Landscape architects help to harmonize the built and natural world on a scale that ranges from small backyards to citywide endeavors. That’s a significant responsibility, in that they weigh humans’ impact on the environment and the environment’s impact on humans for every project by considering individual and community health, natural resources, aesthetics, utility, and more.
Given the power of landscape architects to literally shape the world around us, with all of the benefits and risks that entails, they are legally required to obtain a license to operate in much of North America. Awarded by the multi-national Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB) to professionals who successfully pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE) tests, a license allows its holder to officially claim the title of landscape architect in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.
CLARB is made up of members from landscape architecture registration boards throughout its jurisdiction. As a collective, the nonprofit CLARB establishes standards for licensure, which allows it to prepare, administer, and score the LARE with an aim to welcome into the field only those professionals who preserve and promote public health and safety in all that they design and execute. No one can even offer landscape architecture services unless working as a licensed and registered landscape architect, which can only happen by passing the LARE. Exam dates and other details—including standards for passing and the test sections themselves—are consistent in every jurisdiction where CLARB operates, though a jurisdiction may have unique requirements or prerequisites to determine who may take the LARE.
The LARE, by definition, is a single examination, but it is made up of four different computer-based test sections, each focusing on a different subject:
Section 1: Project Construction and Administration
Section 2: Site Inventory and Analysis
Section 3: Design
Section 4: Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation
For a landscape architect, training is important, but taking the LARE is a must, since only people who successfully pass the examination are legally allowed to call themselves landscape architects.
To start their journey, students must study at one of 69 universities accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board to earn either a bachelor of landscape architecture or bachelor of science in landscape architecture degree. Students who choose a different major for the undergraduate studies can take a three-year master of landscape architecture course, and students without any undergraduate degree can take a course that runs five years or longer.
Landscape architecture requirements for licensure are determined by individual states and other regions, but every jurisdiction demands that applicants pass the LARE.
To prepare for this examination, licensure applicants should take advantage of every LARE study guide available. CLARB publishes a reference manual that highlights what can be found on all four test sections, as well as answers a multitude of frequently asked questions.
Though landscape architecture is based on the interaction between very physical elements—plants, soils, building materials, water, and more—the LARE test’s first section focuses on less-tangible topics: Project Construction and Administration.
The bulk of this multiple-choice section covers project management, with the rest devoted to bidding and construction. LARE Section 1 material includes determining the scope of a project, budgeting and scheduling, program development, preparing and reviewing contracts, coordinating documents, the relationship between contractors and clients, legal requirements for projects, and other subjects related to the continued operation of a successful design-based business. This section is about meetings, deadlines, and project stakeholders.
Licensure candidates diving into LARE Section 1 should know a glossary’s worth of industry-specific project management terms, but be prepared to answer questions based on their practical applications, as opposed to just definitions. An understanding of the overall design process—from a contractor’s perspective, as well as the project manager’s point of view—is crucial.
Study strategies differ from person to person, but flash cards based directly on material found in frequently used landscape architecture textbooks are recommended, as is taking a practice test in the weeks before sitting for the actual exam. Taking time to learn project management-related details before trying a practice test is also recommended, especially if the applicant has little real-world experience with administrative tasks and responsibilities.
Applicants sit for three hours for this section, spending 2 1/2 hours on the test itself, which consists of 100 items.
Learn more about what to expect in LARE Section 1 and get advice and study tips from this resource: 10+ Resources for LARE Section 1
This portion of the examination covers questions related to collecting data for a project and analyzing the results. Landscape architecture classes devote a considerable amount of time to these subjects, which appear in LARE Section 2 as Site Inventory and Analysis.
Like the section before it, this is a multiple-choice test. Slightly more than 20 percent of the questions focus on site inventory, while almost 80 percent deal with analysis of existing conditions. The smaller portion will involve permitting requirements, onsite investigations, and, of course, collecting and recording on-site inventory, as well as identifying anything lacking.
The larger analysis portion presents specific situations, and applicants must work with information provided to think critically and develop an answer based on their knowledge of the subject. In general, test-takers can expect LARE Section 2 to require a familiarity with design impact codes and regulations, floodplain conditions, and input from stakeholders. Analysis questions can involve data from a range of categories: site use, circulation, utility, view, microclimate, vegetation, solar, ecological, slope, soil, geotechnical, and surface hydrology.
While applicants may be familiar with most or all of this from emphasis on data collection and analysis at school, taking a refresher—and a practice test—on this specific material during any LARE prep efforts is highly recommended.
Applicants sit for 2 1/2 hours for this section, spending two hours on the test itself, which consists of 80 items.
Learn more about what to expect in LARE Section 2 and get advice and study tips from these essential resource: 10+ Resources for LARE Section 2
In as much as CLARB can test landscape architecture candidates for creativity, this is the section for that. LARE Section 3 shifts the tone set by the first two sections, as multiple-choice and multiple-response questions remain, but the item types are now advanced. The focus in on Design.
LARE Section 3 is split roughly in half, with just a bit more emphasis going to concept development over design development. On the concept side, applicants should be able to come up with opportunities and constraints for a site as presented, create and analyze design alternatives, develop a concept narrative, refine designs, and prepare conceptual renderings. Note that the test does not require any actual drawing, but probes a licensure candidate’s familiarity with the rendering techniques available. For the design section, test-takers will exercise their knowledge of master plan document (think land use, phasing plans, etc.) and preliminary site plan development; earthwork analysis; preliminary site plan development; perspective, elevation, and other illustrative graphic preparations; and material and components investigation, verification, and selection. Questions can also involve refining a preferred design alternative.
It can be easy to overthink the LARE Section 3 questions, but remember that they are carefully worded to present specific information that can point to a best-fitting answer out of a group that otherwise seems fairly subjective. LARE practice exams are particularly valuable for this portion, as they can provide an idea of how the questions are worded.
Applicants sit for 4 hours for this section, spending 3 1/2 hours on the test itself, which consists of 100 items.
Learn more about what to expect in LARE Section 3 and get advice and study tips from this set of essential resources: 10+ Resources for LARE Section 3
The final portion of the LARE is also the most daunting. LARE Section 4 continues the advanced item types, but expands to include the most questions and require the most time of any section. It also has the lowest passing rate of any section, likely because it draws from a lot of material, and while much of it may be familiar to hopeful landscape architects, few have mastered by the time they sit for Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation.
Every question in LARE Section 4 is devoted to a single topic: construction documentation. Questions involve specific construction details, but plan preparation is the main focus, so come armed with knowledge of the variety of plans necessary for a project—conditions, demolition and removal, site protection and preservation, erosion and sediment control, layout and materials, grading, stormwater management, and planting—as well as project sections and profiles; construction details; and contract, bidding, and technical specs.
The American Society of Landscape Architects has made available an abundance of prep material for LARE Section 4. Take advantage of it. Study all relevant texts, memorize charts and tables, and take practice exams. Do this for months before taking the exam.
Applicants sit for 4 1/2 hours for this section, spending 4 hours on the test itself, which consists of 120 items.
Learn more about what to expect in LARE Section 4 and get advice and study tips from this page: 10+ Resources for LARE Section 4
The LARE exam dates are set by CLARB and are the same in every jurisdiction. The council administers the examination each April, August, and December, giving aspiring landscape architects three chances a year to pass and obtain a license. The tests are spread out over a two-week period in their respective month.
Visit the council’s website to find the days and times of the next exam.
All licensure applicants are encouraged to take practice exams prior to each LARE section. The ASLA notes that people who study and take sections 1 and 2 soon after graduation are more successful due to the freshness of the material in their minds. Section 4 success rates benefit from several years of experience, if possible. When Section 3 is taken seems to bear no significance in terms of pass or fail rates.
The American Society of Landscape Architects provides practice questions, webinars, and other exam prep materials on its website, and LARE review sessions are available in several states.
Land8 has an extensive “LARE 101” series that offers essential resources, including studying strategies and recommended reading.
General exam information can also be found on the Landscape Architecture Technical Committee website.