Watch the ARE 5.0 Material Management Live Session Replay!

Thank you to everyone who was able to join me in the live session on Saturday last week! People asked great questions, and for me, it was a great opportunity to share the knowledge that I have gained in this process and provide relevant information, based on the Master Material List that I have also created. In this session, I discussed the study material prices, how I used them in each exam, the ideal formats, and studying for specific items efficiently.

The Master Material List was a list and resource I put together to provide a comprehensive, one-stop solution for those trying to buy and understand ARE study materials. The list shows the material formats, the exams each one was used for, rental options, and prices. I have also included free materials I used within this list. You can get your copy here for free, and read along with the video replay of the live session.

In addition to the Material Management Session, during the event I also launched and shared my new course, The PcM Project.

the pcm project

This is a new program hosted by RMSM Studio and is designed for architecture professionals who work full-time and struggle with time management, material management, and motivation within the ARE exams. This course focuses on the ARE 5.0 Practice Management exam (PcM), as it is the exam that most people start with, for good reasons (which I explain in this video). It launches on October 3rd, 2022 and ends on November 8th, condensing the study process into just 6 weeks for one exam!

When I first started studying for PcM, I was definitely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of study materials available out there, and how no idea how to structure my study time, and incorporate it into my work schedule. I recommend that you join the course if you can check off at least three of the following:

  • I don’t know which materials to study and in what order
  • I have to work full-time while I study for these exams
  • I am struggling to focus on the materials
  • I don’t feel motivated to study
  • I need coaching to help explain difficult concepts and why they are relevant to the exam
  • I don’t know how to use the study materials effectively
  • I struggle with a language barrier and would be glad to have a support group to help me understand the terms and practices that we study
  • I need a one-stop solution for the PcM study process

If three or more of these thoughts resonate with you, I highly recommend you look into this course and see if it is a good fit for you!

Changes To RMSM Studio

I wanted to share the new direction for the RMSM Studio website, Facebook Group and YouTube page. Watch the video below for more details, but in brief:

  1. From now on I’ll be posting less often, but trying to give you guys more complete and comprehensive content. So you can expect content about every two weeks.
  2. After September 1st, 2022 I will be discontinuing all items in the RMSM Studio Gumroad store. They are all available still for free download, and they will be removed after the first. You can download the items here:
  3. Instead of offering smaller scale courses only dealing with a part of the exams, I will be creating comprehensive courses taking you through my entire detailed study process. These will be as close to my exact study plan as possible, taking you from start to finish, and providing reading lists, practice questions, study plans and several hours of audio and video content.
  4. I will be continuing to offer the CE Studio online course until I create my CE full course next year, but I will be reducing the price to $80 until the new course is complete.
  5. We will be continuing with the ARE Studio Giveaway! I’ll share more details in a follow up post with the prize for the top contributor for the month of August!
  6. You can also complete this quick survey to let me know which study materials and exam areas you are struggling with before the ARE 5.0 Material Management live session on September 10th. I’ll be addressing all the materials I used throughout my exam process. It only takes 3 minutes and I can answer specific questions you have about study materials in the sessions.
Live Session on September 10th!

You can register for the ARE 5.0 Material Management live session here:

Look forward to seeing you guys soon, and hopefully you’re as excited as I am about the new direction! Happy studying!

ARE Studio Holiday Giveaway

I have a surprise for all of you for the New Year! For every month of 2022, I will be giving away a free practice test or study material within the ARE Studio Facebook Group!

The winners will be announced on the 1st of each month, based on who the Top Contributor was for that month. The Top Contributor is based on the person with the most likes, posts, and comments, in short, the person who engages the most within the Facebook group. Once you’ve been announced as the winner, I will reach out to you for your email, and purchase the material on your behalf.

This giveaway will start with the first award on January 1st, a free copy of the *Walking the ARE 50 PPD40 Exam* by Erik Walker, which will be a great resource for those studying for the PPD exam (Project Planning & Design). Here’s the page for the practice exam if you want to know more about it:

This is the first PPD exam from Erik Walker, and this is actually a partial exam, hence the reduced price of $22. Another benefit of this practice exam is that you will have email access to ask Erik Walker questions about the material. He will be releasing the full set of questions soon, after which he will be releasing his PA exam.

Here’s a quick description of the product according to the website:

This exam will test you in all of the exam areas described in the NCARB handbook, as well as some areas outside of the handbook designed to help you understand the content for this exam. The questions have been written so that they apply to real-life scenarios to promote the understanding and application of the exam content as these exams are not simply a ‘What is this?’ or ‘What is that?’ type of exam because that is not what you will find when you take the exam.

The other standout about Walking the ARE is that the answers give a better explanation of why they are correct, or incorrect. Some questions might also explain why an answer this time might be correct but could be different if the question was worded just slightly different than it is.”

Since the first giveaway is in January, you can start participating now! Just like comment, or post within the ARE Studio Facebook Group, and the Top Contributor by January 1st, 2022 wins! You can join the Facebook Group here, and make sure you fill out all the membership questions!

PDD Pass ARE 5.0 – Study Materials and Methods

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Project Development and Documentation, or PDD was my final exam. This one was challenging in a lot of the ways that I was expecting, and I was not surprised when I failed my first attempt at this exam. The PPD/PDD combo is known for being one of the hardest exams in the entire ARE exam process.

I initially studied for this exam and the PPD exam at the same time, over 10 weeks as recommended by the Hyperfine guide. I passed PPD on the first try, but failed PDD. One out of two is not that bad, for exams with a 50% pass rate. Like I said, it was expected. I immediately rescheduled my exam, giving myself two months to start my study process again from scratch (for a full list of my exam timeline go to my Frequently Asked Questions page). I’ll do a separate post on my actual registration process and getting my official license.

I definitely had to take a different approach after my fail. In my initial take of the exam, I think I focused on systems. In my retake I focused more on the materials section, which is why the Fundamentals of Building Construction was one of the textbooks I reviewed the most.

Throughout studying for this retake, one of the aspects that was the most frustrating for me was the sheer volume of the content I had to get through. Even if you gave yourself 4 months to study for the ARE exams, you would still come to the exam center and wish you had just one more day. You never know exactly what each test will focus on, so you try to be as thorough as possible, and hope your hard work has not betrayed you. In retaking this exam, I also started my study clock again from zero, and studied 113 hours in total for the exam. To find out how I spent all that study time, read on.


Fundamentals of Building Construction – This was one of the books I used most heavily for the PDD exam. I read from chapters 1-10, reading almost 18 hours in total. It covers a huge amount of material related to building materials, going into detail on classification and grades and installation techniques. From wood to metal, it has it all in this book.

This book (which I shorten to FBC to save time) is chock full of pictures showing all the steps of the fabrication process and how that specific material is used in construction. It also goes in depth on site information, which can be very helpful for those taking CE after this exam, instead of earlier in the process. I used the fifth edition of this book.

This book is also heavily referenced in the C144 Grant Adams Videos on Vimeo.


Fifth Edition Hardcover: $111

Seventh Edition Hardcover: $70.45

Seventh Edition Rental (3 Months): $22.08

Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings 12th Edition – My approach for MEEB was a bit unusual, since it is an absolutely enormous book. I actually only reviewed the graphics as recommended in this guide from the NCARB ARE 5.0 Community (told you it was helpful!). So instead of reading thousands of pages, I reviewed the graphics and diagrams in detail, redrawing them in my sketchbook, and trying to understand the concepts they described, including consulting other resources to understand them more concretely.

This is similar to what I did when I was studying contracts, instead of putting them in my own words, I’m redrawing them for my own understanding. I also simplified the diagrams as much as I could so I could still understand the concept if it was described in a different way in a question.

I only used the 12th edition for my review, and I didn’t look at the thirteenth edition to see if the image references are still the same, let me know in the comments if it still applies.


Twelfth Edition Hardcover Rent (Three Months): $20.48

Twelfth Edition Hardcover Rent (Three Months) : $70.40

Thirteenth Edition Hardcover: $153.35

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 or when discussing with my study group, just because it can be difficult to find specific code provisions. This is due to the visual nature of the book, it summarizes a lot of the code language, which practice questions can be very specific on, requiring you to check even the footnotes of the code.

I was still using the 2015 version of this book, as I still don’t think the differences between 2018 and 2015 were big enough to justify buying it again. For the PPD exams, I focused more on chapter 3, and for PDD I focused mainly on Chapter 7 and Chapter 10.


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

Ballast Review Manual – I ended up reading all the PDD sections for this textbook, and I was able to go through it quickly using this technique:

  1. List all the variables and units at the beginning of each chapter
  2. Highlight all the variables with the same or similar units, for example, highlight all the variables with “pound per sf” units.
  3. Read through the entire chapter, skipping all mathematical formulas
  4. Go through the exam topics again from the ARE 5.0 Handbook, and look through the index to see if there is content you can go through in the other exam sections.

I read this book for over 16 hours, and I went through chapters 33 to 48. That comes out to around 1 hour per chapter on average, which is pretty fast considering how dense the material is in Ballast. Skipping the complex mathematic equations really helped with this.

Online Courses

Hyperfine PPD/PDD Course – I had originally based my study timeline on the 10 weeks recommended by the Hyperfine guide. This worked for my PPD exam (passed first try, see here), but not for PDD, which I wish I had taken more time to study, as it really is its’ own separate exam.

One of the biggest challenges for me was avoid memorizing the answers since I’d done them before. I started again from the beginning instead of skipping around the subjects to make sure that the assignments weren’t the ones I had most recently seen. One technique I also tried to use with the Hyperfine was to find additional resources separate from t

Similar to the PPD exam, since there were 10 weeks of assignments, I didn’t feel like printing them all out (save the trees!). 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

Pluralsight Prepare for the ARE Vol. 5: Project Development & Documentation – For the last few exams, I have been using the Pluralsight courses to do a general overview of the exam content. I really like the ones for the technical exams, as it goes into enough of a level of detail to allow you approach the rest of your study materials and know what you need to focus on.

In terms of the actual time spent, I try to complete each Pluralsight course in the first week that I start studying for a specific exam. This can be overlapped with other materials like Hyperfine, but I prefer to focus on getting though the entire Pluralsight course before I move onto other materials.


Standard Subscription $29 a month

Codes & Standards

The individual codes were reviewed as needed for practice questions and to supplement for other readings, but I had already read through them a bunch for PA and PPD. I mostly used Building Codes Illustrated for the code sections.

Building Codes Illustrated: A Guide to Understanding the 2018 International Building Code, see above for prices

Digital Resources

Quizlet – I have collected so many flash card decks over the course of all 6 of these exams, that I decided I didn’t need to collect new ones for PDD. Well, not many. Only 5. Very reasonable. For me. You can also look at my recommendations for using and creating your own flash card decks here.

  1. ADA Clearances by jsmart3000
  2. IBC Chapter 7 – fire and smoke protection features by PegahGio
  3. IBC Chapter 10 – Means of Egress by PegahGio
  4. Fire Code by bkane1931
  5. ARE 5.0 Climate Zones by rmsmlekker

Price for all decks: Free

C144 Grant Adams Video Lectures – I used these video lectures similar to the Schiff Hardin lectures in the professional practice exams (PcM, PjM, CE). I would listen to them as audio lectures in the background when I was at work, and also watch them as regular videos when I had time available.

These videos heavily reference the FBC, which allowed me to review the material twice in a way. I really liked the lecture style, which similarly to the Schiff Hardin lectures, described the materials and methods based on the lecturers experiences.

Price: Free

Karin’s Notes – This is one of the most comprehensive study guides I’ve found for the PPD/PDD exams, that address the topics in a very visual and efficient way. Though the notes are mostly drawings, there are also helpful lists, diagrams, and comparison charts. I read through the entire 17 page set of notes multiple times, highlighting and redrawing the tables and diagrams where necessary.

Another thing to remember for ARE content providers, do remember to provide product ratings and reviews where you can to help both the content creators and other test-takers that get value out of the review.

Price: Free with the option to donate

ARE 3.0 and 4.0 Study Guides – Unfortunately, I’m struggling to find the link for them, but the study guides for the ARE 3.0 and 4.0 exams were very helpful study resources as well. See if you can find a set to review. It is basically the same thing as the ARE 5.0 Handbook, just for earlier editions of the exams. Speaking of which….

ARE 5.0 Handbook – I like to review the ARE 5.0 Handbook when I start prepping to take an exam, so I can organize my study topics, materials and timeline. I have a video on how I use the ARE Handbook to guide my studying in the video below. I also use all the practice questions at the end of my exam study process, as an additional practice exam.

Obviously the questions would be a similar level of complexity as you would find on the exam, since they come directly from NCARB. Make sure you are using the most recent version of the Handbook, as it was updated for the new exam formats.

Price: Free

ARE 5.0 Community Page

NCARB Forum/ARE 5 Community I highly recommend you check out recent pass information for the technical exams, especially in light of recent and upcoming changes to the exam format. Whenever I fail an exam, I mix my review of posts with those of people who passed on the first try, with people who have had to retake it. I feel like it’s important to get the point of view of people who have retaken the exams, because they can tell you which material was not actually helpful in the end. It’s all about being strategic.

Pass PDD by Audrey Bertrand

PDD Pass on my 3rd try! by Helen Vasquez

PDD 3rd Try – Pass & Done by Adrian Martinez

Price for NCARB Forum: Free

ARE 5.0 PDD Mega Playlist – I made an entire blog post on this huge playlist that was the combination of two attempts at the PDD exam. I don’t recommend that you watch every single video in this playlist, I instead recommend that you approach this list as an encyclopedia of content and topics from my studying process.

Researching and creating this playlist was actually a part of my study process, because it was mainly formed by the topics I found on practice questions, and describe in my practice question process below.

Price: Free

Practice Exams

I have a specific method I use for practice questions, especially the fiull mock exams. You can check out my detailed practice question process here.

WEARE Website – For my second attempt at PDD, I didn’t focus on this resource, and mostly used it for unstructured study time. I definitely like these questions for their level of complexity. You just have to make sure, as I mentioned for Hyperfine, that you don’t get into the habit of memorizing the answers to the practice questions, after which point they become useless. This is why it’s helpful to do practice questions with study group members, so you have to verbally defend your answers and actually justify your answers with your knowledge.

Price: $34 per division, one-time purchase

ARE Questions – For me, these questions are at the same level of difficulty for me that Walking the ARE Exam by Erik Walker was for the PcM exam. Very challenging and with a large number of practice questions to go through so you feel like you’re doing a real exam. Another reason why these questions are popular is because there are very detailed explanations for why the answers are correct. I like to use these questions as my full practice run, using the NCARB demo exam and calculator to replicate an exam environment.

Price: $40, one-time purchase

Ballast Practice Exam – I went through this full practice exam for PDD at least once.

Ballast Practice Problem – I reviewed these questions with my study group pretty extensively throughout PPD and PDD.

Time Tracking Software

Clockify Website – I think I’ve mentioned Clockify in every single exam pass blog post I have made, because it has been absolutely essential to my process. I can track the amount of time I’ve spent on specific materials, and whether or not I am on track with my study goals. I will be creating a video soon on how I use Clockify to study for my exams. I always have a study goal of 100 hours per exam, and I definitely exceeded that for my PDD retake.

Price: Free

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. I have a lot of their videos in my PPD and PDD Youtube playlists.

AEP – Not enough reviews to purchase

Amberbooks – I didn’t get Amberbooks for this exam, as I created my own Mega Youtube playlist, which you can find here. I did include several Amber Book videos in my playlist. They also used to have 40 minutes of competence videos, which are available here.

Young Architect Bootcamp – I was thinking that I would invest in Bootcamp if I failed PDD 3 times, but I passed before that happened (barely).

Archizam – Not used by me for this exam.

Heating, Cooling and Lighting Book – Not used for this exam.

In Conclusion

I can barely believe that I am done with my exams, thank you to everyone who has supported me through this process! If you have additional questions for me, feel free to ask in the comments.

If you’re looking for additional tips on the ARE 5.0 for studying and staying motivated, join me at the ARE Studio | Study For and Pass the ARE Facebook Group . I will also be sharing new videos on a weekly basis at my YouTube channel, sharing content on my LinkedIn page, and continue creating tips, courses, free downloads and recommendations on this website. You can also join my email newsletter to get regular updates on what I’m doing next. Happy studying everyone!

How to Use Flashcards for the ARE

Flashcards are an amazing tool for people working on gaining a better understanding of subjects and detailed information. However, creating them can be a time consuming task, almost bordering on procrastination if not approached with efficiency in mind.

Let me show you the ways that I use flash card decks to avoid wasting time and focus on the relevant information in my new video on YouTube.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and Facebook group to get access to more of my regular ARE content!

PDD Mega Playlist Now on YouTube!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

I just finished my last exam PDD! The blog post for the materials I used is coming shortly, but I did a short post on it within the ARE Studio Facebook Group if you want to take a sneak peek. If you are not a member of the ARE Studio | Study For & Pass the ARE group yet, make sure to answer all the membership questions to get accepted.

This new PDD Mega Playlist is the result of my two attempts at PDD, with over 450 videos! I created this playlist for my first take of the exam, and after I failed, I kept adding on to it with the new material I learned to fill in my gaps. Some of these videos are very comprehensive, such as the ones from the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), from 45 minutes to an hour long. I really like using long videos while I work, as they become like Schiff Hardin Lectures for me.

Another video medium that I made use of, which is not included in the YouTube Playlist, are the Construction 144 Grant Adams lectures that you can find on Vimeo. Again, I used these as Schiff Hardin lectures, and listened to them in the background all day. These videos are basically a building materials and structures course, broken down by the different material types, and I think a lot of the content comes from the Fundamentals of Building Construction: Material and Methods textbook.

I hope you find these resources helpful, and make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to get more updates on ARE 5.0 content like this. Good luck on your exams!

PPD Pass ARE 5.0 – Study Materials and Methods

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

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

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 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.

Building Codes Illustrated: A Guide to Understanding the 2018 International Building Code, see above for prices

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

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.

Price: Free

Digital Resources

Quizlet – I collected almost too many quizlet flash card decks for this exam. To narrow it down to the ones I used the most:

  1. ADA Bathrooms by yuzumezu – This was helpful in terms of memorizing the required clearances and ADA standards.
  2. Door Hardware by Nciotta – This was a helpful deck if you’re not very familiar with door hardware.
  3. 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.
  4. Architects studio companion ss by jeremyefass- Deals with concepts straight out of the Studio companion structural system comparisons.

Price for all decks: Free

ARE 5.0 Community Page

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

PPD & PDD passed in the same week! ARE finally done! by Shi Guo

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
  • elevators
  • lighting

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.

Price: Free

Practice Exams

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!

Price: Free

Other Resources

  • 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 also reviewed MEEB graphics for about an hour.
  • 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.

In Conclusion

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!

How to Use the PcM Study Guide: Live Event on Mar. 30

If you’re interested in learning some of the methods I used to pass the ARE 5.0 Practice Management (PcM) exam, you don’t want to miss tomorrow’s live Facebook session. In the Q& A Tuesday: Free Training on How To Use the PcM Study Guide, I’ll be taking you through my free One-Page ARE 5.0 PcM Study Guide, with resources, and study tips, as well as giving a Live Q&A on the PcM exam, and questions on starting your exam journey.

This live event will be taking place today, March 30th at 8:00pm EST, and is free to attend. There will also be a Live Q&A with me at the end, for any questions you may have related to the ARE 5.0. 


I’ve also decided to provide a giveaway opportunity for those participating in today’s session. In order to be eligible, all you have to do is watch the session till the end, and post your hourly study goal for the PcM exam.

I will select one person to receive a gift of the Walking the ARE PcM exam, which you can check out here, so make sure to comment and engage to be eligible.

The live stream will take place within the ARE Studio | Study For & Pass the ARE Facebook Group, my new ARE exam community.

ARE Studio Facebook Group Cover

ARE Studio Facebook Group Banner

This group is for support, providing information, doing live webinars, live Q&A, exclusive free live training (like this one), and study resources. This group is a community both for those just starting out on their exams, or those who have a few passes under their belts.

ARE Studio Facebook Group Goals

Look forward to seeing you all today, and happy studying!


If you miss this session, you can still watch the recording inside the ARE Studio Facebook Group! Just go to the Guide/Unit for Practice Management after the session is over, and you will find the recording.

Mini Quiz: HVAC System Selection

The seconds are ticking down for my first attempt at PDD. I’m currently going through HVAC systems with my ARE Study Group (hi guys!) and I said I would come up with some questions on HVAC selection for different building types. I used the Architect’s Studio Companion to put these questions together.

Question 01

Brad Pitt is currently searching for a small two bedroom bungalow in a climate where the main heat loss is through the building skin in the winter. He is a big advocate for going green and wants a system that is sustainable. What system should he select to heat the building?

Question 02

The Tavares Continental Hotel Suites wants a new HVAC unit to service their kitchen and laundry spaces in an existing hotel that they are renovating. This system should provide heating and cooling, and plenty of fresh air. They want an enclosed system that can utilize the overheated areas to heat the underheated areas of the hotel. Cost is not a primary concern. Which system should the hotelier go for?

Question 03

Torrential Inc. is looking to expand their research campus with a new laboratory. They are looking for an HVAC system which provides heating and cooling, with good humidity control and efficiency. They would prefer a quiet system that won’t interfere with their research work, with a reduced risk of mold which could contaminate their samples, and can provide them with lower ceiling to floor heights. To save on energy costs this system will be tied into a geothermal exchange. What system should they choose?

Question 04

You have been engaged by a developer, the Yu Chen & Associates Construction Group, to provide a design for a hotel. The system needs to have low intial costs, with no central equipment, piping or ductwork. Due to the nature of the building operations, they would prefer to have lower operating costs as well. Which HVAC system should the architect select?

Question 05

The American University Washington would like to create a new 6 story Economics Building dedicated to one of their alumni, Ms. Manisha Singh, the current Assistant Secretary, Economic & Business Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. American University has stressed the need for a quite system, so as not to interfere with the lectures. The university has requested that system provide a low first cost with low maintenance requirements to provide room in their budget for higher quality finishes. What HVAC system would you recommend?

Correct Answers

For all answers, reference the Architect’s Studio Companion sections on HVAC selection. This is one of my favorite books on this topic, as it deals with system selection in a very straightforward way.

  1. Passive Solar Heating, refer to page 228
  2. Closed Loop Heat Pump System, refer to page 181
  3. Active Chilled Beam System, refer to page 178
  4. Packaged Terminal Unit Systems, refer to page 184
  5. Variable Air Ventilation System, page 174

Let me know how you did on this question, or share your alternative answers in the ARE Studio Facebook Group, and make sure to follow RMSM Studios on Facebook and Instagram!

AA Architects: the numbers 2020

By Ramatoulie S. Muhammed, Katherine Williams

I met up with Katherine Williams this year after working together on the Riding the Vortex session for Architecture Exchange East. My section of the talk focused on understanding the numbers in terms of representation and experiences of African American (AA) architects, with a focus on the experiences of women, and those working within the state of Virginia. 

After giving my presentation, Katherine asked if I would be interested in helping her put together the data on AA architects for 2020. I was excited to be asked, due to Katherine’s prestige in the field in general and her work specifically with the Black Women in Architecture Brunch, Riding the Vortex, her published works, and (many) blogs. 

As I write this at the beginning of February 2021, we have to reflect on what a landmark year 2020 was for African-Americans across the country, and how we’ve seen race brought up in a deliberate way that many saw as taboo before. The protests against racial justice (which continue to this day) opened up conversations and narratives that were previously unheard of within the profession, with multiple firms and organizations expressing their condemnation for racism and support for the AA community. 

While these conversations and statements are relevant and essential partnerships, it is important now as architecture professionals that we hold these companies and organizations accountable. I believe in SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, with an emphasis on Measurable. In my experience, a lot of the knowledge that architects have regarding the state of diversity and representation in the field is purely anecdotal, and not reflective of the actual numbers and data. Everyone’s lived experience is valid, but we can only move forward if we face the sobering reality of our situation. 

Another critical element is the rapid and destructive spread of COVID-19 in the United States. The effects of this virus have been felt in architecture in the form of lost loved ones, shuttered offices, massive layoffs, furloughs, closed universities, canceled licensure exams, and the list goes on. The financial effect on many firms has been severe, with the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) remaining below 50 from March 2020 through December 2020. And these factors exist on top of the AA workers being hit especially hard by higher unemployment rates, wage gaps, and health risks.

Image: Employment-to-population ratio by race and gender, February-April 2020, Economic Policy Institute (EPI),,and%20gender%2C%20February%E2%80%93April%202020&text=Survey%20public%20data.%20%22-,Note%3A%20White%20refers%20to%20non%2DHispanic%20whites%2C,Black%20refers%20to%20Blacks%20alone.

Registered Architects

But what has the result been for AA as a group? According to the data from the Directory of African American Architects (DAA), there are currently 2378 registered blacks architects in the U.S. This is compared to a total of 116,242 architects in the country, which means only 2% of registered architects are African American. This number is consistent with previous years, with no change from 2019. This is hardly surprising, given the addition of only 73 AA Architects this past year, compared to the nearly 4,000 people that completed their licensure exams in 2020  in the country. 

Architecture Experience Program (AXP)

Next, we’ll look at how architecture firms are helping AA gain professional experience in preparation for becoming licensed architects. NCARB and NOMA have just released their Baseline on Belonging Report, Phase 2, which highlights the experiences of the different racial demographics through the AXP in America. Some of their findings highlight several pain points for those specifically trying to gain a variety of experience opportunities within their firm.

In terms of the timelines of the AXP program, the report found that white candidates both started and completed the program before other demographics, however, they do take longer to finish the program than other demographics in between that time. Additionally, AA respondents within the report were 7% less likely to agree that finding a firm that was supportive of their AXP process at the entry-level and 4% less likely at the mid-level of their careers.

Image: AXP Start and Completion, Baseline on Belonging: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Architecture Licensing, NCARB,

Architecture Registration Exam

There have been numerous challenges for ARE candidates this year, including changes to the exam format itself, which led many to postpone their exams, especially towards the end of the year. Also, with the early stages of COVID, there were test center closures across the country with little or no warning, sometimes due to overall test center closures, but also due to last-minute cancellations to ensure social distancing. 

ARE Completion rates for African-Americans have remained at 2% every year since 2011. This is compared to an increase in the same period for Asian candidates from 11% to 12% and a decrease for White candidates from 82% to 79%. 

Image: Percent of ARE Completion by Race, NCARB,

It is clear that this milestone in the retention of African-American Architects is critical, as we see from the number of ARE Starts is at 4% and ARE Completions is at 2%, a statistic which is consistent with those who go on to become licensed. This shows that we are losing at least half of our potential AA architects during the ARE Examination phase, and more than half of those who start the AXP process (5%).

Looking Forward

Seventy-three architects being added to the DAA is a big achievement compared to the previous year. It brings the number back to the trend of 2015-2018. This is despite all of the roadblocks 2020 put in front of people as it pertains to having access to resources and being able to take exams. 

Chart by Katherine Williams

However, we should not rest on this. Increasing the percentage of African American architects by just 1% would require another 1,100 licensed AA architects. We can’t wait 15 years (1,100/70 per year) for that. Targeted efforts to get students into accredited architecture degree programs, ensure they matriculate and have viable internships, provide jobs for them to graduate into, mentor along the career path, and support through the licensure process are all needed. 

The effort needed will require the buy-in of all of the entities that have an imprint on the careers of US architects. This includes the high schools, universities, NAAB, NCARB, AIA, NOMA, and architecture firms large and small. Some ongoing efforts to help increase representation include:

  • The NOMA Foundation Fellowship – A fellowship created in partnership with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, providing up to 20 fellowships with stipends. The Summer 2021 Summer Cohort is now open for applications for interested students. 
  • The NOMA 50×50 Challenge, which aims to create 50 newly licensed architects by the NOMA conference in October 2021. This challenge is a partnership with Black Spectacles, an NCARB accredited ARE test-prep provider to provide 50 seats per month of their ARE 5.0 Prep Expert package.
  • Project Pipeline National Camp – National Virtual Summer Camps hosted by NOMA National and NOMA Chapters providing opportunities for 6th to 12th graders to gain an introduction to the fields of architecture & design. 
  • In its fourth year, the Desiree Cooper ARE scholarship, provided financial support to four exam takers.

After tracking the data for over ten years, we are finally seeing efforts to address multiple prongs of the issue to increase the population of African American architects. Now is the time to quickly evaluate their progress and scale what works so we can move forward with the momentum that 2020 and 2012 has presented to us.


Frimpong, Kwadwo. “Black People Are Still Seeking Racial Justice – Why and What to Do About It.” Brookings, Brookings, 12 Nov. 2020, 

“SMART Goal – Definition, Guide, and Importance of Goal Setting.” Corporate Finance Institute, 16 Sept. 2020,,chances%20of%20achieving%20your%20goal. 

“Examining the State of Diversity.” The American Institute of Architects, 2016, 

“ABI December 2020: Architecture Firm Billings End the Year on a Sour Note.” The American Institute of Architects, 

Report • By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson • June 1. “Black Workers Face Two of the Most Lethal Preexisting Conditions for Coronavirus-Racism and Economic Inequality.” Economic Policy Institute, 1 June 2020,,and%20gender%2C%20February%E2%80%93April%202020&text=Survey%20public%20data.%20%22-,Note%3A%20White%20refers%20to%20non%2DHispanic%20whites%2C,Black%20refers%20to%20Blacks%20alone. 

“2020 NBTN State of Licensure.” NCARB, 23 June 2020, 

Richards, William. “Reading between the Trend Lines.” The American Institute of Architects, 2020, 

“The NOMA Foundation Fellowship – a New Program Aimed at Increasing Minority Licensure.” NOMA, 3 Feb. 2021, 

Architect Staff. “NOMA Leadership Aims to ‘Educate, Elevate, and Empower Minority Architects’ in 2021.” Architect, 19 Jan. 2021, 

“Project Pipeline: National Organization of Minority Architects.” NOMA, NOMA, 5 Nov. 2020, 

“Understanding How Race, Age, and Gender Impact the AXP.” NCARB, NCARB, NOMA, 17 Feb. 2021, 

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