PDD Pass ARE 5.0 – Study Materials and Methods

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Fifth Edition Hardcover: $111

Seventh Edition Hardcover: $70.45

Seventh Edition Rental (3 Months): $22.08

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

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

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


Twelfth Edition Hardcover Rent (Three Months): $20.48

Twelfth Edition Hardcover Rent (Three Months) : $70.40

Thirteenth Edition Hardcover: $153.35

Building Codes Illustrated – I didn’t spend as much time with this book as I did on the PA exam. I was also reading a lot of the actual code while I was doing practice questions or when discussing with my study group, just because it can be difficult to find specific code provisions. This is due to the visual nature of the book, it summarizes a lot of the code language, which practice questions can be very specific on, requiring you to check even the footnotes of the code.

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


Fifth Edition Kindle – $39.99

Sixth Edition Paperback – $38, one time purchase

Sixth Edition Paperback Rental per 3 month Semester – $19, with option to extend

Sixth Edition Kindle- $54, one-time purchase

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

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

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

Online Courses

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

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

Similar to the PPD exam, since there were 10 weeks of assignments, I didn’t feel like printing them all out (save the trees!). So I completed the assignments digitally and worked from my computer. This was helpful in that I could directly click on the resource links in the PDF. I got the version without the additional case study.

Price: $45, one-time purchase, without 20 question case study

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

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


Standard Subscription $29 a month

Codes & Standards

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

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

Digital Resources

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

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

Price for all decks: Free

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

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

Price: Free

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

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

Price: Free with the option to donate

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

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

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

Price: Free

ARE 5.0 Community Page

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

Pass PDD by Audrey Bertrand

PDD Pass on my 3rd try! by Helen Vasquez

PDD 3rd Try – Pass & Done by Adrian Martinez

Price for NCARB Forum: Free

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

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

Price: Free

Practice Exams

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

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

Price: $34 per division, one-time purchase

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

Price: $40, one-time purchase

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

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

Time Tracking Software

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

Price: Free

Resources I Did Not Use

Black Spectacles – Their Youtube videos were helpful, but I have not purchased their paid offerings. It was very expensive for me, and getting to use their Demo Exam wasn’t worth it for me. I have a lot of their videos in my PPD and PDD Youtube playlists.

AEP – Not enough reviews to purchase

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

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

Archizam – Not used by me for this exam.

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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