It's been a few hours since I sat the ARE 5.0 PPD exam, so I thought I would share my feedback on the exam and how best to prepare. I was on the fence about transitioning for a while, though having already passed 4.0 PPP, SPD, and CDS, the thought of only 2 more exams was very tempting and I'm so glad that I transitioned in the end.
Overall, I was very impressed with the new exam style and structure. For the first time I didn't feel bewildered after leaving the test centre. With the 4.0 exams, I would study for 1-2 months rigorously and would leave the exam feeling defeated and confused about the material being tested. With every question on the 5.0 exam, I thought to myself, "An architect should know this!"
Main take-aways on the difference between 4.0 and 5.0:
- Subject specific
- More memorization needed to pass
- Challenging vignette software
- Some material unnecessary for real-world practice and competency
- Topics are more integrated as you would find problems in actual architectural practice
- Less memorization, more about understanding concepts and logic
- More of a graphic test with diagrams, drawings and images integrated into multiple choice. I found this to be better and easier to engage with than the all-text multiple choice/fill-ins found in 4.0
- These tests are organized according to what you would do in a particular design phase
- Formulas/equations are available as reference while taking the test, so you can focus on nailing the concept, rather than memorizing equations.
Advice on studying:
I used the Ballast ARE 5.0 review manual, though I'm not sure that this was necessary. Ballast essentially just reshuffled past 4.0 material into 5.0 categories. If you already have a good amount of 4.0 material, I would just go through NCARB's 5.0 prep/guidelines PDF, take note of the topics covered in your exam, and then find the topics in the 4.0 exam material. I took a lot of 4.0 practice exams from Kaplan and Ballast in the relevant subjects for PPD and this helped A LOT.
I would also spend a bit of time on NCARB's demo exam. Although there are only 20 questions, it is important to familiarise yourself with the reference tabs at the top and go through the equations/formulas and make sure you know what they are and how to use them for a particular question.
Also note: there are 120 questions with the PPD exam. I did not realise that this included the Case Study questions. So roughly, 20 of the 120 questions are case study questions. I would advise that you save a good amount of time for these case study questions because they require more reading and digging around through references like building or zoning codes, for example. I would recommend 90 minutes for Case Studies to be on the safe side, so plan accordingly! You book your own test break with ARE 5.0, so there is not a natural break between the exam questions and the case studies like there was between the exam questions and the vignette in ARE 4.0. So keep this in mind and strategize!
As far as moving quickly through the reference material in the case studies, I would also recommend taking advantage of the search bar at the bottom of the window to look for key words that you are looking for. In some cases this saved me time. I finished the exam with 2 minutes to spare, which didn't really leave me much time to go back. Also be mindful of a bit of lag when you click between case study questions. The software is not perfected yet, so as I said before, I would recommend allocating a good amount of time to get through these questions.
Overall, it was a good experience. There is now a far better relationship between professional practice and the material covered on the exam. The test seemed to be more natural and pragmatic and at the end of the day I'm glad I made the transition!
Hope this helps!
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