Slightly hyperbolic title, but I'm done and I can't sleep and I'm just too excited. I passed my first test on October 13, 2018, and passed my last one yesterday. I did start studying a month before my first test, so the whole deal took 5 months, but saying 4 in the title sounded more exciting. I made a post about my PDD approach found here, but wanted to make a broad-topic post about my overall method. Other posts I've made about my passes can be found here, here, and here. My testing order was PcM, PjM, CE, PA, PPD, and finally PDD.
I wanted to say that I am proud to be done, I'm beyond pleased with my results. Taking these tests has been an incredible hardship on me and even those around me. It takes huge effort to pass the tests, and everyone on this path should be recognized for their efforts. While I was passing tests, possibly because of my background, I heard people congratulate me while minimizing my efforts. I got the "back in my day" thing and "now that the vignettes are gone they're so much easier" and all those things that make our work seem small.
Do not let these words minimize your efforts. You should be proud to take even the first step in this endeavor to improve yourself. It is an amazing thing to recognize in yourself that you can still learn, so few have this ability at all. However fast or drawn out your process is, you have ventured out to make a change, and that is commendable. Congratulations to you!
So for this post, I just wanted to talk about my experience because at the beginning of this whole process, I found reading posts here to be so beneficial for my exam planning. This community has an amazing wealth of knowledge. I recommend to everyone I can to start their journey here and with the ARE Handbook.
I did my undergraduate double major in Music and Religious Studies, then found no work during the recession when I graduated in 2009. I ended up in the mailroom at an architectural firm delivering mail and coffee. One thing leads to another and eventually I get to the "technician" level, working with a designer so I can put in IDP hours as they were known. Because I don't have an accredited Architecture degree, I went to a 3.5 year Graduate program and graduated in May 2018. I went back to work at the mailroom firm, and that pretty much brings it up to today.
Since I just graduated, I took a few months off to get situated in life and work again, then brought back that momentum from school work to study effort. My wife and I also planned a trip before all this began that will be our first vacation in 10 years, which starts in March. So I planned the exams around that and decided I would take 6 exams before the vacation, pass or fail. This set up the rigorous studying that needed to happen.
I spent about 25 hours a week studying since September. After each exam was over, I immediately picked up the next and moved on. As a general rule, I don't read notes after I've written them - if I think I need to review something, I find a new source and learn it a different way. I also don't think cramming helps me very much, so I just take the night before to relax.
For anyone starting out, your first stop should be the ARE Handbook. Your second should be here - see what others do, what experiences line up with yours, and make a plan. My plan was actually quite loose to start, but got more and more firm as time went on, but having a plan at all makes a difference. I printed out a 9 month calendar on a small sheet of paper and constantly sketched on it where exams might or might not take place. Seeing this on my desk every single day kept my eyes on the prize.
After that, focus on the test you want to take, review that section of the handbook and ARE Community, and look first to the primary resources. By these I mean the sources referenced in the Handbook. This includes the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice, the IBC, the AIA Contracts, Building Codes/Construction Illustrated, etc. These are the containers of actual information.
Since I like learning from many sources, I also used Black Spectacles throughout, the videos and practice exams. I used Amber videos for PPD and PDD. I used some other smaller bits of study material here and there as supplemental. I wouldn't say Amber vs BS is better or worse, they're just different. I did personally really like having full practice exams in the exam format, so I took Black Spectacles exams frequently. I woke up at 5:30 on the weekends to take one each day, actually. At the end, I watched the Amber videos more though, so I can't recommend one over the other as a strict rule.
Colleagues and co-testers are also an important resource. Find a study group! You will all be challenged by similar topics, and talking it through helps everyone learn. Also talk to the older architects. Simple questions like "can you help me figure out the differences between fire barriers and fire partitions?" will lead you down a rabbit hole of education. If I had questions about study material, asking wise co-workers was awesome help.
I also needed emotional support through the whole thing. My friends at work were very supportive, and many of them are testing too. My wife and cats were the most important to my emotional sanity though, keeping me grounded and supporting me through the worst of it. It is so important to make sure you are healthy and not causing physical or emotional damage, no matter the value of finishing the tests. I couldn't have done it without my support group.
After going through them, I started to realize what they mean by not requiring simple memorization. My professors talked all the time about this in school. If they saw a Ching book on our desks, we were ashamed. They never wanted us to learn the convention, but to understand the underlying principles. This thought process works well on the exams. What would be the point of learning what conventions are used in construction if they are going to change in several years?
A good example might be thermal protection. You could memorize a section from Ching or Architectural Graphics Standards and be successful. What works better for the exam, though, is understanding the purpose of the wall section. What is it trying to do, and how is it achieving this? Don't limit the thinking to "I need a specific vapor barrier on XPS instead of EPS," but reason through why this is the case. What are those materials doing?
Similarly with structures, there are formulas to be familiar with, but if you understand the action of a building moving, you can act in your designs to make your building safe. There is a strong component of intuition involved, as well as reason and logic, that makes the exams easier to approach. Don't think about them as volumes to memorize, but virtues of architecture to get familiar with. These concepts will last our whole career.
Having said that, you'll need to know/memorize certain things like common ADA dimensions. Even here though, don't put them in your memory bank and move on, but really think about why or how that dimension came to be. For the common bathroom dimensions, think about moving around in that space and how those dimensions help. Or if you're in a really bad public bathroom, think about what a change might achieve.
I don't really know what else to add at this point. I passed, I got the official word today, I couldn't sleep so here I am typing. I'm full of excitement and energy, but I'm exhausted. I don't yet know what to do with my free time, but I do know my vacation in a couple weeks is going to be amazing. I do still have about 300 hours left of AXP hours, but that is the easy part at this point. I'll actually be licensed soon!
Thanks to all who supported me on this forum, you are an amazing group. Good luck to everyone on this journey!
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