4.0 / 5.0 Transition - advice



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    Elizabeth Hagberg

    David, I am following the same course as you and just getting started on studying for P&A.  What material did you find most useful?  I appreciate any advice.  Thank you!  --Beth Hagberg

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    David Kaplan


    Hi Beth,


    Thanks for the message, yes, happy to tell you how I attacked this one.  First, I think it's important to tell you that I am going into these tests with 13 years solid work experience behind me.  I say this because I felt that I relied strongly on my work experience/knowledge in taking this test and that it really came through for me.  Not sure of your experience, so you should look at my response below with this filter in mind, meaning if you have minimal experience in an office, you may want to look at others' posts on here to see where you might infill some study sources.  This being said, here's my advice:


    If I had to retitle the name of this exam, I would call it "Pre-Design: Programming, Building & Site Analysis."  This test really covers the services an architect would perform during the Pre-Design Stage of a project, where owners have hired us and are in the process of selecting sites, selecting an existing building for a project, or have come to you with a Program Document in hand and said to us "how do I lay this out?"  Or, they have to come to us with a site and said "I want to maximize the footprint on this site for the biggest return on my investment - tell me from a zoning and code perspective what that is."  It covers the initial services that we would perform at the onset of a project: Code/Accessibility Review, Zoning Review, Site Survey analysis, Soils Analysis, Hazardous Materials/Phase I & II EA analysis, and Program Documents.  I'll delve a little into each and tell you how I studied these components:


    Code Review - definitely know Chapters 3, 5, and 6 of the IBC 2012 and know how to use them.  You will get these excerpts on the test, so I don't see memorization being key here, but you should be familiar with what the various Use Groups are per Chapter 3, how to determine the size of a building using Table 503 and the sprinkler and frontage increases, and the various construction types in Chapter 6.  You should also be familiar with egress sizing requirements, which are laid out in Chapter 10.  I am the primary code analyst in my office, so felt very comfortable with these questions on the test and did not focus my studying efforts here.  If you are not familiar with using the Code, I can’t imagine taking this test without reviewing this fully.    


    • Study sources: Ching’s Building Codes Illustrated.  Love this book, can’t recommend it enough, and purchasing it will also be advantageous for your last two exams: PPD and PDD.  I still use this book in my office.  Also – of course, IBC 2012 and ANSI 117.1.  In particular, know what makes sites and buildings accessible.  Imagine yourself walking onto an existing site or an existing building and being asked “what upgrades need to be made to make this site and building accessible?”  Know how to approach that.

    • Architect Exam Prep Guide for PPP also has a very good review of building codes and site/building accessibility. 


    Zoning Review – you should be familiar with Zoning documents and how to navigate them.  Honestly, the best source for this is to go onto your own City’s zoning website and review their document.  See how they organize it with lists of permitted and non-permitted uses, where parking requirements are located and how the number of stalls is calculated.  Also, be sure to identify any and all restrictions on building heights and setbacks.  You may find that the Zoning Code is more restrictive than the Building Code, particularly with respect to building height, so make sure if you come across these materials on a test that you look at both.  You should be able to identify and calculate the largest building footprint on a site using given setbacks.  Also – know what FAR is and how to use Building Efficiency calculations.


    • Study sources: I actually found that my PPP study materials were good for this.  I used the Architect Exam Prep Guide for PPP, which had a good section on Zoning definitions and all the items above. 

    • City zoning website mentioned above to become familiar with the layout of a zoning document

    • ARE 5.0 Handbook – the practice questions and the 5.0 Demonstration Exam both have examples of these types of questions that you will encounter.  Definitely, definitely, definitely read that Handbook and take all of the Demonstration Exam.  Get familiar with the demo exam, particularly how to navigate the case studies and documents they give you.  This is key.


    Site Survey Analysis, Soils Analysis, Haz. Mat, Phase I and II EA Analysis – I’ve lumped all these site issues into one comment here because I studied one source:


    • Study sources: Site Design & Planning Handbook.  Chapters 1-4, 7, 8, and Appendix A.  This book covers techinques on how to locate buildings, how to use the site in a “green” manner, soil types, explanation of brownfields, hazardous materials, and Phase I/II EA Reports.  Got this gem from another’s post here on this site, it was a good recommendation.  This is a good source for PPD as well.

    • If you are not familiar with topography maps and surveys, you should review any 4.0 study materials you have, particularly SPD test materials would be good.


    Program Documents – this portion of the exam is a bit tough to “study for,” so to speak, because it really deals more with your own design intuition and instincts.  This is where my work experience kicked into high gear.  A client will give us a list of say 5-6 items for their building program, and you should be able to lay out a bubble diagram showing the required adjacencies, or be able to schematically lay out the various pieces within an existing building footprint (i.e. take and drag squares/rectangles, each labeled with a piece of the Program, into an existing building footprint per the required adjacencies.)  These types of questions are really straightforward if you follow the requirements.  Think back to the graphic vignettes you did for 4.0 CDS and PPP: each one of those only had one right answer and if you followed the requirements exactly as they were given, you couldn’t mess up.  This is similar.  Some advice on tackling these:


    • Again, there’s examples of these questions in the 5.0 practice materials on NCARB’s website.  Do those and get comfortable with them.  If there are 3rd-party study guides out there with other practice questions, might be good to get those, but I am unaware of these as I did not use them. 

    • Pay particular attention to how these diagrams look on the NCARB website.  Note that terms like “next to” or “directly connected to” are indicated with solid lines, and “near” or “in close proximity” may be indicated with dashed lines.  You will see these terms used in the exam and graphically depicted accordingly, and again, NCARB gives you this heads up in their practice test. 


    Last piece of advice: don’t let this stress you out.  I have found that the 5.0 version of the exam is superior to 4.0 in terms of content and design.  I left the P&A test thinking, “NCARB truly tested me on things that I do every day as an architect.”  I felt that there were very few questions where I said, “come on, why are they asking me THAT?”  Focus on each question, if you don’t know the answer mark it and come back to it, and try to stay calm.  You can do this!!!!

    Best of luck!



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    Asra Zaidi

    Hi David,

    do you still own your copy of CHING'S BUILDING CODES ILLUSTRATED? are you looking to sell? really hard to find that book anymore.



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    David Kaplan


    The version I have is for the 2006 IBC unfortunately.  You can't find it on Amazon?  Barnes and Noble website?  That surprises me that you can't find it - check it out.  I could be wrong!


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    Dena Simoneaux

    David, I am thinking of doing this approach as i know my time is running out before 4.0 goes away.  so it feels like this approach is the best.  

    i am curious, because i have not spoken with anyone that has taken both exams, what they feel about the 2 different formats.  Since you have taken both I am curious about your thoughts on each.

    Thanks so much,


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    David Kaplan


    Hi Dena,


    My 4.0/5.0 Transition approach has been great I would say.  I have taken CDS and PPP under 4.0 and PA and PPD under 5.0.  I have PDD next week.  Prior to all this, I had also taken BDCS and BS under 4.0, but those expired from the 5-year rolling clock (don't ask!). 


    Here's my take:


    ARE 4.0 is geared towards folks that do better with studying from a reading and memorization approach I would say.  There's rock-solid third-party study materials out there for 4.0 because the test has been out there so long.  I think that anyone at any experience level is capable of studying for the 4.0 tests and passing them.  The graphic vignettes are not hard, but they're annoying solely because of the software format.  It's this wacko computer software that is not like CAD or Revit.  But, NCARB offers it online and you can practice it as much as you want.  I personally have not found the actual graphic vignettes on the test to be that much harder than the practice ones NCARB gives you to study with.  Yes, there’s a few things they’ll throw in there, but I have yet to experience a situation where the test version is drastically different/harder than the example on the website.


    ARE 5.0 is geared towards folks that have a solid design intuition and have a good amount of work experience.  This is my personal opinion, others may disagree.  I go into these exams with 13 years of solid project experience behind me.  I’ve run projects from the day we meet a client to the grand opening, including all construction documents, site visits, coordination, and construction administration work.  I’ve seen/experienced just about everything.  So, when I’ve sat for the 5.0 tests, I’ve found this experience to be highly useful in being able to answer questions.  The third-party study materials for 5.0 are NOT sufficient by any means, and in fact they are nothing more than a restructuring of whatever their 4.0 materials were.  I caution your use of them.  I have found that using this forum and instead studying the materials that NCARB suggests has been much more helpful and I have been better prepared.


    When I took the 4.0 tests, I felt that if I went in there having studied enough, I did pretty well.  The format is very straightforward.  It’s either multiple choice questions or a fill-in-the blank (i.e. math) question.  There are a few “select the three that apply” type questions as well.  However, I will tell you that every time I left the exam center after taking a 4.0 test I said to myself “well, I know I passed, but I don’t think that test was an accurate test on what I do every day.”  In short, 4.0 to me feels like an exam that anyone could study for, pass, and then quickly forget everything you studied and move on with your life. 


    When I’m taking 5.0 tests, I find much more that I am tested instead on my ability to think through questions and apply my work experience and knowledge to find the answers.  I leave those tests feeling like I truly got tested on what it means to be an architect and feeling as well that I used everything I’ve learned these past 13 years to my advantage.  I like the different types of questions, particularly the graphic ones where you click on an area of the plan where Room A should go, or having to identify various parts of a wall section.  I like having to look up a code section to find the right answer.  I say this because this is what I do every day, so I feel much more comfortable with it.  I think to a certain extent that with enough experience, someone could go in there and do pretty decent on these exams without even studying.  It’s important though to have a solid grasp on all the concepts.  If you’re going to take 5.0, use this forum to help you focus your study efforts. 


    I personally am glad that I made the transition and I like 5.0 much better than 4.0.  I am very glad that I opted to take PA under 5.0 and did not instead take SPD under 4.0 first.  I say that because I can’t imagine having my first 5.0 exam being PPD or PDD. Those two tests are beasts, lots of info to study for.  I liked have PA under my belt, knowing what to expect with the 5.0 format first.  It made taking PPD much easier (which I did last week and passed). 


    Best of luck!


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    Julie Brown


    I just wanted to chime in and say I agree with David. The 5.0 format is so much better aligned with the practice of architecture. I took one test in 4.0, failed it, and transitioned to 5.0. My 4.0 failure was due to not practicing the vignette software, and an overall lack of preparation. At the time that I attempted it, I had over 10 years working experience, and I felt like I breezed through the multiple choice content, but the clunky tools of the vignette software had me scrambling and fighting with a basic parking layout that I could do in my sleep if it were in CAD. Between the two test formats, there's a big difference: with 4.0, you have an allotted amount of time for the multiple choice, then a mandatory break, and then an allotted amount of time for the vignette. I would have loved to have been able to use the extra 40 minutes I had left over after the multiple choice to battle the vignette software. In 5.0, your entire testing window is all yours to allot however much of the test time you want, wherever you want. And if interruptions cramp your style, the 'break' is now optional. You can test straight through if you'd like. Every question is worth one point, no matter if it took you 5 minutes to arrive at the answer, or 15 seconds. And as David said, you walk out feeling like you were tested on things you actually do* in this profession, rather than what you were able to memorize. (*except for PPD and PDD, those two were broad and beastly, and a little more into the waters of our project consultants' knowledge.)

    Last bit: I didn't use any 5.0 study materials, just the 4.0 stuff from Kaplan and Ballast, as well as the big suggested reference books like: AHPP, Architectural Graphic Standards, Architect's Studio Companion, MEEB, Building Construction Illustrated. Once I transitioned to 5.0, I passed all 6 exams in 10 months and the only reason it took that long was because I got married, and changed my last name part way through, and had to wait for NCARB to get my paperwork processed.

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    Julio Cedano


    Any recommendations for "Space Planning Basics" book? specifically wondering if you had read through this book or not I don't see any mention of it in the community for PA exam wondering if it's even worth buying to read over or if people felt ready for the exam without reading through it. 

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    David Kaplan (Edited )

    Hey Julio,

    You know, I didn't study anything with respect to "space planning," and it's because I've been working for 13 years doing just that among other things.  I personally found the planning questions on the ARE exams to be more about logic and using our design intuition.  You almost couldn't really study for these.  The questions I'm referring to are the ones where you have to drag various Program pieces onto a partially filled-out bubble diagram, or they give you a large building footprint and you have to drag the physical space blocks onto that footprint, arranged in such a way to meet the program requirements.  At the end of the day, it's important to remember that for these questions there's only one right answer - truly.  If you read through the requirements given and really understand them, the answer should become apparent. 

    Some tips:

    1) There will undoubtedly be additional information given to you that you can completely ignore.  This happened to me multiple, multiple times.  Use that to your advantage.  If you know you can ignore it, the question got that much easier.

    2) Let's say they give you 5 criteria that you have to meet in the layout.  Try to identify the ones that are black-and-white obvious first: meaning, it is clear as day as to where the piece needs to go because there's only one spot it can go to meet the requirement.  Do those first.  In doing this, the other ones that you might not be sure about might all of a sudden become way easier.

    3) Make sure you pay attention to the linetypes that connect the bubbles.  More often than not, there is a symbol legend given to you as well explaining what these linetypes mean.  A dashed line connecting two bubbles will likely mean “in proximity to” or “nearby.”  A solid line connecting two bubbles will likely mean “directly connected to” or “directly adjacent.”  Those same words will be given to you in the criteria that you have to meet.  There were times when I got to these questions and I’m sitting there saying “this can’t be right, there’s definitely two bubbles that this program piece could go in.”  But then I looked again and saw these lines and realized, “oh wait, the program says it has to be directly connected to this space.  This bubble can’t be right because there’s a dashed line connecting it.”  Don’t let that trip you up.

    Hope this helps, sorry that I can’t recommend a book.  Maybe others can?


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    Julio Cedano

    David, thanks for the help. Very informative. 

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