I took my final exam yesterday and got my results today. I Passed!
Here was the order I took the exams in, the dates I took them, and my study strategy. For background, I graduated with my M.Arch degree in 2014 and completed my IDP/AXP hours about a month ago. I am married and have two kids as well, so no more excuses for anyone else!
Project Management - 3/17
Practice Management - 5/12
Construction & Evaluation - 5/23
Project Planning & Design - 7/21
Project Development & Documentation - 9/11
Programming & Analysis - 9/28
Not knowing what to expect, I studied for Project Management for 6-8 weeks. Despite testing in ARE 5.0, I decided to study from the Kaplan ARE 4.0 study materials based on this chart: https://www.ncarb.org/sites/default/files/ARE5_CreditModel.pdf.
So for ARE 5.0 Project Management, I studied the Kaplan review manuals for Construction Documents & Services and Programming, Planning & Practice for ARE 4.0.
After taking Project Management it took almost six weeks to get my exam results. When I didn't get exam results quickly, I scheduled Practice Management for 5/12 (since the chart showed the same overlap between those exams between ARE 4 and 5). Once I found out I passed, I quickly scheduled Construction and Evaluation for 5/23, since it too had study material overlap.
At this point, I realized I had taken three of the shorter exams in quick succession and I didn't want to leave the longest exam for last. Also, ARE 4.0 study books were becoming scarce. So, at the recommendation of a friend, I purchased the Ballast ARE 5.0 book. This friend said they had used it, and only it, for their exams, so it seemed to be a reasonable way to go. One book, $200. Easy.
So, with that book in hand, I studied and took the final three exams. I wanted to take Project Development and Documentation in mid-August and Programming and Analysis in early September, but when I went to schedule the exams everything was booked out at my testing center, so 9/11 was the first available date and 9/28 was the nearest date to two weeks after.
And that's my schedule. Note, that I took a week off to go to the beach in June, my parents came to visit for a week in July, which also explains that break between the first three tests and the last three.
Here are my thoughts on the study materials I used:
The Ballast ARE 5.0 book, even the revised edition, is full of omissions and typos and bad references. It feels rushed and is so boring to read. It's really punishing. It's also hard to say if much of what is in the book actually ends up on the exams. It varies from one chapter to another. For instance, one chapter talks about the different organizations, labs, and government departments in charge of different things related to architecture. 90% of this chapter of alphabet soup use useless, but Ballast felt the need to include it all to not exclude any one group or organization, even if they aren't really relevant.
I really wish there was a set of Kaplan ARE 5.0 books. They're much more entertaining, I felt like I was learning more, and the things in Kaplan ARE 4.0 books actually seemed to be on the exams. Hopefully they have something out soon.
Here are my thoughts on testing strategy:
During the exam, you should try to move quickly and go with your gut when you can. I took all of my exams at 9AM except one which was at 8AM. In the first 10 questions of the 8AM exam I thought, "crap. I have no clue what the answer is," but instead of freaking out, I answered with my gut, flagged the question and moved on. I knew that it was my 8AM brain not working yet. I finished the exam with 40+ minutes to spare and was able to go back to those first 10 questions which were all-of-a-sudden very easy. So don't freak out if you get a string of questions that don't make sense, just answer and flag them and move on.
Unlike previous versions of the ARE, the Case Studies are worth 1 point each, just like the rest of the exam and the Case Studies hold no special place in whether or not you pass the entire exam. Because they take so much time, you should just wait until the end to answer them. Questions that take a lot of time (calculations, lots of reading) aren't worth your time if you don't take tests quickly. If a regular question takes 20-30 seconds to answer, any question that takes 3-5 minutes should be flagged and returned to so you can ensure the maximum number of points by at least completing as many questions as possible. This holds especially true for the Case Studies.
For instance, if I have 10-20 questions flagged from the main portion of the exam (which is mostly multiple choice) and have 15/20 Case Study questions answered, but the other 5 will take 5+ minutes each to look up the info required to answer them, I might be better off just going with your gut on the Case Study questions so you have time to go back and quickly review the other questions.
This is something people will have to figure out on their own a little bit, but having time to review and change some answers is really important.
Here are my thoughts on the exams:
1) Project Management & Practice Management
These exams seem really focused on how not to get sued. Keep this in mind when you study. You should read through the AIA standard contracts, know their numbers (AIA B101, etc.), and should read through the relevant chapters in the Ballast book. I'd recommend the Kaplan 4.0 books instead of Ballast if you have access to them, but it's probably not worth the cost or trouble if you don't.
The questions generally consist of something like, "During the course of construction, it is discovered that there is *something not known when the CDs were created* which requires the redesign of the foundation. Who is responsible for paying for the additional design fee?"
Knowing your AIA contracts will help immensely for these types of questions.
As a little bonus, the Case Study questions at the end of the exam will often have relevant excerpts from some of the AIA standard contracts, so if you were unsure about a question earlier in the exam, these little excerpts might at least let you know which answer was *not* correct.
2) Construction and Evaluation
Again in the realm of not getting sued, a lot of this test is about knowing what your responsibility is when doing site visits and at what points you are 'observing' and 'inspecting' (and knowing the difference). You need to know when you are not professionally responsible for something and when you are, and how to *not* imply or assume that responsibility by saying something dumb in the field.
3) Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation:
These exams are related. You'll need to demonstrate that you know how to read plans and know standard symbols. These tests are the most technical.
The Ballast book has about 1/2 of the entire Chapters on Project Development & Documentation dedicated to structural formulas. I would recommend that people read these sections quickly to refresh on the general concepts (which should be fresh and used daily at your job), but you should spend no time actually getting proficient at sizing beams, columns, calculating shear, bending moment, finding centroids, etc. There will be questions on the exam regarding these things, and there will be calculations, but they will represent such a small portion of the exam as to not be worth the time invested to becoming proficient in them. In the time it will take you to get 1-2 questions correct by freshening up on bending moment calculations or finding centroids, you could study the rest of those chapters and likely get 10-20 questions correct as a result.
I'm not saying that knowledge of doing calculations isn't important, just that it isn't the best use of your time for studying for the exams.
4) Programming and Analysis:
Very conceptual. Reading the Ballast book will leave you thinking that there is just too much up to interpretation to ever come to a conclusive "right" answer, but the exam is more straightforward (thank goodness). That said, in this exam there were a few moments when I thought, "yeah, there's not enough information or time to make a 'correct' decision about this."
Good luck everyone! Feel free to ask me questions.
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