STRATEGY for answering vague or seemingly indeterminate CASE STUDY questions



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    Scott Barber

    Hello again Jonathan,

    I think this question responds to one of the challenges of being an architect, and what these exams do a reasonable job at testing for, indirectly. That is, how do we filter through all the information provided and determine what is necessary or relevant to the problem at hand? Also, doing this within a reasonable time span is important, too - obviously in an office environment we won't have a timer counting down until we run out of time to answer 120 questions that have come up on a project, but as professionals we need to be able to respond to an email or phone call within a day or two with a well-informed answer. 

    Throughout the entire exam (not just the case studies), there will be information you have to filter through. I just took PA this morning and there were several questions where there was superfluous information given - it distracted me for a moment but determining what the question was asking for I realized I didn't need to let that extra piece of information influence my answer. 

    There are, rarely, questions that you think don't give you all the information you need. It's my assumption that the new exams are being evaluated and improved on as they're still somewhat new. That being said, NCARB put a lot of effort into creating these exams, and it's unlikely that they're asking something you can't answer with the information provided.
    I will say that I had a question in a case study today that I thought fell into that 'unlikely' circumstance - it asked for information that I couldn't find anywhere in the documents provided for the case study. I spent ~10 minutes (after answering all the other questions) looking through and using key words to search for anything pertaining to the question, with no luck. This doesn't mean it wasn't there - I just wasn't able to find it in a reasonable location (it was asking for info that I thought should have been noted on the site plan, but wasn't. I also couldn't find it in the project brief or other documents that I looked in). I'm going to send a message to NCARB to let them know - but I fully understand it could have been user error (my fault). 

    Overall, my goal is to identify what the question is asking for, and focus on finding that info. Don't let yourself get distracted by every piece of information they give you.

    Hope that helps, good luck!

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    Jonathan Chertok

    thanks scott.
    sounds like you are making a distinction between two different types of issues? one bing just practical test taking much like you would read a multiple choice question closely and make sure to pick out the key word necesssry to answer correctly?
    if so, are there practical (like tabs to go through or pay attention to or a search methodology or even an ORDER) for your problem solving this type of issue in a vignette? i mean. do you find yourself jumping around from question to question and then going back to earlier ones? work through all and then go back to see if the pieces of the puzzle fit together better after having works through a bunch of them? are you using the search function or other functions in some kind of methodical way - say to always search for a term ion the question ornin an answer or whatever? other tools you use to strategically test in the more intensive case studies?
    2. can you describe generically what the issue was with the one you thought may have had an error? for instance is there a “typology” to this kind of question and if so what does it look like? also. is there a specific “bottleneck” that you saw? for instance being given an objective quantitative (number based) value to search for being presented a range of answers with a number of them appearing to fit within the criteria (so you can’t select one answer)?
    still studying “strategic testing” over here but any info you can provide will assist in this.

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    Scott Barber


    I do think a distinction is beneficial - recognizing some questions have too much information and others (seem to) have too little. 

    Each person's approach in the case study is different, but it seems to me that the questions are most unrelated to each other. They all are about the case study itself, but will ask about different aspects of the project. 
    My approach has been to read the project brief, and then answer each question, referencing the provided materials as necessary. Some people read the brief and skim through all the provided materials to see what's there, and that seems to be a good method, too.

    When navigating through the provided materials, I do use the search tool when possible. As you scroll through each page of a document each page has to load individually, which wastes time. Using the search tool jumps to each instance of that word so it doesn't load unnecessary pages. 

    I don't think I can say anything more than I already said about the question I saw today. I don't think there are any lessons to learn from that question that would apply to anything else, so don't stress about it. 


    For the case studies, here are a couple thoughts I've seen from others that I've kept in mind:
    - The questions are worth the same as any other question - so don't waste too much time on the case studies if this prevents you from answering other questions. 
    - For most of the case study questions, the answer is provided in the documentation, you just have to find it. So they may be 'easier' in a sense, but they take more time because you need to search and know where to find the information in plans, code excerpts, zoning docs, etc.
    - For the most part, your real world experience will be all the prep you need to do specifically for the case studies. Knowing how to navigate through a drawing set, IBC chapters, etc. is  important, but beyond that you don't need to worry about preparing for the case studies (aside from the general studying for the test). In 4.0 the vignettes required a lot of prep aside from general studying - this isn't the case for 5.0 case studies.
    - Any highlighting or marking you do while on one question will not be saved as you go to another question. Some people like to highlight but it may not be worth the time if you expect it to show up as you continue to move through the case study questions. 

    If you do the practice exam, you'll be able to practice the navigation of all the info and have a good sense for what this will look like on the exam.

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    Jonathan Chertok (Edited )

    thanks scott,
    i really appreciate your kindness in answering. hopefully it will be also useful to others as we all move along.
    all the best!

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    Kurt Fanderclai (Edited )

    Jonathan, where exactly are you at in the ARE process?  I think you are doing 3+2?

    As you probably know, I freely give my unsolicited opinions, which is only one of my many fine, fine qualities. 

    You already passed 3 exams in 4.0, right?  So you already have some great success with the exams, right?  And, you already know more than most about actually taking the ARE exams, right?  

    So here's the thing, and I'll just give it to you straight:

    I think you need to just git to the gittin' on your exams.

    What the heck are you doing carpet-bombing the forum with all those wacky questions, compadre?   Man, you need to just pick some reference study stuff off the main list, study it for about 2 months, and then go take PPD or PDD.  That's it.  It's just not that complicated.  You're doing too way much unnecessary screwin' around trying to get every single candidate's advice on how to apply pressure to the mouse button while testing.  Ninety percent of the nonsense you're worried about ain't never gonna matter.

    Now don't let me catch you posting any more questions about all that useless crap.  Get to it, my brother!   You got this! 

    You're welcome,




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    David Kaplan

    ^^^Great post above, and I mean that in a friendly, trying-to-help manner as well.  I did the 2+3 method of 4.0 / 5.0 transition.  As you are aware, the 5.0 version of the test is totally different from the 4.0 test, so you're jumping a bit into unchartered waters here and it's definitely a bit scary.  Here's the way I approached this:

    1) Use this forum, and study the materials that everyone has suggested for whatever test you're working towards.  Also, it isn't about memorization.  There's a huge amount of study material here, no one can memorize 9 books work of material.  But, go through them and make sure you at least understand what the information is.  If you understand the concepts you're reading, say to yourself "OK, I think I can handle this" and move onto the next book and topic.

    2) Just sign up for a test and take it.  At the end of the day, you're not going to know what to expect for your first 5.0 test until you just jump in the water and try it out.  Go into this with no expectations and say to yourself "this is a brand new test.  I've studied all I felt I can, and let's see what happens."

    Look - if you fail, be pissed about it for a day or two, but then tell yourself that at least now you know what to expect.  The next time, you will kill it. 

    That's really the best I can offer. 

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