I am a 5th year B.Arch student, and will be graduating in May 2019. I have passed all six exams as an IPAL student over the past six months (read about IPAL here!). As I was preparing for the AREs, this discussion forum was extremely helpful in suggesting study strategies. However, many authors of these posts already had well established careers. As a student with just a few internships under my belt, and no full-time work experience, I could not always relate. I am writing this general discussion post to explain my testing timeline, and what it was like to test with little work experience.
Round 1: PcM, PjM, CE
In the Spring 2018 semester, I took a professional practice course at my university. The professor claimed that the course content was very applicable to the PcM and PjM exams, and urged us to take those exams that following summer. When I was finally enrolled in the IPAL program, it was already mid August and the Fall 2018 semester was about to start. I was reluctant to take exams too far in to the semester, and thus scheduled PcM only four days in advance. I had already read most of ASHPP in my professional practice course, and dedicated the next four days to compiling notes and studying. Despite my lack of experience in practice management, I thought the exam was quite manageable and was able to pass PcM on the first try.
I then scheduled PjM for the following week. During those six days, I went through the same process - reorganizing my notes to fit the PjM section objectives, going through flashcards, and taking practice exams. Because PjM had a lot of math calculation questions, I found the exam quite manageable, and passed again.
After passing PjM, I was ready to stop testing. My professor had only suggested taking PcM and PjM. I was worried that studying for exams would interfere with my school work, campus jobs, and extracurricular activities. I happened to find the ARE 5.0 Community, and started reading some blog posts. I quickly found out that CE context overlaps significantly with PcM and PjM, particularly with the A201 and B101. Despite my lack of knowledge on CA activities and construction sites, I scheduled CE two weeks after PjM. I was really lost on a lot of the construction site pictures, making CE one of the harder exams for me, despite it having the highest passing rate of all the exams. I somehow managed to pass CE, and had completed three exams within three weeks.
At that point in the semester, I no longer had the time to prepare for these exams. I decided that taking the last three exams during summer 2019 would be the best option, since I would have a lot of free time after graduation. However, as I was browsing the NCARB website, I stumbled upon this article, which showed the first IPAL graduates, who had completed both the ARE and the AXP. I immediately looked up to these three individuals as they became a source of instant inspiration. However, I read a comment on the article that read "congratulations to these individuals! However, where are the women and people of color?" I could not agree more. An NCARB moderator responded saying that it was true, the first three graduates had all been men from M.Arch programs, but that the current class of IPAL students was very diverse and showed potential. From that point on, it became a goal of mine to finish the AREs before graduation, in hopes of becoming that woman of color that other IPAL students could look up to.
Round 2: PA, PPD, PDD
With a renewed energy, I scheduled PA, PPD, and PDD for my winter break, just three weeks apart. I then took a three month break to focus on the remainder of the fall 2018 semester. When it came time, I had just five days to prepare for PA. Since my schooling is primarily focused on schematic design, I found PA quite manageable, and passed.
I had two weeks in between PA and PPD. I spent the first week reading material, almost non-stop. Took a day and a half off for Christmas, but studied diligently during the remainder of the days. I felt confident going in to this test, and was anticipating 5/5. Much to my surprise, I received a "likely fail" at the end of the exam. Of the questions I was unsure about, almost all of them were either obscure systems or objects I'd never heard of before. I left the test center feeling defeated.
Because I had PDD scheduled just one week after PPD, I did not have time to feel upset. I quickly moved on to studying for PDD, though in my heart, I knew PDD would be the most difficult exam for me. I have very little experience with CDs, document coordination, and construction details. Many of the blog posts I read claimed you needed to be proficient at these to pass, and others claimed that their work experience in CA, CDs, or project management came in handy. I could not relate. As expected, this exam was in fact the toughest for me. There were a lot of obscure items I'd never heard of before. The case studies were especially time consuming, and required a lot of coordination between documents. I ended the exam with double the number of marked questions than my failed PPD test, and was certain I had failed. Much to my surprise, I viewed the score report at the end of the exam, and received "likely pass". I somehow must've just made it past the cut score on PDD. Left the exam center feeling thankful and relieved.
Round 3: PPD retake
As I returned to school for the final semester of my B.Arch program in January, I had my focus set on the end of February, which was when I had scheduled my PPD retake. By NCARB mandate, I had to wait 60 days before retesting. However, I chose not to study during that first month. What had gotten me through 5/6 exams was short term memorization - there wasn't much I could 60 days out that would help me on the exam. In the 30 days leading up to the exam, I studied a little each day, and ramped up to 3-4 hours a day in the last 10 days. I was determined to pass PPD on the second try. On February 27, I accomplished my goal of passing all six ARE divisions as an IPAL student.
Having recently completed the AREs, here is my opinion on the pros and cons of being an IPAL student:
- Almost all of the books I needed to read for these exams were available through my university's library. This saved me A LOT of money.
- Summer and winter break are ideal times to prepare for these exams. It's also possible to take these exams during the semester if your course load is light.
- The course material is still fresh in your mind. My professional practice course, thermal design course, acoustics/lighting/MEP course, materials course, and structures design course all applied to these exams.
- Your exam taking "muscle" in your brain is strong, and is still being exercised frequently.
- You still need to pay for the exams yourself. From what I understand, there are some firms who pay for your exams if you pass.
- It might be difficult balancing school work and preparing for the exams. See pro #2. It might be best to schedule the exams during summer or winter break, or at the beginning of the semester/quarter when school isn't as busy.
- You might not have enough real-world experience. This was true for me, as I've only had a few summer internships. The best way to combat this is to study well in the topics that can be studied. There will always be questions about things you've never heard of. Don't let them bother you, and focus your energy elsewhere on the exam.
Round 4: Your turn!
After reading this post, I hope I've inspired you in some way to give the ARE a try. Don't let your lack of real-world experience prevent you from taking these exams. It is still possible to pass them without a lot of experience, and I am proof of that.
It is also possible to pass all six exams within a short amount of time. Although there were six months between my first and last exam, I actually used only half of that time. PcM, PjM, and CE were passed within a three week span. PA and PDD were also passed within a three week span. I spent about one month preparing for my PPD retake, which was the longest amount of time I'd spent on a single exam. If you add up the actual time I studied, it comes out to about three months. A special thanks to David K, Adelina K, Osman B, Nicholas C, Scott B, and Ruth B for their insights on various exams. I could not have passed these exams without your words of wisdom.
As for me, I'm looking forward to spending the last two months of my undergraduate career hanging out with friends and finishing my thesis project. I'm also looking forward to a summer of travel and finally getting that real-world experience in the fall. Please feel free to leave any comments! I'd be happy to help where I can. Also, check out my other posts! I go in to more detail about study strategy, general exam content, and preparation timeline for each exam. Thanks for reading!
Please sign in to leave a comment.