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I took and passed PPD (Project Planning & Development) on the first try this January, after 10 weeks of studying and with a bunch of support from my study group, friends and family. This exam was definitely one I was nervous about since according to NCARB it has the lowest pass rate of any of the 6 exams. I’m still kind of surprised every time I remember I have passed this exam, it seemed like something that was so unattainable when I first started studying.
The technical (PPD and PDD) exams are beasts and can be very intimidating. I’m glad that I persevered through this process and I can tell how much I’ve learned from where I started to where I am now.
When I started my exams in 2019, I attended a local AIA event where they were hosting an ARE trivia night. I hadn’t even passed PcM yet, and the people who were answering the questions related to PPD and PDD seemed to know so much, I almost felt like I would never catch up. And here I am now, in 2021, with one exam left, and more knowledge about toilets than I ever wanted in life.
All of this to say, we all start this process worried about what we don’t know. The important thing to remember is that the learning is part of the journey.
To see what I learned for this exam, read on below.
Heating, Cooling, and Lighting– I almost exclusively looked at one chapter of this book, Chapter 15, which deals with the Thermal envelope, which is a critical topic for the PPD exam. I think I studied this book for less than 3 hours total. However, if you are struggling with topics related to solar and sustainable strategies, this would be a great resource for you.
$82.59 to rent hardcover per three month semester, subscription with extension option
$118.00 to buy hardcover new, one-time purchase
$112.00 Kindle digital version, one time purchase
Architect’s Studio Companion – This textbook is a great one for visual learners, since it is full of diagrams and graphs. Almost too many graphs! There are many helpful tables dealing with HVAC, building types and comparisons of system advantages and disadvantages. I mostly used this textbook to study structures and occupancy. This textbook is also heavily referenced in Hyperfine for studying HVAC systems, so I studied that while I did my Hyperfine exercises.
$29.30 to rent hardcover per three month semester, subscription with extension option
$89.03 to buy hardcover new, one-time purchase
$82.00 Kindle digital version, one time purchase
Building Codes Illustrated – I didn’t spend as much time with this book as I did on the PA exam. I was also reading a lot of the actual code while I was doing practice questions.
This book is a great reference for visual learners, since it explains many aspects of the code in diagrams. I had actually purchased the 2015 version just before the switch to 2018 IBC, since I thought it wouldn’t have that much effect on this exam. I still made sure to read the 2018 version of the code separately.
One great thing about this book is that the chapters are organized by the corresponding code sections, chapter 3 in this book is the Use and Occupancy section, just like in the IBC. I feel like that made it easier to keep track of where I would find the relevant information in the actual code.
Fifth Edition Kindle – $39.99
Sixth Edition Paperback – $38, one time purchase
Sixth Edition Paperback Rental per 3 month Semester – $19, with option to extend
Sixth Edition Kindle- $54, one-time purchase
Hyperfine PPD/PDD Course – According to my records, I actually studied with Hyperfine the most out of any one material for this exam. I also used it as my guide for scheduling my exam, since the assignments were supposed to be taken over 10 weeks. I studied this material over 25 hours, but I probably could have spent even more time with it.
I used Hyperfine a bit differently for PPD, since there were 10 weeks of assignments, I didn’t feel like printing them all out. So I completed the assignments digitally and worked from my computer. This was helpful in that I could directly click on the resource links in the PDF. I got the version without the additional case study.
Price: $45, one-time purchase, without 20 question case study
Books Not Heavily Used
Ballast Review Manual – I read some relevant sections of this book, but I didn’t use it extensively. I mostly used the Ballast Practice Problems and Practice Exam.
Fundamentals of Building Construction – For PPD specifically, I think I read this book for slightly more than an hour. I think this is more of a critical resource for PDD instead. I had the 5th edition, but they now go up to the 7th edition on Amazon.
Codes & Standards
ICC Website – IBC 2018
I studied the building code in two main ways; the Building Codes Illustrated textbook, and by using the actual building codes online, through Upcodes, which includes the individual state adoptions of the IBC, or through the ICC website. I mostly read the code for this exam in relation to the practice exams or assignments instead of straight reading, especially Hyperfine assignments.
I would highly recommend that you use this resource through a digital website instead of buying the hard copy. It’s much faster to search through digitally, and it prepares you better to use the code in a digital format like you might encounter in the exam. If you want to use a hard copy, you can get it here. Make sure you’ve memorize the most common IBC sections so that you can recall them easily in the exam.
You can also pay on the digital websites to be able to search the code, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I think having to search for the relevant code section is a similar exercise to what you would have to do on the exam, and is good practice.
Code Access: Free for the websites, but it is also possible to buy a hard copy of the code, but I certainly would not recommend it.
I have studied this code pretty extensively in previous exams such as PA and CE, so I didn’t really need to study this resource directly. You can read it from UpCodes for the actual language and the full list of conditions or scenarios. Again, I mostly studied this through practice questions.
One of my favorite resources for studying the ADA was with the videos from Archicorner and from the U.S. Access Board, which you can find in my ARE 5.0 PA YouTube Playlist.
Quizlet – I collected almost too many quizlet flash card decks for this exam. To narrow it down to the ones I used the most:
- ADA Bathrooms by yuzumezu – This was helpful in terms of memorizing the required clearances and ADA standards.
- Door Hardware by Nciotta – This was a helpful deck if you’re not very familiar with door hardware.
- Occupancy Class and Construction Type by Yu-Chen Zhang- Great deck that can give you specific building types and how they relate to construction types, since these can be confusing or seem very similar.
- Architects studio companion ss by jeremyefass- Deals with concepts straight out of the Studio companion structural system comparisons.
Price for all decks: Free
NCARB Forum/ARE 5 Community – I highly recommend you check out recent pass information for the technical exams, especially in light of recent changes to the exam format. It can really change the way different people approach these highly technical exams.
Passed PPD &PDD and DONE!! with AREs!!! by Elif Bayram (yes, that Elif!)
PDD Pass – Here is my study strategy by Huy Nguyen
Price for NCARB Forum: Free
ARE 5.0 PPD YouTube Videos – This was another essential resource for me to understand so many aspects of this exam. This includes (but is not limited to):
- solar shading
- thermal envelope
- electrical drawings
- structural formulas
- insulation and U-value
- HVAC concepts
I created an entire playlist just for the PPD exam that you can access from this my YouTube channel. Make sure to subscribe to my channel for more of my latest video content.
Designer Hacks PPD Exam – WHen I first started taking the AREs, I asked my office to purchase the full Designer Hacks practice questions for all 6 exams, since they were the same price as one physical textbook. Designer Hacks is super portable, with its mobile version, along with multiple levels from pop quizzes to full length timed exams. You can find my one-minute review for this resource here.
I like that I can break it into smaller portions. These questions are pretty easy so if you can’t take these questions then more complicated questions will not be possible, so these are always a good starting point.
Price: This item was free for me as described above, but for this exam section alone it is $39.
WEARE Website – I’ve found that this exam is slightly more difficult than the Designer Hacks, and allows me to cross-train with different questions. They are available in digital form, making them highly portable.
One thing I’d highly recommend is to try and go through all their exam questions at least once. I noticed after I had finished one of my other exams that when I went back, they had some really relevant content that I had missed since I didn’t complete it.
One of my favorite parts of this resource is that they can be done as smaller portions, including short quizzes, and tests that can be separated into specific exam divisions. They also provide free versions of these questions, so you can see whether you are interested before you purchase. You can also check back on your previous takes of this exam, and see your progress over time.
Price: $34 per division, one-time purchase
ARE Questions – This practice exam by Elif Bayram came highly recommended in multiple platforms, including the ARE Facebook and the ARE 5.0 Community. These practice exams were probably the closest to the level of difficulty that you would find on the exam and are a great match in terms of topics. The level of flexibility with this exam is also great, since it has smaller pop quiz style exams, and then 2 full mock exams worth of questions.
The level of explanations for this exam are also highly comprehensive including the textbook that it is referenced from. I think everyone in my study group purchased this exam.
Price: $40, one-time purchase
Ballast Practice Exam – I went through this full practice exam for PPD at least once.
Ballast Practice Problem – I reviewed these questions with my study group pretty extensively. I spent a great deal of time with these practice problems.
Time Tracking Software
Clockify Website – This website is how I know that I reached my hourly study goal for this exam, 98.72 hours out of 100 for this exam. I use it to track my hours spent studying every day, and then can show you your total progress for your exam, and your progress for the week. You can use my study material tracker to list your hourly study goals for each resource as well.
I really like that I can start the timer as soon as I sit down to study, and it takes care of the rest in terms of organizing my time spent and putting it in easy to read charts that help me stay accountable. It is also completely free!
- I did a very quick overview of this exam with Pluralsight Prepare for the ARE Vol. 4 Project Planning & Design, kind of like a speed round to get acquainted with the material. This method was recommended by Marina Curac, in a blog post I used extensively to help come up with my resource organization and time management for this exam. (Pluralsight is running a Free April event, but I don’t know if the ARE courses are included).
- I was studying for this exam intially about once a week with my study group, and as we got closer to the exam, we moved it up to twice a week. We eventually ended up meeting three times a week. Each study group session we have is about 2 hours.
Resources I Did Not Use
Black Spectacles – Their Youtube videos were helpful, but I have not purchased their paid offerings. It was very expensive for me, and getting to use their Demo Exam wasn’t worth it for me. Their videos on plumbing deisgn were very helpful for this exam.
AEP – Expensive, and not enough positive reviews to purchase
Amberbooks – I didn’t get Amberbooks for this exam, as I created my own Youtube playlist, and used other Practice Exams. There are some useful Amber Book videos on Youtube though. I might invest in this for my final exam.
Young Architect Bootcamp – If I am thinking of possibly investing in this for my last exam. I’ll keep you posted.
I was very intimidated by this exam, and I still can’t believe that I passed it. I definitely worked very hard to get this pass, and I’m sorry that sharing this blog post has taken so long.
If you’re looking for additional tips on the ARE 5.0 for studying and staying motivated, make sure to follow me at the ARE Studio | Study For and Pass the ARE Facebook Group . Happy studying everyone!