I am fresh from taking the PcM exam (my first one) yesterday morning and I thought it would be helpful to some of you get some tips out there. I studied quite a lot for this exam, mostly to soothe my anxiety about it, so I feel like I went in well-prepared, if not over-prepared. Like others before me, I'm going to have some similar feedback, but hopefully I'm not beating a dead horse here.
The Interface/The Actual Test-Taking Process:
I know there's been a lot of talk about the inherent "loading lag." My testing center did not seem to have much of a problem. For the vast majority of the questions, the lag was minimal, and if it was a second or two, the timer clock reset accurately. I was watching closely because I knew others had experienced a problem. The only times I noticed time jumping significantly (both up and down) on my clock was with the case studies. However, even then, it wasn't enough to send me into a panic.
The calculator is awful. I know it's been said before, and I know NCARB is actively working to improve it, so I'm just going to leave it at that.
I've seen a lot of people comment that the time allotted for the test was inadequate. I didn't necessarily feel stressed about the time, but I can definitely see why it would be a problem for others. The first several questions I got were fairly quick multiple choice (no graphics, no calculations), and I was feeling confident enough that when I started to get calculation questions, I just chose to do them in the moment. I ended up going straight through every question (answering all of them, flagging any ones I didn't feel 100% confident on) before I took my break, including the case studies. This took me approximately 2 hours of the 2:45 allotted. I then took my break, and basically had exactly enough time left to review only the ones I'd marked. I definitely would not have had the time to review ALL the questions again if that is what I had wanted to do. I think you just have to be selective about where you spend your time -- if you feel confident on a question, or if you really have no idea and just took a shot in the dark, maybe let it be and don't review it further.
Content/Recommended Study Materials:
I studied quite a lot for this test, again, mostly due to anxiety about it. I had seen a lot of comments regarding Ballast's shortcoming (and contributed to the conversation), so I took the approach of taking everything with a grain of salt. I ended up basically making my own study plan, drawing from several different sources, which are as follows:
Ballast - the Review Manual:
My firm was kind enough to purchase a copy of Ballast's 5.0 materials for me to use. It was the first source I had access to, and therefore the first source I utilized. I've seen varied opinions on this on the community, but I have to say that if I had only focused on Ballast's materials for the exam, I would have been hardcore screwed. For me, it was only useful as an introduction (at the beginning of studying) and a refresher (at the end). I found it far too broad, plus riddled with errors, some very big ones. Also, since I was seeing comments regarding the content not necessarily being sorted correctly for the divisions, I read the PjM and CE sections as well. There was definitely content in those that would have been better suited to the PcM test.
Ballast - Practice Problems/Practice Exams:
I've got the same comments others have voiced on here. Poor/confusing wording, questionable content sorting, and sometimes questionable rationale. And typos/minor errors. Again, I studied the PcM, PjM, and CE all for the PcM test to be cautious. I feel like it was helpful, but take everything with a grain of salt and cross reference material if you can.
The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice:
I agree with others who have said it's a primary resource. It was hands-down, the best study material for this exam. Don't read the whole thing (because it's massive) -- use the table of contents and the objectives to figure out what's important. I read and re-read certain sections multiple times and I think that might have saved me on several questions. Kevin Griendling offered a markup here which I used extensively and was really helpful: https://are5community.ncarb.org/hc/en-us/community/posts/219597667-Study-Materials. Thanks, Kevin!
I used these lectures extensively when I needed a break from reading. They're not made specifically for the exam, so there's definitely material in there that is not relevant. However, several of them were really great. Specifically, the ones about contract law, breaches of contract, liability, the B101, and project delivery methods. I reviewed the AIA contracts (B101, C401, and A201) along with these. A201 ended up not being super relevant, but still good knowledge to have for future tests.
The Project Resource Manual (CSI):
I got my hands on this one late in the game based on a recommendation I saw on here. It's pretty dry, but the sections are short and relatively quick to read. I found the project delivery methods sections most helpful.
I read the NCARB Rules of Conduct and the AIA Code of Ethics a few times since they're short. There's a lot of overlap, but I would recommend reading both for the exam.
In the last weekend before the test, I watched the PcM videos Pluralsight offers. I thought they were pretty good -- I kind of used them as a refresher and a way to remind myself what was most important for the exam. I paired video clips with sections/materials I wanted to reread and review. It was great to break up the time with videos.
And lastly, this is more of a study tip -- use flashcards. I found that I learn really well by reading material, hand-writing it again on a flashcard, and then studying from it. In all the materials I used, I would make notes of things to remember in this manner. I ended up with two sets of flashcards -- one for "concepts and terms" and one for "questions and lists." "Concepts and terms" would have something like the definition of arbitration on it. "Questions and lists" would have something like "What are the three main methods of dispute resolution?" This allowed me to both understand concepts and connect them to larger subjects contextually. That was really helpful for the test, which usually requires you to have understanding of multiple concepts in order to fully understand/interpret/answer the question.
And there's a short novel for you all. I hope that's helpful for someone.
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