I took the Programming and Analysis exam this past Saturday and got the official pass early this week. Since I've found the ARE 5.0 community to be the best resource for these exams, I would like to pass on my thoughts and strategies to anyone else who may be testing shortly. I have links to my other posts below for anyone interested
I took this test after the Construction & Evaluation exam, and had about 6 weeks of time in between the two. I felt that this was adequate, and I was pretty comfortable with this time frame to work through the material. Usually I can study about 20 hours a week as I've fallen into a good schedule in when I make time to start studying after work.
After my previous tests, I did notice that there is a lot of overlap in information for all of those exams and wish that I had studied for them all together as many people have said in other forum posts. That part made me a little nervous for the Programming & Analysis exam as this would be mostly new information and was much more design based than the previous exams. However, in the end I did feel comfortable with this exam and how much I prepared for it. I will also say that I believe this, along with the other exams I have completed, are fair assessments of what we should know to be a licensed architect.
I studied the least amount out of any of my tests for this one, as I feel like I've hit a groove with the testing process right now. As long as you can stay focused on a studying routine, you should schedule your exams as regularly as you can. It's hard to say that you'll feel ready to take the exam, but by using this forum as a guide and making sure you get through all of the material you would like to, you should have enough working knowledge to get the pass
Ballast Review Manual - I've noted before that this book catches a lot of flak for typos among other things, but this is one still one of my favorite resources. I find that the manual covers all of the topics that you should know without overloading you. Several other resources are incredibly dense and I have struggled to find useful bit of information in them, but the Ballast book is much more succinct without missing much, if any, information you need for the exam.
Ballast Practice Exam - These exams are a must, as they are the only mock exams that I've found that compare in any way to the difficulty of the actual exam. The only drawback that I find is that since it is a printed exam, it makes it a little harder to study and understand how the "drag and drop" questions work on the real exam. Other than that, the difficulty and content of this exam aligns very closely to what you will find when take your exam. I have also had several instances where a question on my actual exam is something incredibly similar, almost identical, to something I've seen on my practice tests.
Site Planning and Design Handbook - I skimmed a couple chapters in this book as quickly as I could. A couple other people have mentioned using this book for information on how to treat brownfields and a couple other more detailed ideas. However, I really did not find this useful at all. There is one single question on the exam that I remembered reading in this book, but unfortunately could not recall the right answer. I took a guess and moved on. After passing the exam, I don't regret mostly skipping over this book. However, for those of you looking for this resource, there is a free PDF online that you can find here.
NCARB Handbook - I feel that this one flies under the radar, but it's definitely something that you should look at several times throughout studying. The questions that they provide in the handbook are exactly the type of questions that you should expect to see. They also provide you many resources to study from (which you can also find here in the forums with different people's opinions on how helpful they are). NCARB even provides you with a percentage range on the categories that you will be tested on. Don't miss those or take those for granted, as I have found they align very well with the actual exam. For example, this test will be 37-43% about Building Analysis & Programming but only 14-21% Environmental & Contextual Conditions. You should definitely spend much more of your time in these larger areas. This is part of what led me to only briefly skim Site Planning & Design Handbook.
The Exam - Once again, this exam will be hard and you absolutely will see some things that you have never seen before on the exam. My suggestion is to make your best guess and flag it to come back to at the end if there is time. I had previously jumped right to the case studies to try and get them out of the way, but this time around I only checked them to see what resources they provided. This way if I cam across another question on the exam that I might want to use one of those references for, I could jump back as needed.
I then worked through the test going as quickly as I could while making sure to answer every question no matter what. I flag any question I am not 100% sure about, and come back to them once I finish all of the questions. Use your break as strategically as you can, as these are not short or easy exams. Usually I try and hold out until I have gone through the entire exam once before my break, but I had to take it before my second case study just to give my brain a break. Get some water, walk around a bit, and take a breather before diving back in. I finished the second case study and then went back to focus more critically on the questions that I had flagged. There were definitely some I changed after I had more time to think about them and I felt more comfortable with the answers.
As for the array of questions, I found there to be a good amount of drag and drop questions compared to the other exams. These questions feel like a nice way to test our knowledge of how different areas should be arranged, and are much more helpful than just calculating some numbers or simply picking a correct answer. I think it is important to note that you can rotate areas, something that seems like a hidden feature on the exam. If you double click on the area, a rotate box will appear and you can put in the angle you would like to rotate the object. You likely will need to rotate at least one item on the exam, so just be aware.
It is also important to know how to design, as I feel that is the strongest resource you will need for this exam. You will be expected to know the best way to lay out a preliminary program based on site, program, and contextual relationships. While there are many different ways to design and organize spaces within a building, you should be able to know how to best take advantage of any solar or climatic traits of a given site.
For areas of study, I agree with what most other people have indicated:
- Soil types are quite important, and you should know what each type is and what that type is good or bad at in all areas of construction and design.
- Historic Preservation standards and how those will best be applied given a scenario
- Make sure you are familiar with site plans and topography. You should know how to read the topography lines as well as understand how setbacks and FAR work given a drawing and/or a textual description of a site
- Net vs Gross square footage
- ADA standards will be on the exam, but I wouldn't recommend studying them. Make sure you are familiar with the basics of ramps, doors, and other common items that would occur regularly in a design firm. I got a little tripped up because I work in Massachusetts that uses different accessible guidelines, although when double checking my answers I caught an incorrect answer
- Climates and how that relates to the placement of a building
There will also be some other outlier questions on the exam, but the key is to always take it in stride and give it your best guess. Every question is worth the same, so don't stress out or spend all your time on just one.
I'm now studying for Project Planning & Design as well as Project Development & Documentation together, and plan to take my two final exams quite close together.
Good luck and hope this helps!
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