Passed PDD yesterday. It was my fifth exam and my fifth pass. I have spent the past 13 months on these tests and am taking CE (hopefully my last) on NYE. Happy new year to me! I am older than most candidates (43) and I have about 10-12 years of experience in commercial firms, both construction and architecture, broken up with life and kids over the last 20+ years. Thanks to NCARB for opening up the licensing process to those of us with a less linear path!
These tests IMO are as much about how you take tests as they are about knowledge. Don't get me wrong, there it a TON of knowledge required to be successful on these tests. I have studied more than I ever did in school for these exams. But I honestly don't think it is just about how much you study. People study for months and still fail because test taking skill is as important as content. Which sucks, but that is the reality.
Since there are many posts about preparation and resources, I thought I would post about test taking.
These tests are heavy on reading comprehension. The sentence structure and scenario wording is complex and sometime convoluted. It is very important to read the question and answers very carefully and look for keys and clues in the question. Vocabulary is super important. If you don’t know what “statute of repose” or “EFIS” or “static head” mean, then answering a question about it is virtually impossible. I have kept a vocabulary list with my note taking for every test and review it the weekend before every test.
Also the question is only asking what it is asking. As an example if it says something like “the structural engineer has to add a deeper beam from girder A to B which conflict with the HVAC design. Relocate the ductwork so that there are minimal changes to the HVAC system”, then just do exactly that the best way you can figure. Even if a BETTER solution might be to drop the ceiling four inches and use an oval duct so that it fits under the beam eliminating the conflict all together, that IS NOT WHAT THEY ASKED. Do not overthink. Answer only the question they ask the way they ask it. I have felt this way about every test. We are designers. We are trained to look for alternatives or better solutions. But that is not what these tests are about.
I use the highlight tool or jot down bits of information that seem important when reading the question and the answers. I use the strike through tool too. Then you know not to read that answer again when trying to decide. Just like the SAT, if you can eliminate answers, it gives you better odds of choosing correctly from the remaining choices.
Time Time Time. I cannot stress this one enough. These are tightly timed tests. Rather than puzzle over questions, I tend to move through very quickly. I do not mark any for review or leave any blank, I make my best choice and move on. On every test I have taken, I finished the questions with an hour or more left. Then I take the remaining time to go back through and read every question. Many are a ten second re-read like “yeah, I got that, next” or “I have no clue so best guess” but others I take the time to reconsider or rework the math. Many times on the second reading, the answer is more apparent because other things through the test jog my memory. Sometimes I recognized that I found cubic feet rather than the cubic yards asked for, or marked two choices when they asked for three. My best advice is to find a way to have the time left for a second reading, even if it feels like you are rushing the first time through.
I take my break before the case study every time. I read the case study scenario and first question. Then I take the break. Get up, walk around, and return to my seat. Before getting back into the test, I jot down anything I want to revisit or have remembered while clearing my head on the break. Then I start on the case studies. I limit the case studies to 1 hour, checking the time every few questions to be sure I still have my hour of review time.
I take notes while I study. I don’t just read the material on a computer screen or even highlight it in a book. I physically write it down in a separate notebook. Maybe that is because I am old, the internet was barely a real thing when I was in school. I feel like the process of reading with your eyes, comprehending with your brain, and distilling the information into something that comes out of your hand in your own words is very important. It also gives you a concise version to read over as review before the test. I take the test on Monday mornings at 8:00 every time. I review my notes, take a practice test or two etc all weekend but I do not try and introduce new material at that point. I always go to bed early, get up early, shower, have coffee and some protein and head to the center.
Best of luck to everyone. It is easy to forget when we are in the middle of day to day door schedule hell how cool it is that we are trusted with millions of dollars to build great big things. If you are just staring out in this field, let me tell you how cool it is to meet friends for drinks in that restaurant you helped to design or walk your children through that school that was just a 3D image on your screen a couple years ago. It is a legacy profession. Try to remember that when you are angry about the horrible drawing set that was included in that last case study. It will be worth it in the end.
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