This is the exam that “got away” from me. I failed it last year at the beginning of April and have waited to get a few other exams under my belt before coming back to it. When I saw the “likely pass” yesterday and the official pass this morning, I was so ecstatic! Just keep studying, and you’ll find your groove. I have now passed PcM, PjM, CE, and PA. 4 down, 2 AREs to go! This is the approach I took to studying for PA. Remember, what worked for me, may not work for you.
- Study duration – 6-8 weeks. (6 weeks hard studying/review. I took 2 weeks off in the middle because of a death of the family). NCARB was wonderful in helping me reschedule my exam due to the funeral being on the day before my exam was originally supposed to be. (It was also in a different state, so I couldn’t get back in time to take the exam).
- Weekdays, Monday-Friday, 2-3 hours/day (1 hour during lunch, 1-2 hours after work)
- Weekends, 4-6 hours/day, review and practice exams
- Take the exam on a Monday so you don’t have work on your mind. Really helpful to have two full days before the exam and not have the worries of emails and getting backgrounds out to consultants right before you take the exam. DO NOT take the exams on Friday if you can help it. Your mind will be all over the place.
During the exam
- I get through ALL of the problems (including case studies) first before taking my 15-minute break. I allow myself 1 minute/question. If I really don’t know the answer, I pick an answer and mark it for review. Remember – every question is weighted equally! I then take my break, and once I return, I go over the marked questions at my leisure to really think about them. If any time is left over, I’ll go through the whole exam again (very quickly, like 15-30 seconds/question). I repeat until my time expires. I highly recommend getting through all 95 questions before you take a break so you know what questions you’re struggling with. You can think about it during your break, and you know what you’re walking back into after your break. Everyone feels differently about this approach, so figure out what works best for you.
- When I first sit down, I write down any equations/notes I think I might need to reference. I also look at what sources I have provided on the case studies. Sometimes questions can be answered with help from the provided sources.
- The material in Ballast is a great first introduction to the exam material. It explains checks/townships/sections, topography, etc more thoroughly than AEP did, in my opinion. Some things it goes more into depth on than others, so you need to pair this with other materials to help get you ready for this exam.
- Ballast Practice Problems/Practice Exam
- I used the practice exam to help gauge my knowledge at the beginning, before I ever started studying. The practice problems are great to pair once you get through those sections in the reading material. I did the practice problems and exam twice each. Once at the beginning and another time right before I took the exam. I find the Black Spectacles exams to mirror the actual ARE format way more effectively, but the Ballast exam was incredibly helpful on pointing out my weak areas in my knowledge as well.
- Black Spectacles
- While a lot of people don’t like Black Spectacles, I find this material to be highly beneficial. It’s a great foundation to help you learn, and the lectures will actually explain to you how to solve load calculations, etc. It’s more generic, but incredibly helpful.
- The flashcards seem to pull material from outside sources as well, so those go more into depth than the lectures do. You can make your own custom flashcards as well! I tend to put the questions I miss during practice exams onto flashcards to help me in the future.
- The practice exams are awesome. They are formatted just like the actual ARE so you can get used to the format and understanding how it all works. They now have 4 forms per exam. I would highly recommend going through all of them. I tend to be scoring around 70-80% before I go into the actual ARE.
- Architect Exam Prep (AEP)
- My office has access to the Architect Exam Prep, so I read through this as well. I feel like AEP did a better job explaining soils characteristics, and typical structural systems than Ballast did. They have good tables to break down all the material. (for example - pg 40 has a breakdown of designing per climate)
- I also listened to the lectures in the car on my way to/from the office. I listened to these twice through to reinforce the material.
- Space Planning Basics
- This was super generic. I wouldn’t say this material was super helpful for me, but I did really like chapter 3 and 9. They went more into depth on ADA requirements and stair design. Probably not worth buying it as you can get this information online for free.
- Problem Seeking
- I love this little book! Really fun graphics that give a great understanding of programming and what its all about.
- Site Planning & Design Handbook
- I find this book so boring. However, it is really helpful! Goes into way more detail about site grading, soil characteristics, site stabilization, low-impact design, storm water management, infiltration/recharge, graywater vs blackwater systems, landscape restoration, etc. I don’t think I would have passed without reading this book. Worth the investment.
- Update - Chapters 7-10 and Appendix A are helpful for this exam.
- Building Codes Illustrated
- I focused on Ch 3, 5, and 10. I skimmed 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7.
- I would really understand allowable areas, heights, stories, occupancy groups, and construction types.
- You’ll definitely have some questions about code, so if you study this book, it’ll really help cut down on time you’re looking through the provided excerpts (if you are lucky enough to have any provided on your case studies).
- The Image of the City
- I read this short book by Kevin Lynch to remind myself of the basics of urban imageability. Really easy read about paths, nodes, edges, landmarks, and districts.
Best of luck studying!
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