Anthony Richardson share tips on how to succeed at Part 3 and looks forward to how the current course could inform ARB’s reforms

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Despite the fact that ARB is proposing reforms to the three-part traditional qualification route, we still have three more years of prescribed qualifications under the current system until September 2027 (at the earliest). That means – unfortunately for some – students currently graduating under RIBA Part 2 recognised courses may still have to proceed to Part 3 under the current system in order to join the profession.

That being said, there is much to celebrate in these final three years that the three-part route remains. Here I share some advice on how to successfully navigate what may be the final few years of the course in its current format. 

The Compatibility Test

After completing an undergraduate degree and a masters that most candidates choose with purpose and intent, selecting a course for Part 3 is often something done almost as an after-thought. While there is a general sense that most students just want to get their Part 3 over and done with and move on, choosing the right course for you is essential. Finding a course with a suitable format, frequency and output should be married to your personality to give yourself the best possible start in your career.

The experiences one might have from the more independent and self-directed course format offered by the University of Cambridge, with all deadlines (both exams and coursework) in August, varies greatly to the carefully timetabled sequencing offered by the University of Westminster, or even the Architectural Association who have expertly crafted a way to dispel the ‘Case Study’ submission altogether.

Perfect is the enemy of good when approaching Part 3 projects

The quicker we can address this, the better. Every year tutors hear from candidates worried that their project is not the ‘perfect’ case study. Either their practice is not undertaking the role of Contract Administrator, their projects are Design and Build, they have not been novated, or they only have exposure to the initial stages of a project and not the latter stages, the list is endless.

The only universal truths that exist are that the candidate should obviously be working on the project first-hand, that it should be at least moderately complex to let you address the various sub-criteria and that it should always be measured against UK-based regulations and practices. Witnessing things first-hand is a clear advantage, but rarely will a project tick all the boxes.

The absence of any other parts, stages, processes or characteristics on your project does not relinquish your duty to demonstrate your understanding of the subject, it just may unfortunately hamper your ability to discuss real-world examples. In addressing areas not covered by the project, the opportunity exists to describe best practice, craft and respond to ‘what-if’ scenarios, and make well-educated and informed predictions, in what is ultimately a research opportunity.

Better to look back critically, than forward tentatively

Understandably, there is an eagerness to ‘talk the talk’ and wanting to recount facts and events to demonstrate that you are equally capable of ‘walking the walk’. What we want to desperately avoid though are submissions purely as records of experience, with a recital of events that took place during your involvement on the project. There are certainly no perfect practices out there, and most certainly no perfect projects either, so relying on recorded events only can still fall short of what is required of the course.

The purpose of providing commentary and critical reflection is for you to demonstrate that your knowledge and understanding goes beyond the simple acceptance of what occurred and that you can discuss and review key inputs, drivers, options and best practice (or often ‘lack of’). That is not to say you cannot look forwards and preempt what might occur on a project that has still not finished, but rather ground prediction in reflection and appraisal of what you have been exposed to to date.

Embrace the fact we are a visual profession

There is a demonstrably wide chasm between candidates that go to great lengths to illustrate their submissions in contrast to those that over rely on the written word. The submissions come under various names, Case (Appraisal) Studies, Professional Development Appraisal or Career Appraisal, etc, but what unifies them all is that there is not a large enough word count to talk about everything.

Diagrams and illustrations are by definition opportunities to curate and edit your understanding of something. There might be timelines to illustrate delicate sequences of events (planning, building control, tendering and contract administration), workflow charts to illustrate complex processes (change control procedures, payment processes and quality assurance), tables that naturally compare and contrast options and alternatives (NEC vs JCT, Traditional vs Design and Build, Bespoke Appointment vs Standard Forms of Appointment, etc) or more creative means beyond the obvious stated above!

What should we take across to the new system?

While debate takes place about ARB’s plans to re-categorise the competencies of the profession under five new categories, we should look for opportunities to celebrate the content of the Part III course, while acknowledging the drawbacks of the tripartite programme itself.

Part 3 is sometimes resented by students who have often already spent five years in full time education. Having to complete professional qualifications while dealing with the challenges of full-time employment, debt and the general tribulations of life outside work, can be hugely challenging, and are a reason that many people never register.

As we move forward, we should bring focus away from the time required to become qualified, towards the better timing of these competencies throughout one’s education. Other than exposure to contract administration and site processes, in principle, there is no reason why all other components of the Part 3 cannot be better distributed earlier in education, which we can only hope would better enable young graduates to achieve improved starting salaries and provide employers with a more capable workforce.

As a Part 3 examiner, lecturer and tutor for various institutions, I often have to confront the rather unsavoury truth that the success of Part 3 candidates is often largely pre-determined by the practice they are working at, the project they are working on and the mentor they have in the workplace.

Unfortunately, not everyone has industry contacts to necessarily come straight out of university into full-time employment. From personal experience I can see that the students that fall short of passing the Part 3 are too often those that need support and mentoring most in the name of equality, diversity and inclusion.

Looking forward to whatever the new routes to the profession hold for us, we need to seek out more opportunities that can provide practice-focussed education independent of the variables that the current system entails. Until such changes occur, I hope that the advice above remains useful.

The current Part 3 course has to be reflective in its nature because it is held back as the very last hurdle. We can only hope that in the future the new core competencies are introduced earlier, so that the value of Part 3 is spread throughout a student’s architectural education.