PDD exam... the struggle is real



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    Christopher Kiefer

    Hi Isaac, hang in there. These tests are definitely possible and it's within your power to pass it.

    After finishing the ARE recently, the PDD exam, in my opinion, was probably the most difficult exam. The breadth of the potential exam material was daunting for sure compared to the others. I'd recommend saving PPD and PDD for last since there is so much overlap with the other exams. I felt that I was best prepared for this exam only after taking all the others first.

    Reading Materials

    Your exam reading materials seem like they're on the mark. However, judging from your list, you may want to bolster your reading in materials/systems with "Fundamentals of Building Construction" and your codes/regulation with "Building Codes Illustrated." Between PPD and PDD, my reading material mainly focused on the ARE 4.0 BDCS exam materials. 

    Practice Questions

    Questions, questions, questions. For PDD, I focused on taking as many practice exams as I could get my hands on. That seemed to do the trick for me. Mainly, the three practice exam sources I used to prepare for the PDD were the ARE 4.0 BDCS, the "ARE Exam Prep" online simulator (over 300 questions), and then the NCARB 5.0 study guide. I guess that after all the practice questions, any oddball questions on the real exam were less disconcerting. Take notes in a journal the questions you get wrong. 


    When one is tired of reading and practice questions, spend a weekend watching videos. For videos, I had used Black Spectacles for my other exams. However, for PDD I stumbled across this excellent PDD playlist on YouTube, the main star of which is Dilip Khatri, a structural engineer based in Los Angeles. 

    Here's another great YouTube playlist about building codes by Marty Huie. 

    This is an unconventional source of videos, but residential builder, Matt Risinger, has some really excellent videos about materials and methods of construction. A lot of his videos are totally appropriate for studying for the AREs. I watched these everyday for a couple of months. His focus on energy efficiency is an excellent supplement to the Amber book: 


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    Veronica Blanco

    Isaac, I feel your pain, keep going, do not give up. It is a very tricky test with many twist and turns along the 120 questions. I will go for my last attempt on Thursday.

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    Isaac Ocasio (Edited )

    Thanks Chris, I really appreciate the advice and sources you provided. I am switching gears to focus on PA, once I take and pass that exam I will switch back to PDD and PPD. Do you feel it PDD should be taken before PPD or PPD before PDD... or does it really matter which one is first. I feel like there is so much overlap between PPD and PDD that it can really go either way. Thanks again!

    Veronica, best of luck on your exam this Thursday. I'll say a prayer for you that all goes well! 

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    Theresa Bort

    Hi Isaac,

    I had a similar experience the first time I took PDD. Thought I was doing great, then I got my test result. My number one piece of advice would be to study for and take PPD before going back to PDD. The overlap between the two is significant, and I found that the PPD study material (PPI2Pass or Brightwood or whatever it is now) was way more relevant to the PDD exam than the PDD chapters. For instance, any questions on mechanical systems, colors, insulation, accessibility, code, material properties, security systems, finishes, acoustics, lighting, etc. were all covered in-depth in the PPD chapters in PPI2Pass. Even if you're determined to take PDD first again, I would still review the PPD chapters to help supplement your knowledge. 

    I hope this helps, and best of luck!

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    Christopher Kiefer

    Hi Isaac, from my experience I'd recommend taking PPD before PDD. I personally found that test easier than PDD based on my skillset.

    So what's the difference between PPD and PDD? It was either Black Spectacles or ARE Exam Prep that best said the PPD is more about the issues surrounding the schematic design (SD) phase, whereas PDD is more like the design development (DD) phase and a bit of construction documents (CD). I think the perceived overlap between the two exams is due to the real-life soft break between SD and DD. I'd also say that one is about strategies and the other is about tactics.

    Taking a queue from NCARB's ARE5 study guide, in SD one might choose a certain building system assembly (strategy) over another. (Videos are great for bolstering that kind of knowledge.) In the CD phase, one might need to verify the details (tactics) and math associated with the chosen system or assembly. (Practice problems are great for these skills.)

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