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I took and passed PA in November last year on the first try. I think some of the major factors for my success were the YouTube playlist I created, my study group, and maintaining the consistency with my study process. The scope of the PA exam is so large, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
With this exam, despite meeting my study goal, I still felt very unsure of whether or not I was going to pass when I walked into Prometric. There were definitely some references that I felt like I could have spent more time with, such as Problem Seeking and the Standards for Historic Properties. But ultimately it’s the result that counts. Read on below to see what materials I used for this test.
Site Planning & Design Handbook – This book was heavily recommended in the ARE 5.0 Community, I definitely recommend it for this exam. I think my strategy for this book was to focus on the chapters with relevant content to this exam. Focus on the following topics with this book:
- Controlling Wind, Water and Sun onsite
- Use of Shading
- Environmental Conditions
- Brownfields and Remediation, Radon, Lead and Asbestos
- Unstable soil
$60.09 to rent hardcover per three month semester, subscription with extension option
$72.49 to buy hardcover new, one-time purchase
$67.82 Kindle digital version, one time purchase
Sun, Wind, and Light: Architectural Design Strategies – I actually love this book, however, I think the format is terrible for this exam. The book is designed to assist you in figuring out sustainable strategies for a project you are planning. Some of the content in this book was kind of obvious for me, since I am both a LEED Green Associate and a Green Star Accredited Professional, but if you are not very familiar with sustainable strategies, this book will be great for you.
It is really more of a workbook than a textbook, even though it is full of very useful information. I focused on reading Chapters I, II and VI. You may want to skip over the chapters explaining how this manual works, but I highly recommend that you read those chapters in their entirety to even begin to understand how to use this book.
$16 to rent spiral-bound per three month semester, subscription with extension option
$84.38 to buy spiral-bound, one time purchase
Building Codes Illustrated Textbook – This book is a great reference for visual learners, since it explains many aspects of the code in diagrams. I actually purchased the 2015 version just before the switch to 2018 IBC, since I figured it wouldn’t have that much effect on this exam. I still made sure to read the actual 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 PA Course – My main technique for using this course for PA was to print it out and do the assignment by hand because it’s easier for me to go back and forth. This resource comes as digital files, but trying to do it as a digital assignment wasn’t working well for me. I consider these to be a kind of textbook because how much resource reading I have to do for each assignment.
The assignments themselves are very detailed and come with multiple resources per topic, between 2 or 3. For PA, the way I used Hyperfine was to first read the resources for each assignment, then try to complete the assignment itself. I find this to be the best way to use it for subjects you’re not very familiar with.
Price: $40, one-time purchase
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – I would mainly focus on the Preface and Chapter 1 for this book, as this is not a large focus of this exam’s objectives. It is important to understand the principles of CPTED and how they would be applied.
Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer – A very interesting book that breaks down all of the different concepts within programming. I would recommend that you read it once and try to understand the concept definitions. You will also need to understand the process of creating the architectural problem, which may be familiar for those of you who went through creating your architecture thesis.
Price: Paperback: $65.16, Kindle: $54.00
Ballast Review Manual – I read the PA sections of this textbook.
Codes & Standards
Since this exam doesn’t deal with any contracts, I’ll use this section to talk about codes and standards instead. Most of these codes come directly from NCARB’s Reference Matrix.
ADA referenced in the NCARB Reference Matrix
International Building Code 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 tried to read the critical chapters/code sections of both, which were chapters 3,4,5,6, and 10.
I would definitely recommend that you use this resource through a digital website instead of buying the hard copy. It’s much faster to search through in digital format, and I would say that it prepares you better to use the code in a digital format like you might encounter in the exam. If you realllly want to use a hard copy, you can get it here. Make sure you’ve memorized the most common IBC sections so that you can recall them easily in the exam.
Building Codes Illustrated, as mentioned above, takes a lot of the codes concepts and simplifies and diagrams them, however, I would still recommend that you read through the entire relevant code sections, before you use the summarized version. Also keep in mind that for this exam, NCARB has moved on to the 2018 version of the IBC, so make sure your study materials reflect that.
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.
Building Codes Illustrated: A Guide to Understanding the 2018 International Building Code, see above for prices
2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
I would say this is one of these resources that you should use as a primary resource. Many different ARE prep materials reference the diagrams and definitions from this standard, but the definitions can be simplified to the point where it’s difficult to determine the difference between similar conditions.
So I would highly recommend that you read through this code from UpCodes in its entirety before you move on to reading about it from somewhere else. It will really help you understand where each standard is actually used.
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.
Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
This document is very straightforward document, that I wouldn’t say that you need to do a deep and detailed reading on. Just make sure you understand the definitions for each of the treatment methods (I have a Quizlet deck for this below).
When I was reading this book, I went through the:
- Introduction, page 2
- Historical Overview, page 4
- Introduction Sections for Each of the Standards (Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction)
You can read the sections on building materials, features and systems, etc. but I did not focus on those for this exam.
Quizlet – I am very big on using my time efficiently for this exam, which is why I don’t spend a lot of time making physical flashcards. Many topics within PA are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to their definitions, so my focus was on the more standards, codes, and soil information, that cna’t be easily guessed at, or which can be easily confused for a similar word or definition.
- ADA Deck by glhightower- This was helpful in terms of memorizing the required clearances and ADA standards.
- Building Efficiency Deck by Yu-Chen Zhang- It is important to study how different spaces are calculated in terms of net assignable areas and gross area.
- Historic Preservation Standards Deck by Chase Jackson- Many of the terms within the Secretary of the Interiors Standards can sound very similar, so it is important to know the definitions in detail.
- Soils Deck by MADSHOTDOT- Concepts related to soil, including sizes, performance and types
Price for all decks: Free
NCARB Forum/ARE 5 Community – I use this resource a lot to figure out what resources I will actually use. I will always compare the NCARB Reference Matrix to what the Community says has actually worked for them in the past. Unfortunately, NCARB recently purged their older posts, meaning years of exam passes and knowledge is now lost to us, however, of the posts that remain, here is what I would recommend you look at:
PA Pass! Tips and Study Materials by Pedro Espinet
PA Pass Tips! by Ashley Biren
“Likely pass” PA by Audrey Bertrand
Price for NCARB Forum: Free
ARE 5.0 PA YouTube Videos – This was another essential resource for me to understand so many aspects of this exam. This includes (but is not limited to):
- water management, water tables and flooding
- climates and sun orientation
- floor area ratios
- egress, ADA, and IBC
- soils and site surveys
- bioremediation and historic preservation
- R-value, U-Value and Reflectance
- Zoning and property considerations
I created an entire playlist just for the PA exam that you can access from this article or my YouTube channel. Make sure to subscribe to my channel for more of my latest video content.
Designer Hacks PA Exam – 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.
I really like using these questions when I have an extra bit of time like if I’m waiting in line or if I just have time to kill and I can whip it out on my phone and start doing practice questions. They are also a good way to make sure I practice answering questions quickly.
Price: This item was free for me as described above, but for this course 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 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
Walking the ARE 5.0 PA Practice Exam – This exam totally kicked my butt, but it was completely worth it. I took it in the middle of my studying, not at the end because otherwise I would have cancelled my exam. My study group and I all bought this practice exam, and took it independently to see what concepts we struggled with individually and as a group.
It really helped me with understanding where the gaps were in my studying, which is another reason that I recommend that you take it in the middle, so you have the opportunity to go back and read each of the concepts you didn’t understand. It really tackles concepts like zoning, site selection, and climate that I feel is on par with the level of question difficulty you would see on a real exam.
Price: $42, one-time purchase
Ballast Practice Exam – I went through this practice exam for PA at least once.
Time Tracking Software
Clockify Website – This website is how I know that I reached my hourly study goal for this exam, 99.62 hours out of 100. 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. 3 Programming & Analysis, 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 for this exam.
- 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. Each study group session we have is about 2 hours.
- I also spent some time looking at soil boring reports, and trying to find examples of the soil classification USPLSS to study from.
Resources I Did Not Use
Black Spectacles – Their Youtube videos were helpful, but I have not purcahsed their paid offerings. It was very expensive for me, and getting to use their Demo Exam wasn’t worth it for me.
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.
Young Architect Bootcamp – If I am thinking of possibly investing in this if I struggle to pass my final exam. I’m still trying to remain mostly self-guided for as long as I can.
The exam was very nerve wracking for me. I was sure I was going to fail when I walked in, and I believed I was going to fail up until it said that I had passed.
I think this was one of those instances where hard work pays off, with being really hyper-focused on this exam, reducing my distractions and social functions and other obligations really making a difference in keeping me on task.
I’m hoping to share my PPD exam pass with you all soon. Let me know if you have any additional questions and happy studying!
CE Studio – A New Online Course for the ARE 5.0 Construction & Evaluation Exam
CE was an exam that I had initially failed, and as I mentioned in my original CE pass announcement, there were many aspects of the exam that I felt were not clearly communicated in the exam objectives and study materials. This led me to reevaluate my study strategy and focus, to make sure that the material I was studying actually going to help me pass.
To help you with this, I’m happy to introduce CE Studio. It is an on-demand online course, that will give you the essential concepts for studying for the ARE 5.0 CE Exam, giving you a structured study plan and helping you reach your study goals. This course will be starting on the 28th of February, 2021. This is a online course with videos and practice questions, not another PDF that will just sit in your Documents folder. CE Studio is designed for your to interact with it in multiple ways, and allow you to get started with it immediately.
This course is designed to help get you through these CE concepts:
- Drawings in Detail
- Project Management Made Easy
- Estimation Essentials
- Conquering Contracts
- Tried and True Study Method
- Schedules Simplified
- Building Element Breakdown
- Closeout Comprehension
- and Take That Test!
CE Studio members will also receive assigned readings and material recommendations for each module, which will prepare you in advance of each lesson, so you can be familiar with the material and be able to ask deeper questions. Since the course is offered as on-demand, videos are accessible at anytime.
We will also be working out some of the practice questions using the NCARB Digital Whiteboard, to make test takers familiar with the software before they go into Prometric.
This course also comes with a 100% moneyback guarantee, no questions asked, and no matter how you’ve been taking the course, if you think it wasn’t valuable for you.
The best part is that all of this is available for an early-bird rate of only $94.50. This includes all video lessons, practice questions, bonus materials and reading assignments for 10% off. When you join the course, you have access to the course materials and videos for an unlimited amount of time, no need to email back and renew.
Early-bird pricing for this course is only available until February 28th, when the course content all goes live, so don’t delay signing up. After the early-bird pricing is over, the course cost goes back up to $105. I look forward to seeing you on the first day of the course, February 28th, 2021!