Just recently finished the set of 6. I must say this forum was instrumental, not only for advice on study materials and testing strategies but also for emotional support during those hours when motivation is in short supply. So in the interest adding more good vibes, here are my testing tips:
- The ARE is mostly a test of your ability to interpret the conditions of the given scenario. Many of the questions are basic logic problems. Formulate your study plan around content and do not worry about the amount of hours or days or weeks or months; there is a point at which more studying and reading will not yield better results. Instead, try to imagine your own scenarios and write your own test questions - this will help put yourself "in the mind" of the tester. This may seem like a lot of extra work but it is worth it. I used www.GoConqr.com and I can't recommend it strongly enough; a premium subscription is a one-time fee of $30 (disclaimer: keep all resources private!).
- This strategy worked wonders for me but it's more important to find a plan that works for you.
- There will be 5-10 questions per exam that will present totally unfamiliar or trivial information. I have about 9 years experience and there are some questions I had to laugh at because I could imagine that each was some odd scenario the author encountered once and decided it would make for a fun test question. Again, the point is that no amount of studying could prepare you for those; your intuition will guide you. And if not, take your best guess and move on. You only have to get around 60-70% correct.
- The testing order isn't important. The difficulty doesn't really change from one exam to another in terms of content either. It's more likely the first test will be the hardest and the last test will be the easiest, because by the end you will have total mastery of the format, timing, testing facilities and emotional routine.
- The best sources are the primary ones. ADA, AGS, ASC, BCI, AHPP, AIA Contracts, FEMA, IBC, the Lechner books. I also recommend Site Planning by Gary Heck (by far) over SPDH. There are some other great reputable websites: Arcat, UpCodes, USG Design Studio, USGBC, Living Building Challenge, 2030 Palette, Whole Building Design Guide, NPS Preservation Standards. Numerous one-off tutorials on HVAC by professional engineers and installers.
- The 3rd-party materials are horrible. The Ballast book is loaded with errors, typos, and extraneous content; I pretty much tossed any 3rd-party materials after the first exam and never looked back.
- There are some recurring concepts, so it may be worth front loading a review of ADA accessible routes, CSI Format, vapor barriers, masonry construction, curtain wall/storefront details, R/U values, soils, and the fundamentals of passive design.
- Learning complicated structural formulas is a waste of time; in fact, I used very few of the ARE Handbook formulas on any of the exams. A basic knowledge of uniform loads, point loads, shear wall behavior, and free body diagrams will suffice.
- ALWAYS CHECK THE NORTH ARROW ON ALL DRAWINGS. You could miss several case study questions if you assume north is up. Shame on NCARB for this blatant trickery.
- Also, the calculator is set to rads by default. So there's that.
A few comments:
- The content overlaps heavily (and seemingly arbitrarily) on these exams. As-is, the tests could be condensed into 4 divisions: Administration, Planning, Design, and Construction. If I had my druthers it would be 3 divisions: Administration, Planning + Design, and Construction. The testing process is too exhausting and expensive to have such a lack of focus. Do I really need to answer 700+ questions on the same material?
- I encountered a few typos and grammatical errors. On one test, I had a duplicate question, and on another, the answer to one question contradicted another. Some questions were very poorly written. Some proofreading and editing is in order; these tests could be a big challenge for those who have difficulty understanding such writing.
- I spend a lot of my professional life in the BIM and Sustainability worlds. More questions on these topics would have been advantageous.
- Even though the tests were not focused, I must say I did learn a lot in this process, even though not all of it applied specifically to test questions. I'm confident I'm now a more well-rounded professional. NCARB says these tests are not designed to be a learning tool, and I can understand why, but it may help to think of the exam process as an opportunity. As the saying goes, sometimes you don't know what you don't know, and early in your career it can be a real challenge to get diverse experience.
Onwards and upwards. Stay calm, stay confident, you can do it.
Now just have to knock out California supplemental...
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