PDD and done (six years in the making)
Took me just over six years (with the automatic COVID extensions). I had four years work experience before I started taking the exams. A year later we had kids and I've been a stay at home mom since. So that's five years experience total. Did the first four exams in ARE 4.0 and finished with PDD and PPD this fall/ winter. I studied for these two lightly over the last two years but much more focused since this last September through now (February). I don’t recommend taking six years because you forget a lot of things. But I wanted to finish up what I started to be better qualified to work again in the future. My main study time is while the kids are in preschool, and some evenings. If you are on the long track I want to encourage you that you CAN do this!
In my work experience I had a lot of time with zoning, IBC, and details. We worked mostly on light framed wood, and type 3 buildings (masonry walls with wood floors). No significant concrete or steel experience. I also had to learn about contracts and the business side of things entirely from study materials.
I purchased Ballast 5.0, a few other affordable supplementary materials (developed by test takers who started after I did!), and also used my college textbooks.
My favorite materials (in roughly decreasing order of importance):
-NCARB ARE Handbook
-NCARB online practice exams
-Ballast- helpful for overall scope and organization. I went through the chapters in sequence pulling in other materials as needed, especially if I didn’t understand it. I will say that Ballast’s structural stuff is WAY too complicated and not well explained, but it complemented Elif’s materials and Hyperfine.
-Hyperfine- super for getting you to think through topics. Affordable.
-Elif’s ARE Questions- I only used it for my last exam, PDD, after finding out about it on this forum. Her video series on structural/ seismic is awesome and applies to both PDD and PPD. The practice exams were helpful for getting my mind in gear on IBC and on cost estimating problems, even though they are not as polished as the video series. Affordable.
-FEMA 454 seismic
-MEEB- looking mainly at particular topics identified in Ballast or in practice exams, to not get lost in the details. I had this from school.
-Architect’s Studio Companion- I mainly used it for HVAC and structural system comparison. Be familiar with all HVAC system diagrams described here. I had this from school.
-Fundamentals of Building Construction- great for getting pictures of construction methods that I don’t have first hand experience with. If I can get a picture in my mind of what is going on it helps my memory so much. I had this from school.
-Sun Wind and Light- describes a lot of sustainable design principles that keep popping up on the tests. I had pretty much internalized this during school.
-Old Kaplan and Ballast practice tests (4.0).
-I used Kaplan books on loan for my earlier 4.0 tests, IMO they are equivalent to Ballast which you can just get as one single big book.
-Building Science Corporation has some helpful free articles about how walls and roofs perform in terms of thermal and moisture management.
-I didn’t have Building Construction Illustrated but something like it would be helpful for understanding details, depending on your prior experience.
-I would have referred to a good structural textbook but I didn't have one already, and got by with the above materials.
GENERAL STUDY TIPS
-I love practice exams! Do all the ones you can find and make flashcards based on questions you need to study more.
While I like taking notes by hand while reading through a book, my main note-taking tool is flashcards because it forces me to recall. Write a question or word to define on one side and answer yourself on the other.
I like to put them in a baggy and use binder clips or rubber bands to organize them topically. As you go through them you can weed out the questions you’re confident about (though you may want to review again prior to test time). Favorite places for me to use them: keep them in the bathroom, take them to the gym and set them on the machine if it has a book holder, read them on public transit, or while waiting in the car. Reviewing flashcards is a great way to make use of small amounts of study time.
-There are some older study books that recommend studying architectural history. I did not recall having ANY history specific questions in my exams (needing to learn about specific architects or buildings). There were some questions in PDD/ PPD about seismic and structural failure based on historic examples (although you didn’t need to know the history to get the question).
-I did study PDD and PPD together. After making a first pass through all my relevant study materials, I took PPD and then spent 2 months focusing on PDD (6-10 hrs/ a week average). I think that’s a generally sound strategy although your time-frame may be different.
-You need to know about structural systems comparison and seismic failure modes for PPD as well as PDD. I had thought seismic was only on PDD but I was wrong.
-IBC for both PPD and PDD: fire separation, fire rated assemblies, occupancy types, building type, separation of occupancies, calculating occupant load and egress, and the effect of sprinklers on what’s allowable. Elif’s practice questions were helpful preparation on this. These kind of questions were closely related to my work experience as well.
-You really need to know how to read typical details and label the components. Also look for where is the thermal break, how is the moisture managed & drained, how to avoid condensation in different climates.
-Use the NCARB practice exam to get familiar with the interface. Spend a lot of time on the calculator and white board tool. Don’t count on being able to return to the whiteboard notes once you leave a question while testing. Sometimes the notes stay and sometimes they disappear. To work out complicated math I used the text tool in whiteboard, with the calculator open as well.
TEST DAY STRATEGY
Get a good night’s sleep.
Allow plenty of time to get to the test location every time (including finding where it is within the building if it's your first time there). This may mean going early and planning to have lunch nearby.
My strategy for taking my final test was to do half the individual questions and one of the case studies, limited to half the time (2 hr). Then after a break for water/ bathroom/ snack/ stretch/ walk around the building, knock out the other half of the test. I would make a first pass on all questions I was working on, flag ones that needed more thought to come back to on a second round if time allows. Don’t get stuck for a long time on any one question unless you’ve gone through all of the others first (in the section you are working on).
-PDD had a lot of stuff about how to navigate a drawing set, where to look for information, how to find stuff that’s not fully coordinated. -Sometimes the question itself will reveal where to look for the answer… EG, look IN THIS PART of the finish schedule to find the discrepancy between drawing and schedule. Sometimes at first glance something looks complicated but read it carefully and it may be more simple than you thought!
-Finding specific information on MEP drawings, shop drawings, structural drawings.
-I practiced all of the formulas in the NCARB handbook and I think I only had questions about three of them on my particular test and they weren’t the particularly challenging ones.
-Know the psychrometric chart & understand under what circumstances you'll get condensation. Know how to calculate the temperature profile through a wall.
-Watch units because if you don’t they’ll really trip you up. Kilowatts and Kilovolts vs watts, volts, amps. Even volt-amps! Feet, inches, yards, square yards, cubic yards. Kips/ SF vs Kips/ square inch.
-I was weak on structural topics before studying for this exam and spent a lot of time studying for it. However, while it’s necessary to know some structural, as others have said, know the concepts without feeling like you need to know every crazy calculation.
-In my exam, I was surprised not to have much about moment, shear, etc or have to draw a shear diagram. I didn’t refer to the AISC diagrams once. It seems that maybe some of the study material (Ballast) is still focused on 4.0 when there was a specific structural exam. The structural stuff on this exam was lighter, more in line with what you actually would use in your architectural practice IMO. Although I know there’s a lot of questions in the question pool, so your experience may vary.
-Architect's responsibilities for different project delivery methods.
Juliann, in addition to MEEB, it's also in Heating Cooling Lighting. In my Ballast book ( 2017 version) it's in Chapter 16, "Human Comfort and Mechanical System Fundamentals." Ballast shows calculating the U value and then the temperature in an example wall assembly. The picture of this is a wall section with a thick diagonal line going through it.
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