UK Chartered Architect Articles
Passing My ARB Part 1 & 2 Prescribed Examination
Pathway to Qualify as an ARB/RIBA Chartered Architect in the UK as an Overseas Degree Holder
The prospects of London as a global hub for architecture and design attract talent from around the world who migrate in hopes to expand their architectural knowledge. As these international students and professionals settle in, the intricate complexities of the architectural profession unfold themselves. One roadblock that I faced in establishing my career as an ‘architect’ here was getting my overseas qualifications validated to ARB and RIBA standards. This may be straightforward for some individuals based on sometimes solely geopolitics, i.e, where your university degree was obtained from and whether there are any agreements or systems of recognition in place that can directly translate your qualifications to the UK standards without further ado. But with BREXIT and the UK’s lack of professional trade deals with sufficient countries, this is unfortunately tricky for many.
If you are coming to the UK to pursue an architectural career having gained qualifications from overseas, unfortunately, you cannot present yourself as an ‘architect’ until you have joined the ARB register. Fortunately, there are ways to get there and the UK is one of the most straightforward countries to get your degree recognised.
If I am honest, yes I found it difficult to deal with this situation. It involves a bit of stepping back and looking into your past — your degree, coursework, professional experience, and assessing your works, collating relevant documents, sketches, write-ups, etc. Let's not forget the associated costs that can put a dent into your saving prompting many to not pursue this path altogether. This is something to really consider. For some, it's a simple decision to not pursue the regulated ‘architect’ career as prospects in other closely related areas are simpler and salary-wise competitive when you are starting out. They may choose the unregulated paths in the architectural sector such as an architectural designer, workplace designer, spatial analyst, urban designer, landscape designer, or architectural assistant who may then go on to become an Associate (after several years) at an architectural practice. The key difference here is that an architect’s profession is a regulated profession like that of a doctor, solicitor, or teacher for example, which requires validation.
In my view, getting qualified early on is best for your career progression. As you invest time and effort into building your skills, you also want to be considered ‘qualified’. At some point, you may want to take on projects or work independently like you have been trained to do. It can get tricky while working in a practice as well. Some practices may not consider you for appraisal without appropriate qualifications in place. It is also a Professional Indemnity Insurance matter which requires projects in a practice to be led by ‘Architects’.
The UK currently has a very high skills shortage post-BREXIT/COVID and architects are on the list (Skilled Worker Visa — Shortage Occupations, 2431). There is a scramble to get more qualified people into the workforce. This has led to some changes in regulations to make it easier for professional bodies to recognise qualified individuals and a new act is in place post-BREXIT, Professional Qualifications Act 2022, aptly providing this freedom to these regulatory bodies. This gives ARB the opportunity to enter into trade agreements internationally and they are working on mutual recognition agreements (MRA) or memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the USA, Australia and New Zealand at the moment. It may open possibilities for other international candidates to directly register with the ARB in the future. But the current routes favour certain EU & Irish candidates.
1. Qualification Routes
The traditional route for a UK candidate is the UK route (See image below). I have elaborated on the three-part system — Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, in my previous article.
- Hybrid route: If your degree is from the EU, you can check whether it is recognised under the mutual recognition directive (listed qualification) on ARB’s website that’s come in place post BREXIT. In which case you only need to proceed with 2 years of professional experience + Part 3 studies
- EU route: If you are a registered Architect in your home EU country holding listed qualifications as in the frozen directive of the UK-EU mutual recognition agreement (a perfect catch-22) then you can directly register in the UK.
- Prescribed Examination Route: Outside the EU & Ireland, and all of you who have not made it into the frozen directive, MRA, or the MOU with ARB will have to undertake the relevant Part qualification depending on your degree, either in whole or in parts. By this I mean, you only have to take the exam for the parts you are missing. Maybe your degree is recognised as Part 1 equivalent as it is in the directive or from an ARB-recognised institution. Then you must carry on with Part 2 as a course or prescribed examination if you have a relevant (5-year architectural degree, B.Arch / M.Arch) non-recognised degree. ‘Relevant’ is important information. For example, ARB does not consider an interior design, architectural technology, etc. degree as an architecture degree. A ‘University Mapping Statement’ will have to be submitted as part of the application as evidence of eligibility.
‘Where qualifications may have been awarded in subjects such as Architectural Technology, Interior Architecture or similar, a university mapping statement will be required to demonstrate that the candidate has been examined against requirements comparable to those expected at UK Part 1 or Part 2 level’ — ARB Annex E
The future international routes to registration have not yet been finalised at the time of writing this article. It is expected soon.
2. What is a Prescribed Examination
The route I followed is the Prescribed Examination Route. Prescribed Examinations (PE) are portfolio reviews where a panel of 3 examiners review your work and assess whether you meet the criteria for passing the respective level. The key difference between Parts 1 & 2 PE is the level of complexity of the project and the depth of knowledge to be presented. In the PE guidance document from ARB, there are two types of requirements — one is the General Criteria (GC)that are common for both Part 1 and 2; the other is Graduate Attributes (GA) that describe the overarching level that must be met by the candidate at each Part. GA sort of defines the complexity of GC and is different in Parts 1 and 2. You must meet all points in both GA and GC (every word of it) at the relevant level to pass your prescribed examination. The evidence of it must be presented in your portfolio and supporting material.
There is an excellent preparatory course by RIBA for guiding you in preparing your portfolio. See down below for Mentoring & Support that I am providing.
2.1 General Criteria
You must meet all General Criteria including each sub-criteria. Otherwise, you can/will fail. Especially every word in GC 1 as it has 50% weightage. If you don’t meet GC 1 and 2, you won’t be invited to the interview. If you don’t meet more than 50% of the overall GCs, you also won’t be invited for the interview.
There are 11 GC and each has three sub-points. Each sub-point is highly important. General Criteria are the same in terms of the actual text at Part 1 & 2 levels. However, it is the interpretation and what they mean when read in parallel with Graduate Attributes that make all the difference. Graduate Attribute emphasise the importance of certain topics further and you must show extensive knowledge/understanding/skill in those areas to meet the necessary standards.
2.2 Graduate Attributes
There are two sets of Graduate Attributes — Part 1 and Part 2 levels respectively. At the Part 2 level, you must meet the GA of Part 1 and 2. Part 2 GA is more complex. Similar to GCs it is also best to highlight GAs in your portfolio as well.
3. My Strategy for Preparing the Portfolio and Supporting Material
- If you have to sit for only the Part 1 Exam, it is fairly simple and the project can be not so complex. What defines complexity is subjective to some extent. But Part 1 in the UK represents the first three years of your architectural education. How complex can you get in the first three years? Checking on Issuu.com for Part 1 Portfolios of UK graduates can help assess this. You can of course submit projects from any time of your education or professional experience. You don't need to submit projects that you worked on during the first three years of your academia. The important point is that they must be entirely of your authorship. With professional work, it is not easy to establish this ownership and the review panel may challenge it. So focus on your solo academic works or competition entry, etc. Submit at least two fully resolved projects plus additional documents. Not fully resolved as you imagine but as the General Criteria demand.
- If you have to eventually sit both Part 1 & 2 Exam, then prepare your portfolio for Part 2 level. This is fairly complex and needs a lot of attention to detail. I prepared my portfolio for the Part 2 level from the get-go, so when I finished my Part 1 exam, I only had two sheets to add- one on acoustics, and the other on regional architectural styles as I was probed on these in my Part 1 interview.
- I went one step crazy, I completed my Part 3 course before I sat for my Part 1 & 2 exams because I wanted to use the content from the Part 3 course as evidence. You can read all about it in my article below.
An Outsider’s Pathway towards Qualifying as ARB/RIBA Architect in the UK
How to acquire, qualify, and register as ARB/RIBA Architect for non-UK/EU degree holders
- ARB Website & Youtube: The official guidance from ARB is the absolute. Watch the three videos on their youtube page specifically on preparing your portfolio for the prescribed exam. Pause and read the content in sheets. But it’s nowhere close to the guidance you actually need especially when you have not studied in the UK and cannot really pinpoint the interpretation of the terms in the GC & GA guidance. So also look for other resources.
- Other resources: There is a lot of content put out there by previous passing candidates including portfolios. Keep in mind that you are not viewing the entire documents they have submitted. This means they may have added supplementary work and did not mention it. Almost certainly just submitting projects will not be sufficient. You must identify gaps in your projects and provide necessary supplementary material. See below the three precedents from Nottingham and Derby Society of Architects.
Roadmap to Recognition: Precedents to help you tackle your ARB prescribed exams — Nottingham and…
In this process, there was a lot that I needed to work out on my own, but I do owe part of my success to good…
- I highly recommend the RIBA Portfolio review sessions. First, I attended the Preparatory course for the ARB prescribed exams, and after I prepared my portfolio, I took the Individual Portfolio Review. Both were extremely valuable.
Thanks to wonderful people on the internet, there is now some material you can view to make sure your portfolio at least aligns in some way with the requirements. No two projects are the same, so you must always review the guidance from ARB.
4.1 My Projects and Comparative Matrix
Select appropriate works: I presented 8 works — 3 architectural projects, 2 urban & regional studies, 2 works on art, architecture, history and its application, 1 article on Art and Architecture, 1 Part 3 case study report, and some supplementary articles within my portfolio on sustainability, and carbon capture. ‘8 works’ is the golden ratio, more than that is excessive. Less is ok provided it is sufficiently detailed. Just 2 projects are definitely too less.
My comprehensive design projects were:
- Two academic projects that were fully resolved- A campus design, and a museum design
- One professional work - completely of my ownership with a letter from my previous employer detailing my involvement in design, development, research, etc.
Comparative matrix: After you have selected your projects. Start with the comparative matrix. Explain how the works meet the criteria. Be concise and highlight the key points only. Aim for 100 words explanation per sub-criteria. Use the ‘additional information’ section to further add or elaborate on the sub-criteria or talk of your other experience and how they add to your overall application.
4.2 Structuring your Portfolio
- Use a simple signposting system. See my example below.
- Structure your project the way you would explain your design. It should be coherent and tell the story of your project’s development. Do not organise it in the ascending order of GCs. This will not be a coherent presentation of the design. A single page can have various GCs highlighted.
5. My Part 1 Examination Experience
Date of Examination — June 2022
The week before my interview, I had anxiety. But that's because I was overthinking this whole thing. I was well prepared. I had worked on this long enough and in sufficient detail. But the thought that I may not have a strong portfolio kept resurfacing particularly because there wasn't any reference out there. Well, that’s changed now thanks to Nottingham and Derby Society of Architects. Although by then I had already finished my portfolio.
At the Zoom interview, there were three interviewers plus one member from ARB who only monitors the quality of the interview to ensure that it was according to standards.
The interviewers were super nice and tried to make me feel comfortable and relaxed in their conversation. The lead examiner made introductions and asked around the panel for questions towards me about my portfolio.
I was asked one question by all three examiners. Can you elaborate on how you have met the sub-criteria … for acoustics? I cannot lie at that moment I froze. I was like what’s acoustics! It took me a moment to pull myself together. And I couldn’t find it anywhere in my portfolio. Then I remembered, that I wanted to add some content on acoustics, but I omitted it because I was like this is enough! See the examiners are well trained to spot all missing things. I did a quick search (Ctrl+F Acoustics) in my .pdf document and found a brief explanation. Then I remembered my practical experience and how I had considered it in my projects. One of the examiners then asked where is acoustics presented in your portfolio. I then took them to an auditorium design and showed an area where I had placed acoustic panels in plan view and explained a bit about why it was necessary, their function, purpose, etc. Another examiner asked me how I had made considerations for acoustics in my practical experience. I elaborated on that. When there is an area that is not presented well in your portfolio they will probe you on that. Because all students must meet all criteria to meet the UK standards. That's an absolute requirement. So be smart and don't skip anything.
That's the only question they had for me. My interview was not even 10 mins. And I was super happy. Because that means I had passed! In fact, I was so confident I asked the interviewers if they had any feedback to ready my portfolio for Part 2! Even before the results were announced!
6. My Part 2 Examination Experience
Date of Examination — August 2022
I was really confident about Part 2. I had no doubts. My portfolio was already set for the Part 2 level. So I did not really add more content between this time, other than a sheet on acoustics and regional architectural styles. Trust me! This is how prepared you want to be.
Each interviewer had a different question for me:
GC 1.2 — understand the constructional and structural systems, the environmental strategies and the regulatory requirements that apply to the design and construction of a comprehensive design project;
I explained the structural needs of my project— RCC column beam structure with pre-fab slabs; explained sustainable design measures in one of my projects; presented a regulatory requirement comparison that was made in one of my projects and its application in planning.
GC 6 — the potential impact of building projects on existing and proposed communities;
Covered it in two projects and presented them.
GC 11.3 — the basic management theories and business principles related to running both an architect, architect’s practice and architectural projects, recognising current and emerging trends in the construction industry.
The question was to explain the structure of architectural practice and business types. This was covered in my Part 3 Case Study — I explained what my office is like, and what a regular studio is like. Elaborated on LTD, LLP, and Employee ownership businesses.
They asked me questions which I thought I could explain very well and had presented well in my portfolio. Reviewers at the exam will try and check whether you have sufficient knowledge of topics that have been presented in your portfolio and whether you understand them. My guide to all criteria was the information I provided in the Comparative Matrix. Before the interview, I read through my CM to remember the crucial points. This is how you want your CM to be, like an anchor for your works.
My interview lasted 25 mins. At the start of the interview, the lead examiner said don't read into how long this interview was going to be. It has no bearing on the results.
7. Associated Costs
RIBA courses and portfolio reviews are conducted by past examiners. They have very good insights. However, their availability is scarce.
- RIBA Portfolio Review — £150
- RIBA Individual Portfolio Review — £150
- Part 1 Exam — £1690
- Part 2 Exam — £1690
- If your application is incomplete, there is a scrutiny fee of £417.25 (25% of the application fee)
- At your interview, if the interview panel is not satisfied with your response, you may be referred to the lead examiner. An additional charge of £300 applies.
- If you fail, then you must re-take the exam with the full application fee of £1690.
8. Mentoring and Support
With sufficient preparedness, you can get this right on your first attempt. There are limited dates available for when you can take the exams and it can get expensive or delay your plans if you fail or get referred to the lead examiner for further review, all of which are completely avoidable with sufficient preparation.
As I have apprehended from my sessions and chats, often times people fail the exam because they do not have a clear understanding of the general criteria & graduate attributes, have not presented examples at a sufficient level of complexity, and have not identified the gaps in their portfolio, or have simply missed evidence on specific criteria.
I recently completed my Parts 1, 2 and 3 and am now a registered Architect in the UK. Having spent more than a year building up the confidence and content to pull this endeavour, I cleared all my exams in my first attempt. I understand this process is not easy to navigate, and you would rather speed things up a little. I have been receiving requests from pupils seeking support and I have now decided to provide mentoring and guidance as a service. Please reach out if you are interested in personal mentoring as a paid service via this form.
An important disclaimer — Please always only follow the latest documentation provided on ARB’s website. This article is not any sort of an official guide, nor am I associated with ARB in my mentoring services.
An Outsider’s Pathway towards Qualifying as ARB/RIBA Architect in the UK
How to acquire, qualify, and register as ARB/RIBA Architect for non-UK/EU degree holders
RIBA Part 3: The ‘Case Study Project’
What makes an ideal case study project, and how mine was anything but that.