ARE Prep: Should you study in a group or learn by yourself?

by Katie Robleski

When it comes to ARE prep, are you better off alone or in a group? We tend to assume we fit into one category over the other based on our personality profile. For example: are you more flexible, social, tend to be more extroverted? Then you might be out there thinking: “Eventually I’d go stir crazy holed up all by myself for hours! I need my people!” On the other hand, are you more introverted? Maybe you thrive on alone-time? Or simply prefer more self-control over your work? You might be thinking: “Yeah, let’s add another layer of anxiety to this exam prep experience: Group Work!”

Truth is, both solo and group study-styles have their advantages no matter what your personality type. The secret weapon? Figure out how to mix them both into your exam prep plan to fully maximize your results. And you’re in luck; we can help!

First, let’s take a look at the advantages of flying solo. Studying by yourself gives you full domination over everything: your schedule, pace, location, the material you want to cover, and of course, minimization of distractions. If you’re an exceptionally ambitious type (as architects tend to be, let’s be real), it probably feels more natural to structure your study habits the way you see fit. Efficient, focused, and personal, just the way you like it.

But what benefits might you be missing out on, all by your lonesome? Let’s break it down.

Increased Retention, Better Information, and Access to Other Perspectives
Solo-studying is a great way to memorize material so you can easily recite it back. But when it comes to the more complex concepts you’ll find throughout the ARE prep materials, you will definitely benefit from some backup. Access to other human brains provide a focused and responsive sounding board that you can’t get from arbitrary internet searches for the answers.

What if you completely miss something in the material or interpret it in the wrong way? What if someone else out there shares a better explanation from their more experienced engineer colleague? To encounter and interact with alternative perspectives will help clarify and enrich these topics in ways that are more personalized to you and your challenges. They also give you a chance to defend or expand upon your own ideas: A critical technique to level up your comprehension. You’ll work much harder to understand the material when you’re encouraged to converse about it in an intelligent way.

Solo Bonus: After a group session, cognitively-speaking, it’s like your brain worked double-time. So when you head back into your fortress of solitude to review the material before an exam, you’ll find that you’ve absorbed the material in a way that goes beyond rote memorization. You’ll tackle this solo session more like a lightning-round refresher, rather than a frantic free-for-all.**

Accountability, Motivation, and Emotional Support
Even the most ambitious among us can trip up once in awhile. Your studies fall by the wayside. You fail an exam. Your retake doesn’t get scheduled. Another advantage to studying all by yourself? You can fail all by yourself. Softens the blow, right?

Not so fast. What do you miss out on when you shoulder all that shame and blame by yourself?

With your trusted study group by your side, you’ve got peers going through the same process, and maybe even some of the same emotional baggage. Share study strategies and test tips. Hold each other accountable to breaks and health routines. Reveal your secret coping mechanisms. Suddenly these people aren’t so much a study group, but more like your battle buddies.

ARE prep is tough stuff, there’s no doubt. To go about it alone is a valiant undertaking. But when you need a little more than the sound of your own echo of frustration, it’s encouraging to hear someone else, a different voice, that of a fellow ARE warrior who’s there to reassure you. You’re going to be just fine. And likewise, you’ll be there to encourage and break the fall of another soldier on your squad. That kind of motivation is contagious, and it can feel just as rewarding as a passing score.

Solo Bonus: Even though you’ve got access to those proverbial shoulders to cry on and hands to help you back up, as well as the celebration gifs and fist bumps, you know you’re the one who got you here. There’s no doubt, you earned this. And you also deserve the next step, whether that’s signing up for a retake or heading out to celebrate.

How do you find the right group for you?
Now, truth be told, there are distinct disadvantages to study groups too. Stuff like off-topic conversations and distractions, sporadic or missed sessions, participants who are either too far behind or too advanced for the rest of the group. But these disadvantages aren’t necessarily innate to the concept of the study group itself.

Groups need structure. They need guidance from a facilitator: an experienced coach who knows how to keep the group on track, and motivate even the most discouraged.

Here at Black Spectacles, our comprehensive experience with the ARE and our relationships with exam prep alumni inspired us to create a Group Coaching Program. As a supplement to our already robust exam prep subscription, inside this immersive program you get access to a recently-licensed coach and a group of hand-picked candidates who are just as dedicated as you are to completing this goal. You also get a personalized syllabus that supports your group’s pace, opportunities to review questions with your coach, and 24/7 access to a private online community group.

Efficient, focused, and personal, just the way you like it.