I just passed my CSE and want to share what worked for me and hope that it can help others.
I graduated in 2016 with a B.Arch. I worked about 6 years as an architectural designer (residential), before finally building up the courage to commit to the exams.
I started studying Aug 2022, and took all 6 AREs in the beginning of Nov 2022. After passing the 6 on the first go, it took another few months to finish my AXP hours before I was able to take the CSE in Apr 2023.
I used Amber Book and NCARB's mock exams. Following Amber Book's suggestion, I signed up for all 6 exams to be taken within 8 days (PcM > PjM > CE > PA > PPD > PDD).
I worked full-time while studying, blocking out 2 hours after work on weekdays, and two 2-hour blocks on weekends. I adapted Amber Book's 8 week schedule to work for 12 weeks, adding another buffer week for times when life/work took over.
I began using NCARB's mock exams for each division 3-4 days before I would take them, reviewing the answers to get a sense of how I should be tackling the questions. Day before the exam, I would retake the mock exam for a refresher and to build confidence for the next day.
I took the week off of work to fully focus on the exams. Because I was doing the mock exams concurrently with the exams, an example of test day for me would be like:
- Take PcM, don't look at the results
- Do the NCARB mock exam for PA (scheduled in 3 days)
- Do the mock exam for PjM (which I had already done once 3 days prior)
This kept information fresh in my mind. And doing this really highlighted the overlap of content between exams.
- Amber Book does a good job covering what you need to know for the exams. I went into the exams feeling like I had a good handle of the concepts, and walked out feeling like there weren't any huge holes in my knowledge. The videos are great for audio visual learners who have a hard time digesting blocks of text. They do require your full attention, I do not recommend trying to multi-task.
- The Amber Book practice exams seemed easier since they used wording similar to those used in the videos. The NCARB mock exams gives you a good sense of what to expect on test day, and let's you familiarize yourself with the testing program.
- I know taking all 6 exams back-to-back is a scary thought, but there are a lot of overlapping content between exams, so it is the most efficient way to study. And if doing all 6 feels too risky, I recommend doing 3 exams back-to-back (Pcm+PjM+CE & PA+PPD+PDD). Scheduling that many exams close together with the test center can also be hard closer to the date of the exams. I suggest scheduling them 2-3 weeks into studying, when you have an idea of the speed of your progress. This also has the added benefit of committing you to the study schedule.
- I didn't look at the results after each exam. This will be different for everyone, but for me personally, I didn't want to wreck whatever mental balance I had. I trusted that I knew the content and was sufficiently prepared.
- The order I took the exams (PcM > PjM > CE > PA > PPD > PDD) was suggested to me by others because of the overlap of content between exams, and I agreed at the time of the exam. But for those in California, I actually suggest (PA > PPD > PDD > PcM > PjM > CE). The CSE covers a lot of the contracts, so you would want that information fresh in your mind.
- Also for those in California, the CSE can only be taken after you finish the AREs AND your AXP hours. Because it would be most effective to take the CSE soon after the AREs, plan ahead and try to time it so your AXP hours are done/close to done before passing the AREs.
The AREs (and CSE) are straightforward. They don't throw trick questions at you. If you know the concepts and read the questions carefully, you can even make informed guesses on subjects that you never encountered in the study material (rare, but there were a few).
I definitely recommend Amber Book to those who have reservations with starting the process because opening a textbook is daunting. I don't think additional study materials are necessary, but others have told me additional practice exams helped them.
I hope this information is helpful, and best wishes to those embark on their journey towards licensure.
Please sign in to leave a comment.