Ballast Study Guide Complaints



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    Justin Pelland

    Another example:

    Example Problem 6.2 asks "Choose the four that apply" of the 6 answer options. Then the solution gives only 3 correct answers as "(B), (C), and (D)"

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    Erica Spayd

    Hi Justin,

    I contemplated getting the Ballast books in order to have access to practice questions, but upon seeing a lot of negative feedback, I decided to just focus on the NCARB-recommended resources. About 6 weeks into my studies now, and there are some pros and cons:


    • The material is presented as you would use it in practice, which I find makes it easier to retain.
    • Rather than quick study points, it forces you to understand concepts, which is more useful in practice.
    • I spent money on books that I will continue to use throughout my career, instead of study guides that will be disposed of as soon as the test is passed.


    • There is a LOT of material to get through and absorb.
    • The books are heavy, and not great for commuting (I have a good chunk of time to read on the train).
    • The AHPP has many authors and writing styles, and some sections are just better than others; there are some poorly written definitions.
    • No practice questions, so simulated test-taking isn't an option.

    I have not taken an exam yet (I started one on 1/30, but 11 questions in the crash happened), so I can't say that this method has been successful, but I do think I'm learning a lot, and again, I'm glad to own the books, as they are professional references that will outlive the test. 

    And, I've come up with a few workarounds to get past some of the Cons -

    • I've made a pretty intensive schedule of material I want to read before each exam, highlighting stuff that needs thorough review vs. just a quick skim. This is based on NCARB's objectives.
    • I take photos of 30-40 pages each night on my iPad so that I can have portions of the AHPP to read on my commute.
    • I double check definitions that seem a little off with another resource.
    • I've used the Chegg Flashcards+ App to make my own flashcards (on iOS devices) of terms and concepts that I need to memorize.

    The only thing I'm really missing is the practice questions, and I don't really have a solution for that yet. Honestly, my plan is to just know the material as well as I can, and practice the Demo Exam 10-20 times so that I know the interface as well as possible. I think if I have those two things down, I have a shot.

    Hope there's something helpful in there, and good luck to you!

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    Justin Pelland

    Hi Erica,

    Thanks for your feedback! I've also been using the reference materials recommended by NCARB in the ARE 5.0 Handbook. I've found the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice to be by far the most useful. I had originally purchased the Ballast study guide in hopes of having a single resource to refer to if I needed to brush up on a topic and to get the practice problems and exams. My current strategy, since the Ballast book is unreliable and sometimes confusingly inaccurate is to read the section of the Ballast book that applies to the exam I'm studying for, read all or most of the NCARB recommended resources, and then return to the Ballast book to review concepts. The practice questions and practice exams are always good practice, but I've found those to be the weakest of the entire study series, so you're really not missing out there.

    I scheduled 4 exams for the month of February at about one per week. I've taken 2 at this point and feel pretty good about them. I took Practice Management first and then took Programming & Analysis. Next up is Project Management this Friday and then Construction & Evaluation the following Thursday.

    What I can say about my testing experience so far is that understanding and comprehension are much more important than memorization. I've actually found the AIA's AHPP to be one of the best resources where that's concerned. The content covered in that book seems to have the most direct relationship to the content on the exams I've taken to date.

    I'll definitely have to look into the iOS flash card apps, though. Definitely didn't think of that! I've been using index cards the old fashioned way, although I think the process of making the index cards has helped more than actually using them.

    My recommendation to anyone looking at the third party test prep books is not to avoid them, but assess your own study methods and determine if it's worth having a consolidated resource at hand. I tend to think it's not necessary but it is helpful when preparing for specific decisions to be able to see how those content areas and objectives lay out. Otherwise, what you're doing seems to be a good strategy.

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    Erica Spayd

    Justin, thanks for the response, it's encouraging that I at least seem to be on the right rack in terms of study methods. And I can't recommend the iOS Flashcards+ app enough - when making the cards, I'll frequently read the definition into the mic, which a.) saves time, and b.) helps me to learn it as I'm reading it aloud. If you do use this method though, be sure to proofread - sometimes there's a disconnect between my pronunciation and what the iPhone understands. Damn Boston accent. ;-)

    And, since you've taken PcM and are soon to take PjM, I figure I'll ask... How did you study the contract documents? There is SO MUCH information - between the documents themselves, AHPP Chapter 17, and the AIA Official Guide... I feel like I'm at a bit of a loss as to where to begin, and I think I could honestly get lost in this material for a week or more. How did you cut it down to digestible bits and focus on what was most important? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

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    Justin Pelland

    I think the best advice I could give is to focus on comprehension of the contract provisions and content rather than the exact clauses. In my (admittedly limited) experience taking the exams, the tests seem to focus more on your understanding of the contractual relationships and obligations than on memorizing the contract contents. What I mean by that is, I think the exam questions tend to focus more on your understanding of who's responsible for what in a given situation than it is on knowing which article says what things. The AIA official guide to the 2007 contracts was very helpful where that's concerned because it breaks down each article into a general understanding of why it's there and what it does for the parties of the contract. For example, knowing why there is a mutual waiver of claims for consequential damages is more important than memorizing the articles themselves. Understanding concepts of privity, subrogation, or insurance requirements and being able to connect answers to those concepts will help you on the exam (and in the profession in the long run). I havent taken All the exams yet, but from what I can tell, if you go in with a firm understanding of what the contracts are used for and what the rights and responsibilities are for each of the parties to the contract, you should be able to answer the questions.

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    Erica Spayd

    Justin, thanks a bunch! Very helpful advice. 

    Best of luck to you on the rest of your exams.

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    Justin Pelland

    I found a really bad error. On page 2-11 of the review manual, the Statute of Repose and Statute of Limitation are defined. In the definition it says clearly that the statute of limitations starts at substantial completion whereas the statute of repose starts upon discovery. In the division 2 practice exam, question 132 asks simply "what is the difference between the statute of repose and the statute of limitations." In the solution, it provides an explaination that is exactly the opposite of what was listed on 2-11 of the study guide, saying that the statute of repose starts at substantial completion and the statute of limitations starts upon discovery. That's a big deal. Not just a simple typo or editing mistake. That's effectively teaching candidates false information and could be setting some up for failure. These kinds of errors are confusing and counterproductive to the studying process.

    NCARB folks - I know you've held the stance against getting involved with 3rd party for-profit study guides, but you may want to look at this content and if you agree there are significant issues, I would recommend warning the candidates against reliance on these books. The fact that these are the only study guides available (for now) is going to hurt new candidates looking to jump into their examinations when they have nowhere else to turn outside of the ARE 5 Handbook.

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    Stephanie Waples (Edited )

    Yeah... the more I use Ballast, the less confident I get. Justin, about that statute of limitations thing... see this: 

    I found that error when I was cross-referencing the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice with Ballast. I submitted an errata for it through Ballast's website once I got to the bottom of it weeks ago, and it still is not officially an "error" according to their list of errata. 

    On a different thread, someone recommended that if you're studying for PcM, better just read all the material for PjM and CE out of Ballast at the same time. I haven't yet taken the test, so I can't say definitively, but I think that person is spot on. I read the PjM and CE material and found specific information in those sections that not only wasn't in the PcM sections, but also DIRECTLY related to the objectives for PcM in the Handbook. Ballast was clearly a rushed product.

    Also, I know it's been mentioned before that questions are popping up from other division in their Practice Problems/Exam materials... I could understand a few questions that were more Project Management that Practice overlapping, but why in the world are there HVAC questions in the PjM sections? It seems really, really shoddy. 

    I'm planning to still use Ballast, basically as a warm-up and overview. But it seems the bulk of my studying in the future will come from what I determine to be relevant based on the objectives. I'm certainly not going to rely on Ballast to make those decisions based on what I've seen. 

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    Michelle NCARB

    Hi Justin,

    Wanted you to know we saw your question, but I'm going to repeat what you've probably heard before: NCARB does not currently review study materials from third-party providers so we can't comment on which ones have worked well - or not worked well - for candidates.  But it's no problem for you, Stephanie, and Erica to discuss amongst yourselves on this thread!

    I'll take issue with one of your comments: "nowhere else to turn outside of the ARE 5 Handbook".  We worked hard to create a robust handbook, including a strong list of recommended reference materials.  Hopefully those are other places to turn to!  I think you're on the right track with your studying.  Your comment that "the tests seem to focus more on your understanding of the contractual relationships and obligations than on memorizing the contract contents" is spot on.

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    Kristina Blazevski-Charpentier

    Ballast has many errors. I sent publisher an error and they post errata, and I need to send more. I spent so much time trying to understand Repose Vs Limitations- worst written paragraph ever.

    I took PcM and scheduled PjM- I wish I had read AIA Handbook for PcM and it's been VERY helpful I think for PjM.  Good part is that Ballast published practice questions and exams. I bought Project Resource Manual CSI for the CE exam I will schedule next. 

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    Justin Pelland

    For anyone interested, I made enough noise that PPI reached out and informed me that the study guide had a glitch in editing which led to the many issues. They refunded my money and sent me a new copy of the first revised edition. Unfortunately, they refused to acknowledge the various errors in the practice exams and practice problems, and asserted the errors only affected the study guide. That said, I got the revised study guide in today and while I haven't done a side to side of every page, I jumped to the biggest issue I could remember to see if it was updated. In the original, they reversed the definitions of Statute of Repose and Statute of Limitations under the Practice Management division material. Unfortunately, the error is still there in the revised book. I don't think PPI was careful enough in designing these materials and I strongly recommend everyone avoid purchasing them. Self-guided study and careful application of the ARE 5.0 Handbook might be you best and only bet.

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    Luke Petrocelli (Edited )

    I wanted to add something here for anyone coming to this thread now and thinking about study materials. I came here wanting to confirm my findings, which is that Ballast is a waste of time, and, if you paid for it, money.

    This is a new exam. Trust the people who made it. The materials in the reference list provided by NCARB's Handbook are worth the professional investment. AND, although I'm a fan of hard-copy in most cases, it's just not plausible to buy and use physical copies of large books you'll be studying from, in my opinion.

    I purchased the AHPP on Google Play Books (highly recommend this as service as an eBook reader). Being able to jump back and forth, highlight and take notes, search key terms, and cross-reference concepts throughout the (somewhat unorganized) chapters was a HUGE timesaver.

    Then, once you've read and understood the material, convert the information to whichever physical study medium works best for you.

    Plus, then you don't need to carry these massive books around.

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    Poonam Patel

    I have shared my Amazon wish list for ARE 5.0 so you can easily purchase ALL NCARB recommended study materials in one click instead of the witch hunt I just went on sourcing all 55 resources.  

    A link to the Amazon cart can be found here 

    a few notes

    • There were 3 items on the list plus the Contracts that are available for free online or PDF. 
    • some of the books have newer editions than what NCARB lists, which sucks because we are being forced to learn potentially dated material - which could conflict with current experience.  
    • We are looking at over $3,000.00 worth of study material.  Does anyone else think that is ridiculous?  
    • Some of the items in the cart require you to select new, used, hardcover or paperback or Kindle, so those prices are not reflected in the $3k





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