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!


CE Pass ARE 5.0 – Study Materials and Methods

Learn what study materials and methods I used to pass ARE 5.0 CE exam from NCARB on my second try.

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.


CE was the first and only exam that I failed, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to share with you the differences between the first and second time that I took it. I believe that failing an exam doesn’t mean that you don’t know the material, but maybe you need to refocus your attention to fill you gaps.

As I shared in my CE Pass announcement there were many aspects of the exam that I was frustrated with, especially the lack of emphasis in the NCARB Handbook on the importance of studying construction details. I hope that you all can learn from my experience and that it helps move you forward in your exams.

There is also now a free one-page ARE 5.0 CE Study Guide, available here. I have also created a comprehensive online course to help those taking their CE exams, called CE Studio. If you’re interested in finding out more, check it out here.

Now let’s jump into the study materials…

Books

Kaplan ARE 4.0 Construction Documents and Services: For my first try, the major book that I used is actually the Kaplan CDS study guide. It explains a lot of basic concepts very well, some diagrams and is very good at explaining construction administration concepts. I purchased this textbook, along with the Questions and Answers, which I purchased from someone in the ARE Facebook Group.

Price: My version doesn’t appear to be for sale on Amazon, maybe check in the Facebook groups or Forums.

Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice – I read this book mainly during my first try, focusing on chapter 9 and 10. here’s the Wiley Guide for the AHPP for Construction & Evaluation. I barely looked at the AHPP during my second attempt at this exam. I didn’t read as much AHPP as I did in ARE 5.0 Practice Management or Project Management. During my second attempt I spent a lot of time trying to focus on the contracts and construction details instead. I was able to get this book for free through my office.

Price:

$147 to rent hardcover per semester, subscription with extension option

$210 to buy hardcover, one time purchase

$208 to buy Kindle/e-book, one time purchase

Building Construction Illustrated Textbook – I only glanced at this book for my first try, like maybe a couple of hours which is definitely not enough for this exam. I went through the book and I had the digital version for that so what I would do is I would highlight all the relevant parts of the book which is very handy because then I could if I wanted to review a specific section all the important parts are already highlighted for me and it being a digital a resource you don’t have to worry about you know reselling the book or anything if you highlight and no one cares so that was very helpful tool for me another thing I also did to help with the sort of masterformat portions of the exam is building construction Illustrated also mentions the masked magicians each each section of the book so and it shows you something at all so tell you what part of masterformat it belongs to us I would highlight those as well so I get really familiar with how those things are organized what they look like.

Price:

Fifth Edition – $60

Sixth Edition Paperback – $36, one time purchase

Sixth Edition E-book – $42, one-time purchase

Hyperfine CE Course – My main technique for using this course for CE 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.

Price: $30, one-time purchase

Contracts

NCARB covers a lot of contracts for the CE exam as you can see below. This exam actually includes the most contracts for you to review. I read through all of them. Don’t be intimidated by the number, since several of them are one-page documents.

My method for the contracts was:

  1. Reading through the all actual contracts above at least once
  2. Rewriting the contracts in shorthand as described in Christopher Richardson’s NCARB forum post
  3. The Young Architect Contracts course was an essential reference for me for the Project Management exam. One of the biggest advantages of this course is that it goes through all of the contracts that are listed in the NCARB matrix, not just the B101 and A201. You can purchase this course separately from the CE exam, but I had purchased it for my previous exam.
  4. Listen to Schiff Hardin Lectures

The main contracts that I focused on were the A201 and the B101. The way that I studied them was both trying to write the contract out in my own words, and using the Schiff Hardin lectures. The lectures were the main way that I studied contracts at work. I don’t get much time doing my day to look at material, so I mostly focused on listening to the contracts.

I mainly focused on Schiff Hardin during my first attempt at this exam. I felt very comfortable with the contracts when I failed, so I didn’t use Schiff Hardin as much the second time. The other contracts I focused on for this exam were the G704, A305, the C401

Price:

  1. Contracts: free on AIA website
  2. Schiff Hardin Lectures: Free
  3. Contract shorthand: free
  4. Young Architects Contracts Course individually ($85), one-time purchase

Digital Resources

Quizlet – Full disclosure, I am not a big fan of physical flashcard decks. They’re a hassle to write and organize. I greatly prefer using digital flash cards for easy portability, I can save my spot in learning and test myself all within one app.

  1. CSI Divisions Deck – It is important to be familiar with the common CSI divisions for this exam.
  2. Building Construction Deck- This monster deck comes with pictures on over 400 cards, that allow you to study many different types of construction techniques and construction administration concepts.
  3. ADA Flashcard Deck – It is important to be able to study ADA violations and measurements for this exam.

Price for all decks: Free

NCARB Forum I also used the forum a lot for this exam. I always try to look at what other people have done, and what has or has not worked of the forums. However the element mentioned in the forum that I didn’t take it seriously was the construction portion of the exam. I thought it wasn’t as big of a part as it eventually ended up being. I thought I could just look at construction details for a couple of hours to get a general idea and I would be okay. That was not the case. So when someone says it something’s going to be on in the exam, that means it’s really important.

CE Pass First Try (PcM, PjM then CE) – Tips by Aimee Neikart

CE Pass – my last exam! by Toby

Passed CE on 2nd try by Yasmin Fathi

Price for NCARB Forum: Free

Young Architect Academy Construction & Evaluation 101 – this resource was helpful in terms of helping me understand Construction Administration and Project Management for this exam. This was studied in tandem with the Young Architect Academy AIA Contracts 101 course. The CE course is broken down to cover the specific objectives of this exam. The video format was very helpful and allowed me to study while I was working, or I can listen to it in the car. In addition to the audio from the videos, the course also has assigned readings and case studies.

Like all YAA courses, this course has a flat one-time fee and you can access it for as long as you like as opposed to paying for ongoing subscriptions if you fail. I only got this course for my second attempt at this exam.

Price: For CE 101 only, $99

Hammer & Hand Website – I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to on this resource on my first attempt at this exam. I really like the way that this website takes you through the creation of each detail, and shows you how the object is being built and layered. The overlapping of some items for example window details for sheathing, which are kind of difficult to understand in a regular section. So I really like the way that it’s done in 3D for better comprehension. This website was really great for understanding thermal protection and Foundation Construction. if you’re not familiar with these details I would say this is an essential reference.

XQ for ARE 5.0 App – This app was created by Kevin Griendling from Pluralsight. I really like using this for my second run of CE, because it allows you to answer questions in all four of exam formats, including hot spot and multiple choice. This is a subscription-based service so you have to decide how long you want to use the subscription for but I felt like this resource filled in a lot of the gaps in terms of tests addressing a construction detail questions so I thought it was very helpful for that reason. Many tests are good at talking about the construction Administration side not many practice exams focus on the construction detail side of course it makes it highly portable which is another great feature.

Price: $19.99, monthly subscription

YouTube Videos – This was another essential resource for me to understand details, construction administration, tests, common building practices, site safety, construction materials, and ADA information. I created an entire playlist just for the CE exam that you can access from this article or my YouTube page. Make sure to subscribe for more of my latest video content.

Price: Free

Practice Exams

Designer Hacks PjM 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.

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.

Price: $34 per division, one-time purchase

Time Tracking Software

Clockify Website – I have really come to love this website, and it has been really helpful for me in seeing the difference between my two attempts at 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

Price: Free


Flora App – This is a time tracking app that functions similar to a Pomodoro Timer, in that it tries to reduce distractions. While you have this app running, you can’t run other apps on your phone, which removes a major source of distraction for me. One of the great functions of Flora, is that for each section of time that you remain undistracted, you can grow a tree or flower, and create a garden, which I found to be really fun. This app also allows you to bet money against running your time undistracted, which goes towards tree planting if you fail.

Other Resources

  • I used the Ballast Practice Exam and Review Manual.
  • I read real specifications and project manuals to help me understand the Master Format Divisions
  • I downloaded full Construction Drawing set examples and went over them with my study group members. You need to look at every drawing individually in the set, and become familiar with them. This is especially critical for those who don’t have a lot of Construction Document experience.
  • Practice drawing actual build sections, like parapet walls, foundation details, column sections, window and door details.

Resources I Did Not Use

Black Spectacles – Not a lot of positive reviews and extremely expensive. I wish they broke their program into the individual parts as it would be useful to try their demo exam independent of their other offerings.

Pluralsight – since Pluralsight’s PjM course is mostly contracts, I didn’t want to purchase both this and the YA Contracts course.

AEP – expensive, and not enough positive reviews to purchase

Amberbooks – I didn’t get Amberbooks for this exam, but I may use it if I don’t pass my upcoming PPD and PDD exams.

Young Architect Bootcamp – If I am thinking of possibly investing in this for the final 3 technical exams, if I don’t pass my two technical exams. I’m still trying to remain mostly self-guided for as long as I can.

In Conclusion

I was so nervous when I went into my second attempt at this exam, but I felt very confident with the amount of work I had done to catch up on my construction detail sections. If you want to find out more of my impressions immediately after my exam, you can see my article on it here.

Free ARE 5.0 CE One-Page Study Guide

  • Streamline Your Study Process and Focus On What’s Important
  • Learn Ways to Study Construction Details and Contracts
  • Track Your Study Time
  • Build Confidence by Testing Your Knowledge
  • Gain Understanding of the Testing Software

Construction & Evaluation was the first exam that I failed, and I wanted to share a method for studying for it to help you avoid the same mistakes I made. I’ll be sharing this one-page study guide for Construction & Evaluation for free. This guide is an excellent start for those getting ready to take this exam.

A201 – Substantial Completion Process for Construction

Understanding the process for Substantial Completion based on the AIA A201

So I recently passed my CE exam, and as part of my studying for it, I actually created a list of what has to take place in Substantial Completion. This list was based off of reading the A201 – General Conditions of Contract, and really trying to understand the progression of each action.

A good document to help you understand this concept further is the G704 – Certificate of Substantial Completion itself. Here’s a video from the AIA on how to fill one out:

So after I created my list, I thought, “This would be really great to have in the form of an infographic.”, so I decided to share this with you all. I highly recommend that you read the A201 yourself, try out some practice questions for it, and listen to the lectures for it as well for a deeper understanding. Lectures on the A201 General Conditions of Contract are provided from Michael Hanahan, Young Architect Academy Contracts Course, and Pluralsight Project Management Course, so it’s really up to you which platform works best.

Substantial Completion Infographic

Thanks for reading and feel free to check out my One-Page Study Guides for both the Project Management and Practice Management ARE 5.0 Exams(both free) at my Store. I would really appreciate it if you leave me a review, and let me know what you think. If I get more than 10 reviews for both products, I’ll be creating a One-Page Study Guide for ARE 5.0 Construction & Evaluation as well.

Did you find the graphic helpful, or do you remember the difference between substantial completion and final completion in a different way? Let me know in the comments!

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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