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.

Books

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.

Price:

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.

Price:

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.

Price:

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.

Price:

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.

Books

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.

Price:

$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.

Price:

$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.

Price:

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.

Price:

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!


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), https://www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/#:~:text=Employment%20has%20dropped%20sharply%20in,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, https://www.ncarb.org/blog/understanding-how-race-age-and-gender-impact-the-axp

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, https://public.tableau.com/views/2020RaceEthnicityAREComplete_Web/Dashboard1?:embed=y&:display_count=y&publish=yes&:origin=viz_share_link&:showTabs=y&:toolbar=n

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.

References

Frimpong, Kwadwo. “Black People Are Still Seeking Racial Justice – Why and What to Do About It.” Brookings, Brookings, 12 Nov. 2020, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2020/11/12/black-people-are-still-seeking-racial-justice-why-and-what-to-do-about-it/. 

“SMART Goal – Definition, Guide, and Importance of Goal Setting.” Corporate Finance Institute, 16 Sept. 2020, corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/smart-goal/#:~:text=A%20SMART%20goal%20is%20used,chances%20of%20achieving%20your%20goal. 

“Examining the State of Diversity.” The American Institute of Architects, 2016, http://www.aia.org/resources/12416-examining-the-state-of-diversity. 

“ABI December 2020: Architecture Firm Billings End the Year on a Sour Note.” The American Institute of Architects, http://www.aia.org/pages/6366635-abi-december-2020-architecture-firm-billin. 

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, http://www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/#:~:text=Employment%20has%20dropped%20sharply%20in,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, http://www.ncarb.org/nbtn2020/licensure. 

Richards, William. “Reading between the Trend Lines.” The American Institute of Architects, 2020, http://www.aia.org/articles/6345080-reading-between-the-trend-lines. 

“The NOMA Foundation Fellowship – a New Program Aimed at Increasing Minority Licensure.” NOMA, 3 Feb. 2021, http://www.noma.net/noma-foundation-fellowship/. 

Architect Staff. “NOMA Leadership Aims to ‘Educate, Elevate, and Empower Minority Architects’ in 2021.” Architect, 19 Jan. 2021, http://www.architectmagazine.com/practice/noma-leadership-aims-to-educate-elevate-and-empower-minority-architects-in-2021_o. 

“Project Pipeline: National Organization of Minority Architects.” NOMA, NOMA, 5 Nov. 2020, http://www.noma.net/project-pipeline/. 

“Understanding How Race, Age, and Gender Impact the AXP.” NCARB, NCARB, NOMA, 17 Feb. 2021, http://www.ncarb.org/blog/understanding-how-race-age-and-gender-impact-the-axp. 

PA 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 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.

Books

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
  • Floodplains
  • Brownfields and Remediation, Radon, Lead and Asbestos
  • Unstable soil

Price:

$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.

Price:

$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.

Price:

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.

Price: Free

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.

Price:

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.

Price: Free

Protruding Objects video from the U.S. Access Board as part of my ARE 5.0 PA 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.

Price: Free

Digital Resources

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.

  1. ADA Deck by glhightower- This was helpful in terms of memorizing the required clearances and ADA standards.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Price: Free

Practice Exams

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!

Price: Free


Other Resources

  • 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.

In Conclusion

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!

New ARE 5.0 PPD Playlist

I found out last week that I passed my PPD exam on the first try. One of the most helpful study resources for me was my YouTube playlist, which I accumulated over 10 weeks. I guess in many ways this playlist replaced needing an Amber Book subscription, as it provided me with a way to visually understand the content of this exam.

This playlist of over 200 videos is now available at the RMSM Studio YouTube Page, along with my other playlists for CE and PA. You can find the link here.

I still need to decide if I’m going to have a separate playlist for PDD, or if I am going to keep the videos for both in the same place.

For more updates on resources like this, sign up for the RMSM Studio Newsletter, or join the ARE Studio| Study For & Pass the ARE Facebook Group.

Ways To Reset Your Study Process After the Holidays

Trying to get your motivation back after the holiday season? Use these tips to get back on the wagon.

Happy New Years Everyone! I don’t know about you, but I may have been a bit ambitious in my productivity expectations for the month of December. I didn’t have family visiting, and I hadn’t made extensive social plans, but I still ended up studying way less than I had originally planned. It’s really easy to get bogged down with feelings of guilt and ineffectiveness at times like this, but I decided to reset my thinking instead and shift my focus. You can take advantage of these tips as well, and let me know in the comments if any of these tips work for you.

Book an Exam

I have found that I work best under a deadline. As I’ve shared in my past videos, my entire study process changed when I bought my first exam seat in 2020. My energy, focus and priorities changed. Even though I am taking PPD in a few weeks, I decided to go ahead and buy a seat for PDD a month afterwards. This will allow me to keep up the momentum, whether I pass PPD or not, and stop me from losing focus if I do fail.

Connect With Your Study Buddies

I have both an accountability and study group for my upcoming exams, both of which I meet with once a week. In my first session with my accountability partner, she reminded me that everyone tends to fall off during the holiday season, and that it’s normal to fall behind during these times. It was great to hear that, since I tend to hold myself to very high expectations.

Connecting with other people going through the same thing as you will give a fresh perspective and understanding that we’re all going through the same struggles. It will also help you figure out how to move forward in spite of your setbacks, with a second set of eyes that can sometimes see a solution that you can’t.

Reorganize Your Calendar

One of my favorite concepts/thought exercises is this:

  1. Write down your top 3 priorities in life
  2. Open Up Your Calendar
  3. Check Where Your Priorities Show Up in Your Calendar

I love doing this exercise, because it really forces me to put my money where my mouth is in terms of organizing my time around the things I say are important to me. Long story short, if you say passing your exams is a priority for you this year, then your study time, exam dates, and study group meetups need to all be blocked off (marked as “Busy”) on your calendar.

For me, this helps avoid double booking myself, promising someone I will attend an event or a meeting when I’m supposed to be studying. This also helps me keep a regular routine, and build a consistent study habit. I did not have my study times marked out this December, which I hold partially responsible for my loss of focus.


Did you experience the same problems that I did this holiday season? If you did, let me know in the comments, and how you plan to overcome them. If you’re interested in receiving more updates and content from me, make sure to sign up for my mailing list.

ARE 5.0 CE & PA Video Playlists: An Essential Resource

Hey everyone, I wanted to share these playlists with everyone, since I have finally been able to upload all the videos into my official YouTube study playlists for the Construction & Evaluation and Programming & Analysis exams.

I was able to pass PA on the first try this week, and doing so finally gave me the free time to catch up on some items I’ve had on the backburner.

Both of these playlists are based on the actual videos I used to study for and pass both ARE 5.0 CE & PA recently. There are over 100 videos in each, from a variety of lecturers, companies, ARE test prep providers, and more, explaining essential concepts for these exams.

Construction & Evaluation Playlist

I took CE twice because I was unclear on what exactly the scope of the exam was. They always say that the ARE is the best practice exam. Once I had a better grasp on what the exam involved, I felt better able to conquer my gaps, and redirect my studying. Here are the videos that helped me pass this exam on my second try.

RMSM Studio ARE 5.0 CE Playlist

If you are currently struggling with CE, stay tuned for my upcoming live course, featuring 4 week training series, going through essential concepts for studying for the CE exam. It will feature at least 4 live one hour in-depth training sessions followed by Q&A, with recordings sent to you after every session. If this is something you are interested in make sure to sign up for my mailing list.

Programming & Analysis Playlist

I am so excited about passing PA this week! This test was so challenging just because of the shear quantity of topics that you have to cover and understand. Imagine having to know about soil types and egress calculations all on the same test! But one thing I would keep in mind is that at the end of the day with this exam, it is truly about understanding the larger concepts, so you can apply them in your every day practice.

That’s why these videos were so valuable for me. It wasn’t about memorizing the details of a particular topic, it was about having a good understanding of the information, so if you had to apply it to a project (or in this case, a case study), you would know what to do.

MSM Studio ARE 5.0 PA Playlist

I hope you find these playlists helpful, I hope to be releasing the detailed list of study materials and techniques for both of these tests soon, and in the mean-time, make sure to follow my Facebook page or sign-up my mailing list to be first to find out when they are available.

My Studytime Rules

Rules that I use to keep focused as I study for the ARE 5.0

I spend a lot of time studying for my exams, so you might be wondering how I stay focused and study effectively. Together with my accountability partner, I was able to come up with some concrete rules on ways to study effectively without wearing myself out. You don’t have to follow these rules yourself, but feel free to use them as a template if you think they’ll help your study process.

1. Phone in a Different Room

This was a major one, as my phone is a major distraction for me. It’s the easiest way for me to get derailed in my study sessions. So the method that I use is to leave it to charge in a completely different room on silent. It’s a simple method, but it really works.

Another method that I’ve started using recently for productivity tracking and distraction free testing is using the Flora app. This app has a variety of great uses including time tracking and locked in study time frames, that stop you from seeing your phone notifications and checking your feeds, as you will lose all your studying progress. It also allows you to set time goals for yourself, and track your total hours over time. Flora also has a very fun function that allows you collect plants, trees and flowers for each successful study session, so you can create a new garden every week.

2. Laptop: Only Music & Clockify

Even though I avoid using my phone, I still need to use my laptop for activities like Young Architect or Pluralsight videos, Hyperfine assignments, or looking up concepts I’m studying, so I still keep it with me when I’m studying.

However, when I’m not studying with it directly, how do I make sure I don’t get distracted? I make sure that I’m only using my laptop for my studytime playlist on Youtube, and for the Clockify app for my time tracking. I’ve talked about how I use Clockify for both my PcM and PjM passes.

3. One Architecture & Design Event Per Week

In one of my posts, I’ve described in detail why I’m trying to avoid architecture events. They are a big temptation for me because I love to learn, but they also take up time that I could be studying. So I’m only allowing myself to attend one architecture event per week, and that includes events hosted in-house at my company. It doesn’t matter whether it virtual (they’re all virtual at this point, lol) or in person.

Since I’m still wrapping up the last few hours of my AXP, I definitely value being able to use architecture events to earn AIA LUs (Learning Units) and CEUs. However, I feel like the AXP Hours will come eventually, but passing these exams may not happen without my deliberate effort.

4. One Personal Event Per Week

With a similar reasoning as for the architecture events, I’m trying to limit my interpersonal events and meetings. My state is currently in Phase III of reopening, so things are more relaxed and there are way more opportunities to interact than just a few months ago.

However, I realize that these social events take several hours out of my day, between the transport and the actual meeting. So until I pass these exams, I’m limiting myself to just one social/personal event or gathering a week.

5. Only 1 hour MAX of studying on site visit days or traveling days

We all know that work can get intense, which is why a lot of people recommend that you only start studying for the AREs if you have the time available. As I’m about to mention below, if you don’t have 3 hours a day free to study, you’re really going to struggle with this exam.

But sometimes we have those workdays that drain you and leave you completely able to function once you get home. That’s ok! Give yourself permission to take it easy, if you need a break. Your body and mind will thank you. Build this into your schedule, so if necessary, you can study for additional hours on the days you know you don’t have site visits or late nights. On days like that, I give myself permission to study for one hour or zero hours.

6. Study for 3 hours a day

So this is my goal for each studying day. I don’t always reach it, but it’s what I aim towards. One thing about my studying method is that I plan what I’m going to study weeks in advance, and sometimes it takes less than 3 hours. That’s still fine! I get that time back in my day if I’ve thoroughly studied everything on my plate for that day.

Normally I track my daily hourly totals through Clockify or through the Flora app on my phone. Clockify also allows you to see your overall study totals, and seeing that number go up is a big motivator for me. I have a goal to study 100 hours per exam, which I tried to capture in the #ARE100Challenge, which encourages people to study 100 hours for the ARE Exam. I also use the Study Material Tracker I created to help me figure out my overall hourly goal for each study resource.

7. One detail or document a day

This one is straightforward and is very helpful if you are taking any technical exams or CE, which I recently passed! It basically means that you are checking out or drawing or sketching a new detail or document every day.

You guys have gotten this far, so I’m pretty sure you know how to sketch. For the documents portion, it just involves going one step beyond your study materials. Cross train with real-world examples of your study content.

For example, if you were studying concrete and slump tests, watch a video of a slump test being conducted, or check out an actual test report. It really helps you with filling in the gaps of your experience, and help you better visualize the concepts.

8. No studying after midnight

This is as simple as it is effective. I know in architectural studio we prided ourselves on our long hours and thought that showed a level of dedication in our craft.

However, there are a lot of negative effects of studying late into the night, the most important of which for me is that I’m completely burned out by the next day, and I use my late night to justify studying less the next day.

Don’t fall for this cycle, it is a trap! Get the study hours you need in enough time to get to bed at a reasonable time (now I sound like someone’s mom), and your body and mind will thank you. I want my mind to be in top form for both my work and for studying again the next day.

9. All Notes need Title & Date

Do you take notes when you study? A lot of people do. I was against it at first, because it just felt like repetition to me, but I’ve been convinced of its usefulness over time.

But if you have a binder full of notes, on different subjects without labels, you’ll have no idea what you’ve studied, the relevant objectives, and whether or not you’ve covered this material before. So I try to make sure that every page is labeled with the title of the study material, the subject matter, and the date. This keeps my notes organized and let’s me see my level of understanding of the content over time, since I write my notes in my own words.

Another useful note taking tip for me is that I don’t write what I already know. Really basic information that I already know and will be able to remember for the exam, I don’t bother to write down. For example, what is the B101? I don’t need to write that down, I know that easily. As you start to absorb information, you’ll have to write less and less in your notes, making it easier to review materials.


If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, congrats! Thank you for taking the time to read it all, and I hope this explanation of my study time rules gave you some inspiration on things to add to your own routine. You can download the study time rules graphic as a PDF at my Downloads page or my Store for free.

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