Finished PDD and done! Passed all 6 exams in 2 weeks on 1st try! (Part 2)
I am not sure how reproducible this will be. I came in with a certain set of soft-skills that not everyone may have but I bet there is a fair amount of similarish folks out there, see background section.
Main Resource: Amber Book + ARE Handbook
Supplemental Resouces: Building Code Illustrated, Building Construction Illustrated, Sun Wind and Light, IBC, Guide to the ADA Accessibility Standards
In a perfect storm of events, I was laid-off BUT I had a headhunter who secured a job for me which took a long time before the start date. I had no job BUT no stress and pressure to find a new job either AND enough savings to keep me comforatable. In other words, the ideal conditions for study. I got up and did 8 hours a day of study like a freelance job mostly in posh cafes. I did have some portfolio updates to grind out, ugh, but it was like 80% just ARE study.
Irregardless of the actual test outcome, studying all this stuff will make you a better architect. If you have an academic bent like me, you can treat it like a grad school research project. For example, in addition to Professional Practice study, I read Drafting Cultures to understand the how and the why of the business of architecture.
Read the NCARB handbook and take the NCARB practice exams. The testing UX design is awful and it will take A LOT of practice to get used to the format, and you need to be used to the formatting long before test day or you will waste too much time orienting yourself.
In particular, use the multidivision practice exam to get very familiar with the Whiteboard tool and the Calculator tool. Practice moving data between the calculator and whiteboard using the text tool of the white board. Until it becomes muscle memory of how to click in and click out of a text box without messing up.
Practice making a 'poor man spreadsheet' with the text tool. Practice using camel case and dot syntax to label variables as efficently as possible. The goal is to use as few keystrokes as possbile BUT leave enough breadcrumbs so you can step through the calculations again to check them with extra time.
Practice using the MS and MR buttons in complex calculations to avoid using the whiteboard. You need to practice this to develop the discernment to know when the scope of a problem requires the white board and when you can get by with just MS/MR. Using the whiteboard will slow you down A LOT but trying to keep everything in your head increases the risk of miscalculation. Its a fine line you need to have found in yourself long before the real exam begins.
Review triganometry. If you have trouble with trig, memorize the expression SOA CAH TOA and write that in the whiteboard as quick brain dump before the first question. Then set your calculator to degrees. Practice setting it to degrees until it becomes muscle memory.
If a question describes an array (units per length) diagram it out graphically on the whiteboard most of the time you will realize there was an extra unit on the end that you would have missed by just quick division of units/length. This is the infamous off-by-one error so famous in computer science. Sometimes you will need to add one and sometime subtract one, there is no way to know unless you DIAGRAM it graphically.
If the white board or calculator fails to close. click the button on the top bar to get rid of it.
One of the major difficulties with the exam is the general decline in the ability to hold concentration on complex questions across 4 hours. To fix this you need to do a dopamine detox at least 14 days before the first exam. In addition, you will need the slow-carb/ketogentic diet (such as in 4 hour body) to give you steady energy. In addition, you will need some kind of HIIT exercise (such as in 4 hour body) weekly. Do not underestimate the effect this will have. Its not 'a little bit of an edge', it is an absolutely massive boost to your cognition and mental stamina. Serioulsy, look at the before and after brain scans of a dopamine detox. Which brain would you rather enter the exam with? Do you really want want to have a massive blood sugar crash and burn-out 30 questions into the PPD exam because of that cinnamon twist? Is it really worth it?
Extra, for a slight edge drink one of those mushroom coffee products with nootropic and adpatogenic compounds like lions mane mushroom for an extra mental boost on the morning of the test.
General Testing Technique
Use active reading on the essay-length questions. What is active reading you might ask? I learned this in grad school to get through complex arch critical theory texts.
1. Take the highlight tool and highlight the key words.
2. As you are reading, try to re-phrase in your own words
For every single question on the PCM,PJM, and CE I highlighted the project phase, the delivery method, and the contract ID numbers. Every Single Time. It adds up to maybe a 1-2 extra minutes but it saves you a lot of time re-reading and parsing information. You tend to get the full picture on the first pass.
Many times I would flick my eyes between the list of choices and the keywords I had highlighted in the passage. Most of the gotcha! type questions can be defeated with this technique. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is not possible to hold every detail of a paragraph while you simultaneously focusing on multiple possible answers at the speed of the exam. It is imperative you reduce the cognitive burden and use that bandwith for memory recall and critical thinking.
On this theme, use the strikethough on almost every question even if you think you know. With the habit comes speed. By doing all this markup, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs when you return to the questions you marked. I think its kind of common knowlege at this point, if you can strike out 2 of four possible choices, its a coin flip at that point.
Also on the topic of active reading, This is the best way to confront the B101. Fire up Bluebeam and go through it with the highlight tool and comment tool. Pull out the key passages and summarize them in margin notes. Don't just read it like a novel, it won't stick that way. Don't memorize anything except the Article title + Number, so you can look it up fast on the test.
Dont forget to do "QA/QC" on Check 2/3/4. Did you really check 3? or were you in a rush and check 4? I think I lost 2 points on every practice exam because I kept checking too many. There is no pop-up to tell you that you checked too many/too few.
Every exam I hit a streak of tough questions, at the end I always had about 30min of leftover time. I would step back through the sea of red flags and really try to figure out each one. I don't know why, but its always easier the second time you visit the question. Strive for completion first and correctness second.
Remember that guy in studio that was really into parametric design? that was me. I was always focused on the engineering and technology aspects of architecture more than the graphics or theory (a little more technical than the average) - For complicated reasons I had to do an extra 1.5 years beyond AXP to qualify in my state. (so a little more time than the average). Before my architecture masters degree I had a bachelors degree in landscape architecture (so a little more site / urban planning knowledge than the average)
About 2 years out
I took an online building science class by Dr. Strabe for the Pacific Gas & Electric energy education program, and I took an online class on sustainable architecture from MITx. None of this was for the ARE, just to have the knowledge. Long before the test I had a lot building science under my belt about detailing enclosure assemblies, vapor control, psychometrics, and energy modelling.
Review of classical physics, the sort of stuff you learn freshman year. This was during the shutdown and there literally nothing else better to do. Not really for the ARE, just could not accept the math-as-substitute-for-understanding, explanation of physics (I think a lot of other architects feel this way). Having a very clear of idea of Energy, Work, Power, and Force actually are is sooo useful to build up more complex ideas about light, heat, fluids, electricity, and structural statics.
About 1 year out
I had a job that required me to be out in the field, talking to real life contractors, filling out the pay applications, writing the ASI, ect. I made a first pass to understand the building codes and became a real pain to my project manager about doing code analysis when I was not supposed because it was "too advanced" just to practice on real life problems.
More to Come
I might organize some of my notes into summary sheets in the near future and post it here. Some of these topics as not nearly as complicated as the way they are explained.
Micheal - Wow! thanks, its a huge honor to be included in the Amber Book
Yvette - I studied mainly the Amber Book PDD + PPD flashcards which were incomplete during the first week when I was doing the the other 5 exams back to back. In addition:
1. review of Amber Book videos on Acoustics, Light, and Structures
2. Amber Book practice exam (1 day effort)
3. NCARB practice exam (1 day effort)
Super helpful - thanks Robert. (And congratulations!)
Here is some off the notes stuff I promised to post. This is on the topic of shear diagrams which was a great source of frustration for me while studying. (The graphics are little crude, but this can be easily improved at a later date). https://are5community.ncarb.org/hc/en-us/community/posts/12649806252311-Explanation-of-Shear-w-o-any-Math
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