Study Materials

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    Michael Ermann

    Column Buckling

    Study structures, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvvaCi_Nn94&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=1

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    Michael Ermann (Edited )

    Failing is a Feature, Not a Bug

    At the time I write this, pass rates for ARE divisions range from 46% (PPD) to 70% (CE). (You can see up-to-date pass rates for each division here. Let’s say you’ve studied enough to achieve an 80% likelihood of passing EACH of your six exam divisions, which is exemplary and far exceeds the average test-taker. Even in that high-achiever example, with an 80% likelihood of passing EACH division, you still have less than a 33% chance of passing ALL the divisions on the first try. Failing some divisions is part of the process, not a detour from it. For this reason, think of failing a division not as failure, but as an expensive, but very accurate, practice test—part of the process of moving toward licensure, and nothing to be dejected about for more than a day. Unless your score suggests you failed spectacularly, sign up right away for the next available spot at the testing center to re-test that same division. If you are a football fan, think of it as a holding call: not optimal, but a part of the game. If you are not a sports fan, think of failing a division as a long queue at airport security. It makes you feel bad, it delays you, but you usually make your plane in the end.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Fire Code and Revolving Doors

    Study fire codes and egress, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

     

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    Michael Ermann

    How Many Hours Does Someone Need to Study to Pass This ARE Division?

    There are so many problems with this reasonable-sounding question. It reveals a failure to think probabilistically (more on that in a later post), and it fails to account for individual prior knowledge of the material, which varies across test-takers. But mostly, it promotes over-studying. Let’s say that you have 200 hours available to study in a three-month period. Is it better to study one division and get to a state where there is a 90% likelihood of passing that one division. . . or is it better to spend 100 hours on each of two divisions and get to an 80% likelihood of passing each of those two divisions. It’s the second scenario that’s better for you. In a given window of time, better to study for two divisions and achieve 80% likelihood of passing each of those, than to study one division and get to 90% likelihood of passing only one division. This is because if you chose to study for one test, you likely could have passed two instead, and even if you failed one of the two, you still broke even in that case because you passed one test, like in the first scenario where you only studied for one test. But with the two-division option, you already have 100 hours of studying under your belt for the retake of the failed division. For too many people their goal is to pass the next division, and it is important to have microgoals for the long process of licensure so you can celebrate the interim victories. But the overarching goal should be to pass all the divisions in the least amount of time.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    What is the Difference between Prestressing and Pretensioning?

    Study reinforced concrete, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIEEYw4ADXY&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=3

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    Michael Ermann

    Is There Such a Thing as Studying Too Much?

    The first hours of studying for an exam have a high yield. By that, I mean each hour significantly increases the likelihood of a pass. Eventually, you will reach a point of diminishing returns, where each extra hour of squeezing produces scant extra juice. How do you find that inflection point in you process? That’s difficult to pinpoint with precision, and it generally ranges between 25 hours and 175 hours, but if more than 25% of the content you are currently learning is content you’ve already seen in the course of your prior studying, it’s time to schedule that exam. Those of us who live this stuff have an idea when the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, so ideally, the study prep material you’re using already has this inflection point figured out for you, and it recognizes the value of your time. Frankly most study prep material does a poor job of considering your “yield,” which is the number of extra questions you’ll get right for each additional hour of studying a given topic. For giggles, we make a moch-ARE you-passed-but-over-studied pass report. Click here (and see if you can find the spoofed material). --Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Galvanic Action

    Own the content: which metals can’t touch one another, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tee3W2Qq0ho&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=4

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    Michael Ermann

    Keep Quiet!

    So why do people over-study? Why do they study for one test until they get to a 90% likelihood of passing instead of studying for two tests in the same time window and getting each of those to an 80% likelihood of passing? It is because they are not visualizing the difference as a slight decrease in passing likelihood from 90% to 80%. Instead, they are visualizing a doubling of the failing rate from 10% to 20%, and they’re doing so because of pride. Oversharing begets over-studying. When you announce to your boss, your friends, your social media followers, your coworkers, your old college roommates, and the person with whom you share a bed that you are going to be sitting for an ARE exam division next week, you are inviting them to ask you how did it go? did you pass? You are recasting a fail report, which is a normal part of the process (see an earlier post), into a personal and often profound embarrassment. If you take nothing away from these posts, take this: stop telling people you are taking the divisions. Tell no one. Share instead with your friends once you’ve passed a division. You’ll earn their respect and get through the examination process in less time.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    How Does Electricity Work

    Own circuits, voltage, current, and power delivery, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZInLPe_bezQ&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=5

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    Michael Ermann

    When Over-studying is Okay

    You want to follow a path that gets you to the highest likelihood of passing in the least amount of time studying, and your study materials should support that goal. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I maintain a steadfast position against over-studying. You think you might be ready to take an exam division? . . . Schedule it! Better yet, take all your remaining divisions now and study only for the ones you don’t pass.

    There are times, however, where extra study is warranted. If you honestly think that you know much less about a topic in our field than others do it’s okay to study far beyond what I recommended in my prior posts. I’m not talking about “imposter syndrome,” an unfounded doubt in one’s own accomplishments and a fear of being exposed as a fraud, but extra studying is sanctioned if you’ve fallen behind and have no idea what your engineers are talking about when they say “air handling unit,” or you can’t intuit what “sound transmission” means (it means what you think). If you have one more exam division to pass and your running clock allows you only one last re-take of that division, then, by all means, study hard. If you fear being fired if you don’t pass (I had one person tell me this), then study hard! And importantly, if you are the one-in-six emerging professionals who I meet that enjoy studying—if you geek-out on learning this stuff like I do—then study vigorously and unapologetically. You’ll be better at your job if you do.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Roofs!

    Study roof slopes and roof failure, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB3yeOlSCn0&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=6

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    Giselle Castillo

    Hello Micheal, My name is Giselle Castillo. I wanted to say thank you for sharing study materials. I just wanted to know if you are familiar with the books Heating, Cooling, Lighting fourth edition by Norbert Lechner and The Architects Studio Companion sixth edition by Edward Allen and Joseph Iano. If you are, can you recommend me the chapters to study.

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    Michael Ermann

    Giselle, you asked which chapters to study  . . . .in Heating, Cooling and Lighting, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the images--the graphs, charts, drawings, and diagrams in the whole book. You won't need to memorize them, but you should study them until you understand what they are trying to communicate. Then read Chapter 3, "Basic Principles"; Chapter 5, "Climate" (but you don't need to go deep into the weeds for each climate zone. . .know generally what to build in hot-humid, hot-arid, temperate, and cold climates); Chapter 6, "Solar Geometry"; Chapter 14, "Electric Lighting"; Chapter 15, "Thermal Envelope"; and Chapter 16, "Mechanical Equipment." If you find that you already knew most of what you are reading in any one chapter, you have my encouragement to skip to the next chapter on the list. There is a lot to study, so no need to dwell on content you already own.

    and what to study in The Architects' Studio Companion . . . Section 1, "Designing With Building Codes"; Section 4, "Designing Spaces for Mechanical and Electrical Services"; Section 5, "Designing for Egress and Accessibility"; and Section 7, "Designing with Height and Area Limitations." Or you could just get the Amber Book videos, which covers all of that content from both books.

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    Giselle Castillo

    Michael,

    Once Again, thank you so much !!.

    Beside those two books, and the links that you previously shared, is there any other study material that you recommend?

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    Michael Ermann

    What Study Materials Do You Recommend?

    Giselle, in response to your question, Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings (MEEB), Fundamentals of Building Construction, and The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice are three books that are most widely cited as study material, but those three books are 4,000 pages long, and only one of them is a good read (the other two are better as reference books). For most people, I believe that the Amber Book online video course alone provides the highest likelihood of passing in the least amount of time studying. I know this because people keep writing us, unsolicited, and telling us so. If you’ve finished the Amber Book course and still want to study more, study the images—the diagrams, photographs, graphs, and drawings—in MEEB. Those images don’t require memorization: you needn’t study them for recall, rather just review them for recognition.

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    Giselle Castillo

    Understood. 

    Thanks

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    Michael Ermann

    This Should Be Fun

    If you study right, this process should be fun. . .Not as much fun as you would be having if you weren’t preparing for an important test, but more fun than you thought it will be before you started. Architects aren’t paid especially well, we don’t enjoy high levels of job security, and we often work long hours, but for many of us, the work itself gratifies, and the studying process is very much about the work.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Steel Connections

    Study welds, bolts, and the difference between moment and shear connections in steel structure, as it relates to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).--Michael Ermann

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0VW39ewQvQ&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=7

     

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    Michael Ermann

    How Do I Read My Fail Report?

    I just got off the phone with NCARB’s Vice President for Examination. I asked him what he wanted to communicate with the testing community. His response: Looking at the testing record of individuals, he finds a pattern whereby folks sit for a few tests, they pass those tests, and then fail a division, give up, and stop testing altogether. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that failing a division is a feature, not a bug in this process, and that, unless you failed spectacularly, you should schedule a retake for the earliest possible date. But what to study while you are waiting to retake? And how to use the fail report to guide that decision?

    When looking to the fail report, you’ll want to read not only the level of achievement you earned on a section, but, more importantly, what percentage of questions come from that section. That’s found in the column highlighted below.

     

    So at first glance it might seem like this person should study Content Area 5, because that is where their performance was demonstrably weakest. But look at the highlighted “Section %.” Content Area 5 only accounts for 2% to 8% of the exam (maybe three to nine questions), and because your pass depends on only your total score for the whole exam regardless of the content area, and because every question is worth one point, and construction cost estimation is a large field that would take a long time to study and it is one that he clearly knows little about, Content Area 5: Construction Cost Estimates is probably the last content area you should study. Likewise, looking at Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, you might assume that because you achieved a “Level 2,” meaning you did well on those sections, that those would be areas you don’t need to study. Yet, you actually should study Content Area 1 and Content Area 2, because they together account for between two-thirds and three-quarters of the questions on the division (maybe 80 or 90 questions). The irony is that you likely have far more wrong questions, and therefore more room for improvement, on the content areas where the report says you did better!

    Okay, so now you know what to study. No! You don’t. How do you study for a content area as large as “Content Area 1: Integration of Building Materials & Systems,” or “Content Area 2: Construction Documentation?” These areas are way too broad and not specific enough to guide you to retake preparation. If NCARB’s original sin in distributing these misleading reports is to inadvertently fool you into believing that you need to pass a certain number of content areas (rather than a certain number of questions, regardless of the content area), its new sin, adopted with ARE 5.0, is to inadvertently group the questions and title the content areas with language so vague and unspecific, as to render them almost useless. So study with a test prep program that knows the test and can weight subject matter the way the exam does, and worry about learning about architectural acoustics and swales rather than spending your valuable time studying the way the test makers populate the content areas.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Why Isn’t Real Wood as Strong as Theoretical Wood?

    Study wood defects, as they relate to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zT3qaZJxIw&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=8

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    Michael Ermann

    Study for All the Divisions at Once; Take All the Divisions at Once

    This advice, to study for all six divisions at once, and then take all six divisions at once, upsets many people, but I’ll defend it as good advice. There has always been overlap in content between divisions of the ARE, but in ARE 5.0, overlap of content is the defining characteristic. In the switch from ARE 4.0, NCARB resolved to rearrange what had been testing divisions based on school subjects (structures, building systems, materials and methods of construction, etc.) to a regime where divisions are based on job phases (schematic design, design development, construction documents, etc.). They explained the shift as aligning better with the way a project flows in an office. Fair enough, but I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation as to why it is better to test minimum professional and technical competency in a manner that aligns with project phases than in a manner that aligns with subject matter. Oh well, this is the established system that we find ourselves in, so how to best navigate it? Study for all six exams and then sit for all six exams at once. If you’ve already passed some of the divisions, study for the remaining ones all at once. This advice isn’t founded on pedagogical or epistemological grounds, but rather based on empirical observation. It is impossible to study the schematic design part of structures and the schematic design part of building systems and then take the division focused on early design. . . then study the design development part of structures and the design development part of building systems and then take the division focused on design development. The problem with a one-at-a-time approach is three-fold: (1) I don’t know precisely where the early design part of structures ends and the design development begins, and neither does anyone else, (2) I’ll take ownership of the design development content of structures only if I’m studying it in reference to the foundational early-design part of structures, so I’ll learn structures better if I study all of it, and (3) it’s more expedient to study all of structures, then all of building systems because that’s the clearest way to teach and write about it. I’ve lived this advice myself. I took all six tests in six consecutive available time slots at the testing center, including a stint of four divisions tested in three consecutive days. I have an email mailbox full of notes from people who have thanked me for encouraging them to take all these divisions at once, and lots more from those who didn’t take this path and wish they had. But no one has ever written me to proclaim that they were happy with their decision to spread these tests out. Because the Amber Book charges tuition monthly, this advice to quickly sit for all six exams has surely been a costly business decision, but it is advice I stand by. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of studying for all six, you can take the Practice Management and Project Management divisions together first, then study for the other four divisions and take those four in a block after you’ve passed the first two. If this 4+2 still scares you, fake courage and do it anyway.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Masonry!

    Study stone anchoring, strength, and patterning, as they relate to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5a-K-D3-1E&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=9

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    Michael Ermann

    The Flavor of Question Doesn’t Matter When Studying

    If you’ve taken an exam, you’ve seen six question types: multiple choice, fill in the blank, check-all-that-apply, hotspots, drag-and-place and questions that are based on case studies, which are typically multiple choice, but may be one of the others. Do not study material based on which type of question you think will be used because, first, you can’t possibly know if you are going to be tested on plumbing valves with a multiple choice or drag-and-place . . . and more importantly, how would you study differently even if you knew which type of question was going to be used to test your knowledge of plumbing valves? The answer: you wouldn’t study differently if you knew it was multiple choice than you would if you knew it was drag-in-place. In my experience, many test-takers (and many test prep providers) unnecessarily fetishize the flavor of question delivery in study strategy. The exception to this rule: code questions are more common in the case study section, because the exam can allow you to search the building or zoning code in the provided case study material. This is good to know because it lowers any expectations for you to memorize code; you can search the case study code document in real time once inside the testing center.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Building Foundations

    Study soil types and foundations failures, as they relate  to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63v7cDseiJM&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=10

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    Michael Ermann

    The Type of Question Does Matter

    While worrying about the question type (drag-and drop, case study, etc.) isn’t helpful when studying, there are two tips to share regarding question types once you are taking the exam. The first tip involves drag-and-drop and rotation: right-clicking on the mouse will allow you to rotate the object you are dragging, so if, for instance, you are dragging grab-bars and placing them into shower stalls, a mouse right-click after you’ve grabbed the object (shower grab-bar in this case) will rotate that shower grab-bar 90 degrees so it can be dropped in its proper orientation. The second tip involves the case study questions: use the search feature in the case study questions! This is a timed test so you shouldn’t be browsing case study code material and looking for the occupant load factor of a commodities exchange. Browse the part of the phrase that is least likely to show up everywhere (in this case, “commodities” is a better search word than “occupant”) and it is likely you’ll be taken right to the place you need to be in the document. The search bar seems obvious to most of us, especially the youngest among you reading this, but you’d be surprised how many people tell me that they didn’t know about it beforehand, and didn’t notice it in the testing center.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    Why We Don’t Contract Cholera

    Study plumbing wastewater and supply water systems, valves, and water pressure maintenance, as they relate to the ARE, here. (Free content from the Amber Book I posted on YouTube).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-6bhmKqmtQ&list=PLRqQUel8W0R6t0eDPnaCi1sPt4ao9CXQA&index=11

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    Michael Ermann

    Each Question is Worth the Same Amount

    Every question (NCARB calls its questions, “items”) is worth one point, and if you get more items right than that exam’s “cut score,” you pass the exam, regardless of which subject matter the correct answers came from. I’m going to repeat that last sentence to let it sink in, because understanding it has several downstream consequences. Every question is worth the same, and if you get a minimum number of questions correct you pass the exam, regardless of which subject matter the correct answers came from. Let’s explore the impact of that. A check-all-that-apply test item will allow for six possible choices and you’ll be asked to choose the two, three, or four of the six that are the best responses. Even if you know that content well, there are just so many ways to mess up a check-all-that-apply test item because if you choose three of the four (out of six) correctly, but choose the fourth (out of six) incorrectly, the entire item is scored as wrong. That means that these check-all-that-apply questions, which are notorious for stumping test-takers should be answered quickly rather than deliberated over. Pick your best answer from a first reading of the item, flag the item for further review in case you are fortunate enough to have extra time at the end, and move on to the next question. Case study questions also often take longer because they involve sifting through reference material. But because they are worth the same amount as other questions, they should be left to answer until last. They will show up on your computer screen last, so you don’t have to work hard to remember this advice, but don’t be suckered into skipping ahead to the case study section, as you will then be using valuable time to answer questions that take longer. Better to run out of time with five case study questions unanswered than to run out of time with seven non-case-study questions left unanswered. Finally, know that if you got a fail report from NCARB, it would lead a reasonable person to believe that you “failed” certain sections, but that reasonable person would be wrong. You can’t fail a content area because every question is worth the same, regardless of the section it comes from. So if you earned a level 4 (worst score) in “Content Area 2: Codes & Regulations” and a level 2 (good, but not great, score) in “Content Area 4: Project Integration of Program & Systems,” you would be forgiven for thinking that you might have passed the division had you gotten say, three more questions right in Content Area 2, the content area you are led to believe you “failed.” But, in this case, you would have also passed the division, if you had instead gotten three extra questions correct in Content Area 4, the content area you are led to believe you “passed.” You can’t really pass or fail a content area. It wasn’t that you failed Area 2—rather you just didn’t get enough questions correct in total and it didn’t matter where the correct and incorrect answers came from. Studying content from Area 2 for the retake because you failed Area 2 last time isn’t necessarily a good strategy, especially because in this division (PPD) Area 2, the one you "failed" only accounts for 19% of the division’s questions, while Area 4, the one you "passed," accounts for 35% of the division’s questions. But even if you looked at what I just wrote and resolved to study Area 4 in the retake because, though you “passed” that content area, it represents a much larger share of the questions on the exam . . . . how the hell would one study something called “Project Integration of Program & Systems?” Where would you start? Which book would you read? This underscores the importance of using study material that takes into account the yield (how many more questions will I answer correctly, per hour of studying). A yield approach accounts for the likelihood you already know the material from school or practice, the amount of time it will take you to learn the material, and most importantly, the likelihood that a given subject matter will show up on a question in the exam. .—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book

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    Michael Ermann

    I don’t understand that last post

    That last post, at times, seems hard to follow: “Level 2 in Area 4 and Level 4 in Area 2?” Allow me to simplify.

    1. There is no “failing a content area” . . . if you get enough questions correct on the division, you pass, regardless of where those questions came from.
    2. If you see a “pick the three out of six choices that are correct” problem, you have to answer all three correct or you are marked wrong for the whole question. Don’t spend too much time on these. Answer them and flag them to go over after you’ve answered all the questions.
    3. Because case study questions often take longer, but are still worth one point, leave them until the end. Some like to take a few minutes at the beginning to glance over the case study material, lest they come across a code question early in the test with the answer serendipitously buried in the case study code excerpt. That seems like a reasonable approach but don’t spend more than five minutes previewing the case study material at the beginning of a test.
    4. Don’t read too much into your fail report content area summary. It looks like it would be helpful in telling you what to study next time, but it isn’t.—Michael Ermann, The Amber Book
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    Michael Ermann

    Jack

    Three weeks ago, Jack, a fourth year undergraduate with no work experience outside of his summer job here at Amber Book went through the Amber Book course because we are transferring it to another learning software platform and I wanted to be sure there were no outstanding errors that needed to be corrected before we relaunch. After sitting with the Amber Book course for 9 (full) days, he took all six exam divisions in four straight days, and passed all six of them on the first try. I obviously can't guarantee that for everyone, but for most people, taking the course, then sitting for all the remaining exam divisions is the fastest path toward licensure. If you pass them all, fantastic. If you pass some and fail some, celebrate the passes, and calmly schedule re-takes for the fails. --Michael Ermann, Creator of The Amber Book

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    Alexandria Davis

    Did Jack use any additional study material?

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