Its been just over a day since I found out I passed PDD, marking the end of my ARE journey. I want to offer my thanks and gratitude for everyone in the ARE discussion group over the year since I started taking these exams.
As a professional in my late 40’s, I’m well over the age of a “typical” ARE candidate. And even though my years of architecture/construction experience has been somewhat helpful during the exams, it has been very evident to me over this past year that my brain simply doesn’t have the same “absorbing capacity” that it did twenty years ago… not to mention the full-time job, family, “three kids in three schools”, and all the other lessons and gifts that make life completely and totally full.
So fwiw, here are my thoughts on what really worked for me & my pre-vintage, semi-dyslexic, brain:
- PDF’s: Given that the exam is on a computer screen, I made a concerted effort to practice reading on a screen. I took time after office hours and (with “permission”) where I scanned in the most relevant sections of various books and study guides. That, combined with Acrobat Pro’s “Recognize Text” tool, and I had very portable, highlighable, and fully word-searchable study content.
- Acrobat’s “Advanced Search” tool: With my collection of pdf study resources, I was able to quickly find relevant information - not only in a single document – but in an entire folder full of pdf’s. That way I could easily compare various interpretations of concepts from various books, all at the same time.
- 2015 IBC WITH COMMENTARY – THE PDF DOWNLOAD: although I “did my time” in both commercial construction + architecture back in the 90’s-early 2k’s, I have mostly been involved in residential design/build ever since. Therefore, I came to ARE 5.0 having only limited experience with the IBC. But one thing that has helped my firm out over the years has been the use of ICC’s “IRC Code with Commentary” book. So in preparation for PPD and PDD, I decided to (persuade my office) in acquiring the $250 pdf copy of the 2015 IBC with Commentary. Knowing the “why” behind the “what” made it 1000x easier for me to digest. It is also full of its own “case studies” in order to illustrate different essential aspects of the code. And because I got it as a pdf, I could easily highlight sections and quickly locate all 115 sentences with the word “firestop” in it (vs. the 134 “fireblocking” sentences.)
- AGS On-Line Subscription: My old Student Edition AGS book is still fun to look at, but it’s out of date by about a quart of a century. So for folks that don’t want to shell out $$$ for a hardcopy of AGS, the on-line AGS is about $12 a month. Definitely a good deal. And all of its drawings & graphics are easily searchable... and downloadable as dwg files.
- ARE Community: I spent a good amount of time, Googling “PDD PASS” and “PPD Fail” to see whose messages would surface. I would then pdf’d them, and highlight any relevant topics that were mentioned. After a short while, I noticed patterns. I made sure I honed in on what appeared to be the common denominators.
- The day before the exam: I was mostly relaxing, and remembering that it’s more important to go into the exam feeling clear, focused, and relaxed, then having studied some last minute thing that would slip out of my ear on the drive over to Prometrics the following morning. I had a lovely Mother’s day w/ my wife & kids, then enjoyed a shot of GOT in the evening.
- Morning of exam: I always took the 8am exams, always took a nice shower, and wore comfy clothing (especially comfy shoes). I always ate a peanut butter sandwich, drank a little coffee, and I ALWAYS hit the bathroom down the hallway before I walked into the exam center. (My only exam FAIL was due largely to a computer snafu, which caused me to sit around for about 20 minutes while Prometrics scratched their heads in disbelief. The stress alone caused me to require another bathroom break. Having already taken my break, I was SOL.)
- The quiet headphones: As soon as I sat down at my computer, I put on the quiet headphones. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware at how distracted I could become from innocuous noise. Those headphones helped me zone out all distractions, and focus. Even my own hunger pains toward the last 30 minutes were well insulated by those headphones. I hope others nearby had their headphones on, or my stomach would have surely annoyed them into disarray.
- Exam clock: I really had to get in the habit of continuously looking at the clock and the exam question I was on. I had to keep reminding myself that I only had an average of two minutes per question.
- Available resources during the exam: a week ago I spent some time playing around in the practice exam, not to answer any sample questions, but to simply review all of the available resources. The more I knew what I was given to use during the exam, the less I had to worry about having to “memorize” stuff. Generally speaking, I assumed that if they were there as a resource, they were probably there for a good reason. I wish I had dug more into the resources in my earlier exams (especially when I discovered the whole page on beam shear/moment diagrams.)
- The Calculator: I spent a lot of time playing around with the on-line calculator in the practice exam as well, so I could make sure I knew how to use it as efficiently as possible. (Hooray for the “1/X” button!) Figuring out whether to type numbers on the keyboard vs. using the mouse helped tremendously.
- Scratch paper and pencil(s): I made a concerted effort to make the most out of this. I learned early on that as soon as I began the exam, I immediately jumped right to the case studies to extract and document any ADA/Code sections out of the index, and put them on my scratch paper. That way I already had the sections right in front of me on the off chance they could be a resource for other questions. For any questions I flagged, I’d also immediately write the number down on my paper, but under a relevant topic header that I would create on the fly (const., site, acoust, light, calc, $$, R, Fire, ADA, etc..) This way I could do my final review “by topic”, which made it easier for me to examine the questions.
- The “Exam Summary” window: becoming adept at navigating the Exam Summary window was important, due to my dependence on organizing flagged questions. I liked how the summary window easily showed me what questions were flagged vs what questions were unanswered.
- Skipping questions: while the conventional wisdom is to never skip questions, I learned early on that for me & my 47yr old brain, I felt it remarkably easier to SKIP over any question, as soon as I realized it REQUIRED THE CALCULATOR. And I WOULDN’T flag them. I would do all the calculations after I was done with the case studies. Because the Exam Summary window clearly indicated unanswered questions in red, they were easy to target at the end. But I always wrote the problem #’s down on my scratch paper, and under a respective topic header. So when I went back to them, I finished them by category. I went to the category that had the most calc’s first, and worked down from there.
- Target the “least wrong” answer: unlike the other exams, I found PDD to be full of questions where I needed to choose an answer that felt “right enough”. Even some details seemed intentionally “imperfect”. A traditional test taking method for me would be to always think about an answer to a question before even looking at the answers that I was given. For some reason, PDD showed me that I needed to read through all of the answers immediately after reading the question, before even thinking much about which one was right. Sometimes the “correct” answer was simply the “most relevant answer”, even if it “sounded” terribly wrong. But because it was surrounded by a handful of “seemingly right, but non-relevant” answers, it was the only choice that made any sense, even though it felt like a “bad” choice.
- Case Study Seduction: In general, I always found the Case Studies to be a lot of fun. I wish had all day to explore them. I knew the answer was right there… somewhere hidden in those resources. Because I found this portion of the exam to be so much fun, I also noticed it could suck a lot of time away if I wasn’t careful. Therefore, I was resigned to skimming the synopsis, and diving straight to the questions and using the search function to skim the resources as quickly as possible, in order to get to the answer in short order. Simply put: “just keep swimming…”
- Break: Once I got through all the non-calculator questions and the case studies, I went back to find a calculation question that seemed the trickiest, wrote any relevant info on my sheet, and hit the break button. That way, I could use the next 10/12 minutes taking my break and thinking about that one, stupid question. Also, since I had “technically” already seen all the questions, I could use the break time to think about how I was doing, and what my strategy would be to answer the remaining calculations. In the case of PDD, I took my break with a little more than 30 minutes left. And I may have had a dozen questions left to calculate so I thought a lot about how I was going to handle plowing through the last questions where there was truly only one “right” answer.
- Review: When all the calculations were done, I ran through as many flagged questions as I could, prioritizing the ones that I had grouped. Of all the exams, this one really pushed me right up to the end of the duration. I didn’t get to review them all, and very much hoped I really did choose the most “right-ish” answer that I could along the way.
To be frank, I have absolutely no idea how I passed this monster of a test. I’ve even logged into NCARB a few times since the exam to make sure they haven’t changed their mind. After the time ran out, I genuinely felt destined to viewing the “may have failed” statement at the end of the exam, and even started imagining how I was going to prepare for the retake.
But for some mysterious reason, I passed. I guess my answers were “just good enough”.
So on this day marking the 100thanniversary of NCARB, I slowly became aware of the fact that I literally began my NCARB dance right after they had their 75th. I think I might even have my first IDP spreadsheet lying around somewhere. Perhaps the NCARB gods knew about this long-term relationship, and simply gave me a pass due to perseverance. While it truly has been a long road, it’s been awfully scenic along the Way. I don’t’ think I’d change any it. A lot of my early post-undergrad decisions were all about how to make myself “a better architect” in the future. Even choosing to attend an obscure, unaccredited graduate architectural school over a conventional grad school, simply because they taught sustainable design was my decision to become a better architect. While a courageous act at the time, it added YEARS to my path to licensure.
And now, ARE 5.0 has shown me that to be a licensed architect in the 21stcentury, is to commit oneself to sustainable practice. Period. Given where the profession was in the 90’s, that’s pretty awesome to hear myself say.
Again – thanks to all of you who have shared your helpful hints and insights along the way. I found myself drawn to your words and wisdom over the past year, and I so I hope this note may help one or two of you still on your way. Keep it up. Just keep swimming. You get there.
And lastly, thank you NCARB/ARE. I’ve cursed your name in vain over the years, as well as praise you for making me learn all this stuff... Really great stuff. I am certainly a better person because of what you’ve made me go through. And hopefully, very soon I can finally call myself a “good enough” architect.
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