PPD Failed (transition) - Struggling and seeking advice



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    Scott Barber


    So sorry to hear about you failing PPD. I have a hard time knowing what to say in response to these posts - from my experience you seemed to do everything right and sound like you were well prepared, I'm not sure how much advice I can share. The unfortunate thing is that you could be just a couple questions away from passing - especially if you were level 3 for the divisions you failed. I would encourage you to stay fresh on what you've studied so far, and take it again as soon as you can. Who knows, maybe even another version of the exam will give you questions you're more knowledgeable in.

    As frustrating as it is, I think you have a major advantage going into the next time you take it. You've already seen the exam and now know what types of questions to expect. I imagine there were some questions that caught you somewhat off guard or that you weren't as confident in, so you can prepare for those types of questions as you continue studying. 

    Hopefully someone else can chime in on their experiences when retaking an exam - but don't give up! I know the transition has been a challenge for some but hopefully now that you've taken a 5.0 exam you have a clearer picture of what to expect and the differences between them.
    There do seem to be a number of people posting about failing the exams recently, but I'm sure there are other people getting good news out there! 

    Good luck - I hope you can have a few days to relax but can keep your motivation to continue studying moving forward. You can do it!

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    William May

    A couple of clarifications I need:

    I'm seeing the following -

    PcM - Practice Management,

    PjM - Project Management ,

    PA - Programming & Analysis,

    PPD - Project Planning & Design,

    PDD - Project Development & Documentation,

    CE - Construction & Evaluation

    What is this "Level 3" thing you mention? 

    What are "levels"?  I'm not seeing this terminology anywhere.

    Years ago I went for my Real Estate Agent License.  I eventually passed.  It took me a few times because as I found out the test was written in very confusing format.  The upside was that you were able to take the test almost as quickly as the following day.

    How long do I have to wait between retaking any division?  From reading these posts it's almost a miracle if you don't need to retake a test.


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    Susan Scarlet-Macaw (Edited )


    The levels refers to your scoring in the sections we have to pass in order to show minimal competency that we have passed the exam. Level 2 is good enough.You need to read the most recent 5.0 handbook and it will answer many of your questions.

    Here is my failed score for PPD.


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    William May

    So I take it that one needs a minimum of a level 2 in all sections to pass the division.

    So, with this information, what do you feel about your knowledge of the subject matter?

    I'm a former Vocational-Technical Instructor.  I taught basic architectural design, drafting and related skills.  It never crossed my mind to incorporate ARE information into my program.

    To think, my students went on to become licensed architects, yet, it has taken me 18 years after leaving academia to now be eligible to sit of the test.

    Thank You for sharing!

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    Michelle NCARB


    Take a look at this knowledge article to understand how to read a score report.  As for retesting: you can retest in a division as early as 60 days after a failed attempt at that division.  You can test in each division up to 3 times within a 12-month period.  As Susan mentioned, take a look at the ARE 5.0 Handbook for more details.

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    Julie Brown

    Hi Lu!

    I passed PPD on the first try, but I will tell you I totally walked out of that exam feeling doubtful. I too have been working for over 10 years, so when I finally decided to get the AREs going and done with, I took 4 exams (5.0's PA, PcM, PjM, and CE) all within a 3-week period with not *that* much dedicated study time and passed each one. I reviewed all the ARE Handbook's recommended references and only really delved into any pieces that didn't feel familiar as I skimmed through them.

    Then I took a summer break.

    I scheduled PPD and PDD for September, with a week between tests, and studied for both simultaneously. These two were much broader in content than the other four exams, and had so many more questions that are related to things we have consultants for, so I was less able to draw on my work experience. I walked out of PPD with a mental assessment that there were probably 30 or more questions that caught me off-guard. I know what I know, and when I'm asked something I don't know, I recognize that pretty quickly and am like, dang, I skimmed the lighting section too much when I was studying, I'm gonna go home and read it immediately. Then when I get home, I make a list of the things I should read more closely in preparing for a retake and make sure that I've clarified my understanding of concepts that I recognized as recurring in the exam. Like how you mentioned having four questions about ponds? I'd go read everything about the concepts the ponds questions related to. Not specifically go read about ponds, but go read about environmental factors and site planning and the like. Based on your Report, you should focus on Content Area 3 and 4. Given that these had the highest percentage of exam content, I'd bet that you were close to passing. Each question is worth 1 point, no matter what it is, and the pass/fail decision is based on total points earned. Get a few more points in those two big content areas!

    I ended up passing PPD despite feeling like I had a long list of things that rocked my confidence, making my exams 5 for 5 on first attempts. I felt great going into my last one: PDD. It's the stuff we do the most, it has the highest passing rate, and it was my last test. I walked out feeling like I didn't see nearly as many surprises as I did on PPD, so when I learned I passed PPD, I was sure PDD was in the bag! And then I got a Fail on it. Tripped at the finish line. I just wanted to share that to tell you that I understand the shock you felt. It makes doubt your decision-making and your knowledge and your study strategy. But the best way to minimize that doubt and get your confidence back is to prepare. Your list of study materials is pretty much what I used (though I didn't bother with 5.0 study guides). If I were to add any: skim MEEB (good for daylighting strategies at the least, but probably better for PDD) and read through Architectural Graphic Standards. I used to think of that book as a place to go for dimensions of equipment and random things like the size of sports fields, but when I actually read it, they do a good job of explaining site design, environmental factors, building systems, materials, and assemblies, etc. Focus your reading on content that falls under the big percentages, Content Areas 3 and 4. Reread the ARE Handbook for what objectives these areas have. I think as you read the content again, you'll have flashbacks to your exam and be able to clarify your ability to analyze/evaluate and you'll get that Pass next time.

    Good Luck!

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    William May

    This is probably a really dumb question but I am hard pressed to ask.

    Did the 5 year professional degree help you prepare for the ARE?

    Why are you, anyone can answer this, only now after 10 years taking the ARE?

    Just wondering.

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    Jason Ruby

    I am curious as to what these "Pond" questions in the exam refer to, and what material(s) would one study to be prepared to tackle them?

    William- your questions sound more appropriate for a separate thread, but I'll answer from my perspective: I did a 3-year bachelor's degree, and I can't say it has helped tremendously to prepare me for the ARE, but that also was almost 20 years ago.  What has helped a lot more is working for almost 2 decades.  I recently decided that getting licensed will step up my career- it may open more opportunities, I can raise my rates, be more "official," broaden my understanding of the profession, and I am learning a lot in preparing for the exams- some of the material I have already been able to apply to my practice.

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    William May

    If I'm not mistaken the POND questions relate to the water retention ponds usually associated with sites that have large paved or concrete parking areas/garages.  Possibly multi-family residential or any structure where water ponds are best suited to provide a slow return of water to natural surroundings rather than burdening an undersized or overwhelmed storm sewer system. 

    Am I even close to correctly providing an answer?


    ps, thanks for the personal note Jason :)

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    William May

    This is what I'm thinking that was meant by a "Pond"?

    Help me out Lu.

    So Lu, without divulging the test questions, can you give us some idea as to what the content of the questions might be looking for and what you think that someone should know to handle these sorts of questions - where and what should we all be reading and/or studying?

    Is this appropriate to ask?  Jeez I'm so lost lol.

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    Julie Brown

    William, have you taken PPD? If not, I’m not sure it’s helpful to make assumptions about the content, even though it’s clear you know one definition of a pond. These exams are less about knowing definitions and more about testing your ability to analyze, evaluate, and apply understanding of information and scenarios presented. Read through the objectives listed under each exam division in the ARE Handbook for the overview of the content you can expect each exam to cover. For PPD, one of the major content areas is Environmental Conditions and Context.
    Seriously, get thee to the ARE Handbook and it will address many of your PONDerings.

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    Scott Barber

    I wasn't sure how to describe the 'pond' questions without revealing content on the exam. After a google search (surprising how many answers I've found to people's questions up here by searching on google, just a reminder that Google is still a research beyond this forum) I found this post on this forum. I didn't read all the comments but it should answer your question:


    Note: an NCARB representative closed the comments on that post and warned others that the comments were very close to revealing content on the exam. Apparently my concerns about not saying too much were reasonable?

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    Jason Ruby

    Many thanks, Scott! 

    It seems the dreaded Pond questions have tripped up a number of ARE candidates, potentially contributing to a PPD fail.  It also appears there is a scarcity of information in the NCARB handbook references on how to approach body-of-water related site questions.  The post you linked is illuminating, and appears to contain the info needed to prepare for these questions if/ when they appear on the exam.  Much there to PONDer (haha, good one Julie!).

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    Kurt Fanderclai

    William -- 

    Typically, you'll want to post your questions unrelated to the topic on a different thread that you create.  Additionally, and no matter your intentions, I would advise against offering advice to candidates on exams that you've not yet taken or studied for -- guessing is nothing more than a distraction to those currently making exam efforts.

    In general, it also sounds like you may need to back up a bit.  From your questions, it doesn't sound like you've done any groundwork efforts on your end as far as exam prep, exam format familiarity, etc., which includes with:



    You'll need to read through both of these very thoroughly.  You'll also benefit greatly from reading all threads within the exam division intend to focus on.  There is also a Demo Exam on the NCARB website;  also read the Case Studies info, as well as all other exam format info provided via NCARB.  Also watch videos on the NCARB channel on Youtube.

    In other words, you're gonna have to start by doing the work, just like any other candidate.


    good luck.


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    William May


    First, I was making a comment as a discussion point, not offering advice.  You might note the give away by the question mark "?" .  In both of my responses I was asking for help to see if I was on the right track, not offering advice.

    Second, I am very much making exam efforts.  I'm reading posts and threads like the other 38,000 people in this process.  Please don't make assumptions you know nothing about what I'm doing.

    Third, I have read the PASS/FAIL and the NCARB Handbook and many other books and videos.  What is ironic is that there are colleges that have Pass/Fail below 30%.  If I had been a student and had a $100,000 student loan, I'd wonder what I paid for.

    Fourth, I AM doing the work just like other candidates.

    Fifth, I did the Demo exam, worthless in my opinion because it didn't provide answers.

    Now, please stay on topic, go reread my comments/questions and provide feed back on the post that is at the forefront.

    Please, don't assume, you make an a** of yourself. and it isn't productive.

    Thanks ;)

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    Scott Barber

    Hey William,
    I'll confess that my initial reaction to your comments was the same as Kurt's. Your initial comments, while somewhat related to the post on a broad scale, seemed more appropriate to be asked elsewhere and could have received more productive feedback from a broader audience. Your comments relating to the 'pond' questions, while accompanied with a question mark, could still lead to additional confusion - even though they are well-intentioned. 

    From my activity on this site over the course of a few months (much less than Kurt's), I've seen a number of people who aren't willing to do groundwork and read the ARE Handbook, or posts that already exist, on their own. Even when encouraged (multiple times) to go read the posts others have written who passed this exam they still ask for someone to provide a list of all books they need to study, not realizing that this is a very complex answer that likely varies from person to person. 

    Upon initial reading of your comments, it seemed that you fit into that category - especially since you just joined the forum the day you made that comment. I'm glad that's not the case, but your passive-aggressive comment isn't productive, either.
    Ultimately there's a lot of solid advice on this forum, and I don't intend to discourage your involvement or input. Passing the ARE is a major undertaking, and each perspective can provide help and a more complete picture of what it takes to pass these exams and become licensed. 


    I'm sorry for the distractions that have come up on your post (no judgment to anyone - I've done this before as well). I hope you've been able to benefit from the comments and feel free to ask any additional questions you may have! Good luck!

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    Kurt Fanderclai

    Scott -- that's a well-written post, and matches my point. 

    William  -- your posts on this thread are off-topic and uninformed -- that's my point.  My comment was intended to get you to consider starting own threads instead of bogging down this one.  That, and do the initial legwork for yourself. 

    This thread was written by someone who had transitioned from 4.0 and is currently struggling with the 5.0 PPD exam -- this person was asking anyone who had taken the exam and failed the first time for advice on how to regroup.  Do you feel that describes you?

    In fact, I did read your posts. Your posts are what caused me to comment.  Your posts began with your need for clarification of what the shorthand exam initials each stood for, followed by your questions about score levels, then a few musing about your real estate license, your background, your feelings about academia, then your question about why a person would wait so long to test, then your question about whether is a 5-year degree is helpful, followed be your description and photos of detention and retention ponds -- when the pond in question at hand is of a completely different nature.  

    You can certainly ask all of those questions and make all of those comments on your own threads within the appropriate division, but none of that helped the OP.  That's the point.

    Fifth, I did the Demo exam, worthless in my opinion because it didn't provide answers.


    I guess you missed this one in your comprehensive reading efforts.  

    And so on...

    Am I busting your chops a little bit?  I am.  But most of us here have seen the movie you are currently starring in before.

    All that said, most everyone posting on this forum -- including me when I still occasionally check in -- will help you in your ARE quest.  

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    William May

    Why are folks assuming I'm not reading books and watching videos?  In nearly every division in every post, people are questioning the information that they should be reading.  Folks with Years of experience, like myself, are seeing this test and having the same reactions - This is Nuts!.  Passing the ARE IS a major undertaking.  It's also expensive at $210 a pop.  Everyone is trying desperately to get some grip on this mess because it IS so mind boggling.  Many people, from my readings are well experienced, well established Un-licensed architects and they are seeing Lighting calculations, Man-hole calculations, Retention ponds, that are Not what architects do.

    I have been pouring over posts.  I'm astounded by all the negative reactions, but for good cause.  Ok, I'm done.

    I want to learn to understand HOW to pass this mish-mash of unorganized information - don't consider wind, do consider words, don't use common sense think about one thing or another.  Terribly disheartening.

    Lu herself indicated if there was something else she should read or listen to.  She listed what she is reading and watching and listening to and it's STILL not helping her pass this division.

    "I would like to speak with a real life person who's actually passed PPD."

    If she is asking for help, after all she has read and done, then can someone share with all of us how to get thru it?

    Julie indicated what order she took and passed them ( 5.0's PA, PcM, PjM, and CE) all within a 3-week period with not *that* much dedicated study time and passed each one. ).

    Does anyone else have any thoughts on ORDER of the exams?  I'm inclined to think Julie may have discovered something in the ORDER.  Any thoughts for the rest who might read this thread?


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    William May

    I recently read, maybe in the General Discussion that the DEMO Didn't have answers because it wasn't meant to be a teaching activity.  And now I'm seeing that this HAS been addressed.  Why didn't they just post the answers right in the DEMO!

    But, THANKS!  I DO appreciate the effort that provides answers.


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    William May
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    Ryan NCARB

    This thread has really spiraled and is in many ways no longer productive.  I am going to respond to the last question regarding the demo exam answers and the login screen and then I am closing this thread.




    I found this in about three seconds by typing "demo exam" in the search bar.

    If there are additional questions in this thread that you would like to have addressed, then please begin a new thread with a relevant title in the appropriate section.

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