I passed PA yesterday, December 22nd, making this the fourth test passed since October 13th. I made a broad summary in a previous post about PcM, PjM, and CE found here, including a bit about my background and method.
In this post, I’ll focus on PA. Going in, I knew it would be incredibly broad from the posts I read here and the comments from colleagues that have taken the test. With that in mind, my goal was to cast a wide net and absorb as much as possible from as many resources as possible.
I’ve seen people say that this test is subjective, but I totally disagree. In practice, design and programming is much more subjective, but you have to keep in mind that this test does not look for poetry or art. They are testing our competence so that we can solve problems for clients practically. If you keep that in mind during this process, it will help on the test.
ARE Handbook: Again, this is the most important starting point. The objectives clearly state what will be covered, and what resources they used to write the exam. Start here, and come back to it frequently to keep your study from getting too broad.
Black Spectacles: I watched through these videos pretty quickly for PA, but found a lot of overlap in the videos for PPD so I watched a good chunk of those too. The PPD videos might be more in depth than this exam covered, but it helped reinforce some of the major concepts. I also took one PA practice test each week, which helped identify my weak spots.
Building Codes Illustrated/IBC 2015: I skimmed chapters 1-7 and 10, focusing on 3, 5, and 10, but didn’t take copious amounts of notes. This test isn’t going to ask for perfect recall, but it will make sure you know how to navigate the code and find what you are looking for, as well as interpret the results according to the issue at hand. Don’t memorize it, just know how to navigate it quickly. Make sure you understand occupancy types and loads, and how those numbers are interpreted.
Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer: I skimmed through this because I have a lot of experience in the programming realm, and just found the language in this book to be needlessly pompous. The one section of most importance is the net/gross area discussion. Since this exam is focused on the process of programming, you should understand how they analyze a client’s issue and process it through the machine of programming to end up with a result. If you are brand new to programming, check out the following resource too:
Space Planning Basics: This covers the basics of programming quite well if you are a beginner, with lots of example problems to practice with. Again, since I felt most comfortable in this area, I just skimmed it and moved on, but it could be a practical source of information.
Site Planning and Design Handbook: I focused on chapters 7-10 and Appendix A, didn’t even look at the other sections. These cover site remediation, ESA reports, soils, and more in great depth. For this exam, don’t worry so much about the mathematics of these, but understand the concepts and the why of it all. You should have a good understanding of soil types, whether they are well or poorly graded, well or poorly sorted, and liquefaction.
Brightwood: I looked at the quizzes in each section, and no more. Not a great resource, really.
Amber Videos: In the last three days I jumped into this subscription as well and blasted through a few of the videos that looked to have some relevance. They go into incredible depth on the subjects because they are not focused on one exam at a time but broadly preparing you for all exams together. It was really helpful in reinforcing the concepts I’d already studied in other resources, and quite different videos stylistically than Black Spectacles, which is good to mix it up.
The Image of the City: I read this one a while back, and the above study material often referenced it not by name, but by the language it uses to describe elements of the city common to the myth of the city. Words like “node” or “district” are well described in this book. When it was written, it became the common reference book for describing cities with this language, so it could be a useful source for anyone unfamiliar with these concepts.
Miscellaneous Resources: I looked up resources on Defensible Space design, Floor Area Ratio examples, Meets and Bounds videos, Radon, Asbestos, and just anything I felt like Googling. There is a plethora of content on the internet - I highly recommend not learning a concept from one source only but looking up others as well. This will help reinforce main concepts, but if there are different approaches, it will only help get you ready for the exam where you need to be prepared for anything. I also used someone’s old practice test book from the ARE 4.0 on Programming, Planning and Practice, which was pretty ok for test questions.
Colleagues: Again, there is a group of people at work who are also on the testing path, and it is so great to go back and forth with them with questions and issues. Nothing helps push home concepts like real world examples, as long as you recognize where the line is drawn between the test and the reality of practice.
My wife and cats: Again, seriously, I could not do this without them! What wonderful beings to have in my life at such a difficult time. On that note, more on one cat later...
Like I said above, this test is devoid of art and poetry. It is a scientific approach to design where each issue or “problem” has a solution. You could almost look at the items like the Problem Seeking book. Read the question, seeking a problem to solve, analyze the data, present a hypothesis, test your result, and come up with your final statement or answer. Don’t make it harder than it is, the answer is right in front of you, not veiled behind trickery or smoke. There were a number of items where I spent a huge amount of time thinking "There's no way it is that easy..." and it absolutely was.
I went through the independent items first, making sure I had more than 1.5 hours left before I got to the case studies. I finished those in an hour and had 30 minutes to review, but finished going over my marked items with 20 minutes remaining.
It was absolutely a challenging test, but since I have most of my experience in the PA and PPD areas I felt pretty comfortable through most of it. Just for reference, I have recorded almost 2700 hours in PA alone, and stopped recording those a while back.
When I took my break in the exam and sat back down, I intended to take several deep breaths before starting up again. Word of warning: hitting the space bar on the keyboard activates the OK button for the break dialog, so your break ends. I found this out by stretching with my eyes closed. Watch out for the space bar!
If you highlight multiple answers with the cursor on the test and hit the strike through button, it actually removes the box where you could click to select an answer. You can undo this by removing the strike through, but it sure made me worry that I had just taken a few answers away accidentally. Watch out for the strike through!
Finally, after about 20 minutes of writing this post, my delightful cat stretched and hit f5 and refreshed the page, wiping out what I originally wrote. Watch of for rogue cats!
Good luck to everyone taking this exam! Please let me know if you do have questions about what I've written!
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