Karl Wallick, an assistant architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati, echoes the opinion that because large parts of the test have little to do with actual practice, the exam shouldn't have to wait. For example, he says the pre-design section was a grab bag of elements, such as site contracts and lending issues, that were foreign to him. “A lot of my design experience had to do with trying to fold programming and environmental and mechanical factors into one holistic design,” he says. “Maybe it's just tough to test that with multiple choice.”

The ARE's timing is determined by state registration boards, and 11 states allow interns to finish it up during the IDP. While NCARB is currently studying policy recommendations, Godsey's opinion is that the exam is mostly practice-based, and that therefore interns should put in the hours first. “If you take the exam right out of school, you're retesting what you learned in school,” he reasons. “It's better to temper the education with the experience you gain during an internship.”

While NCARB doesn't foresee major changes in the current system, it continues to nip and tuck. Updated test specs were released last February, after an 18-month study to reassess the skills critical to practice. Godsey says the ARE is evolving into a more practice-oriented exam. “Years ago, the questions were more knowledge- than practice-based,” he says. “Now, it's more practice-based, but we think it could be more so.”

Recognizing the difficulty of earning the breadth of training units, NCARB is also searching for other ways to fulfill its requirements. Several years ago, it began allowing community-service time to count toward the IDP, as well as the hours worked for an engineering firm, as long as they were supervised by an architect. This year, Godsey has asked the IDP committee to look into using the online Emerging Professional's Companion as course work that would substitute for hard-to-get experience.

“IDP is now mandatory in 49 out of 50 states [and Washington, D.C.],” Godsey says. (Arizona is the exception.) “That's good, in my opinion. We feel like it's a good process to go through. The architecture profession is grossly underpaid for the training we have,” he adds, “but that's a whole other subject.”

politics and pros

the Intern Development Program, devised by NCARB in the late 1970s, was certainly established with noble goals in mind. Officially, they are to define the basic skills and knowledge best acquired in an internship; to encourage a wide range of training; to provide a system for tracking progress; to offer a high level of professional information; and to provide access to educational opportunities that bolster training. The fundamental problem, critics say, is that the language masks the regulatory nature of the program. Although it's the state boards, and not a national association, that are legally empowered to regulate the profession, the IDP has become mandatory for most of the nation's interns.

What's also troubling is the idea that the IDP's effectiveness is uncertain. In her analysis of a study commissioned by NCARB two years ago, Beth Quinn concluded that the IDP's success is limited, because NCARB can't require employers to provide the diverse, quality training on which the program is based (“Building a Profession: A Sociological Analysis of the Intern Development Program,” Journal of Architectural Education, May 2003). “Should we not question the success of an educational program in which 43 percent of the participants feel their experience is ‘adequate' at best and ‘very poor' at worst, and one out of four feel they are learning little to nothing?” she writes. “Can a program be justified when more than one-third of participants feel it does not help or even detracts from their experience?”

As residential architect went to press, the AIA and NCARB were convening a conference (“Designing Tomorrow's Architect”) that attempts to address these concerns. Ana Guerra, AIA, chair of the event, thinks it's promising that for the first time since 1999, all the entities that govern the profession (the AIA and NCARB, plus the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, The American Institute of Architecture Students, and the National Architectural Accrediting Board) have agreed to participate. “I do think the openness and awareness is there at a level it's never been before,” Guerra says. “We all have opinions about what is wrong with the process. We're trying to bring all those viewpoints together to make sure we have a place to discuss them.” With so much at stake, the future of registration is an issue the whole profession needs to deal with.