new NCARB free exams, try to see if you can walk backward from the correct answer to the question to discover the relationship between the two. This will prepare you for the content and give you some test-taking skills. Please watch my Youtube video to see how I use this strategy.
On top of this, I also recommend people to take an excessive amount of questions, especially during the last two or three weeks leading to their exams. Start with 50 to 75 questions a day and build your way up to 300-400 questions/day. While doing this, give yourself min 3 hours and turn on your phone as if you were taking the exam. Also, try to use the digital notepad and not eat or drink. Basically, you will mimic the test day as much as possible. Once you can sit down for 3-4 hours and solve 300 questions without taking a water or bathroom break or checking your phone, you will be more than ready for your test day.
These are the four most important and valuable suggestions I can share with any test taker. As I said in the beginning, passing the six ARE exams is a big deal and requires so much work, but I hope these tips make your life easier. Best of luck!