I've been working in the field for about 15 years, including some work between undergrad and graduate study. I passed a couple of the 4.0 exams in the past and then sort of took a break after failing 1 of the tests. The break was more like procrastination, fear of failure maybe too – who knows. I passed 3 4.0 test, and failed 1 in 6 years. Then a couple that I passed dropped off because of the rolling clock, even after it was extended because of the new testing format.
It was hard to study again. I was a model student in high school, and almost as much in college, although I stretched out my college years slightly to figure out what I wanted to do. I actually started out headed to medical school. Architectural school was a ton of work, and I almost didn't go back for my graduate degree until a certain dean of a college starting going around and finding out how some students slipped through the cracks and didn't come back to finish their professional masters. That's a whole other story, but the short of it is, I went back to school, finished a masters degree.
School burned me out. After spending much of my young adult life really so focused on school, I really found it hard to go back to studying and taking tests. I was good at school, but I considered it work not fun. After getting my masters and working for a few years, and throwing in the fact that you really don't get paid any more to have a license I put getting my license on the back burner. There really isn't a huge motivation to get licensed other than the meaning to place on it to yourself. What I found was that as I got older, it became important as validation to my peers. I hated seeing intern behind my name, and what was perceived as being inexperience by some people. It wasn't used against me, but I felt that it did hold me back in my own personal career motivation, and I got tired of the "you're still an intern" question.
I am a very design process oriented person, and a leader where I work, this final step became important to me as a leader. What tipped me over the edge was a new employee, a talented one, who now under the new rules could start testing right out of school basically. It became my goal to get licensed before this person, because as a design/team/project leader, I felt that it was needed. I told this person this, and it motivated them to study as well! Not having a license became a cloud over my head, and as someone who excelled in school, and by that I mean a good student not a genius that worked moderately hard, I knew I could do it if I set my mind to it.
When you start to think about testing, there really is never good timing. This is really lesson number 1. There is always a project, a family issue, or just plain exhaustion to use as an excuse. There will never be the right time. You will never look forward to it. You aren't going to really feel like it. Maybe you will but not me. I made it a specific goal to take the tests rapidly, pass or fail. In my case my firm paid for the tests pass or fail, so I really had zero excuses. I looked at it as "well there is no way I'll fail all of them " so I should just take them all and use it as practice. With this in mind, I scheduled multiple tests. My goal was to pass 3 out of the 6 the first time.
The second lesson, it helped to just schedule multiple tests all at once. It’s a load off, it gets you in the mind set, it makes you plan ahead. You can't just jump on Prometic and take whatever test you want, whenever you want. You can't put things off, you can't make excuses. I actually scheduled 4 at once, and then the final 2, and passed all in 9 weeks the first time. I would have schedule all 6 at once but I had a huge project delivery date, and had to make sure I got through that.
I was actually taking all 6 tests, during the later part of CD's and bidding phase on a 20 million dollar project I was leading.... I'm not saying that or order to brag, I'm just pointing out my "no excuses" attitude. I jumped in completely, and probably the least ideal time, after previously making far worse excuses! Originally I was going to try and get my license so I could sign this particular project, but I was still procrastinating, and didn’t make that happen. I also used that to motivate myself. I'm not that young, and in my early 40's. I worked a lot of hours for this project, and putting studying on top of it wasn't fun. Not at all, but for me it put me into a mode. All the years of not focusing got stuck onto a couple months. It was my own fault. It was a messy bed, and I had to sleep in it.
I still had time to eat, and sleep, and go to the gym, but basically if I wasn't working, I was reading. This meant reading 3-5 hours every day, I was not studying up until all hours of the night, nor trying to read 3" technical manuals. I wasn’t trying to memorize 4000 page professional manuals..... For the Management and Professional practice tests, I took them a week apart and found them very related. My final two tests were the big ones, PPD, and PDD and I gave myself two weeks between those. The rest I just kind of filled in where prometric had openings.
I read all of the NCARB guides, and read the ppi2 stuff. I picked specific chapters of NCARB recommended book lists and brushed up. I went into it thinking that I wasn't even going to see if I passed, just take the test and start on the next one...so that I wouldn't risk being discouraged by a failing score.
The reality was, I couldn't resist pushing the button to get my preliminary score after sitting in that uncomfortable chair for hours ( mean could the testing center invest in a better chair...….). The result was, every pass made me more motivated. It also created more pressure as I got closer to being done...I ended with the PDD exam and was very stressed out, as it is thought by most to be the hardest, it was early in the morning, and I wanted so bad to JUST BE DONE.
Unlike 4.0 I really think 5.0 does a much better job taking you through the things you do in practice. It examines the problems that you have to solve, the knowledge that you need, and the ability to search for answers through your experience. My biggest criticism of 4.0 is that I felt I was studying to take a test, particularly with the drafting software, and for me that made it very hard to prepare for. It felt outdated and random. It wasn’t testing the skills that I actually used in practice. 5.0 really dug into the acutal things that I have to do every day. That doesn't mean everything was perfect.
I think the method that is used to search through the provided information is way too slow. I always felt short on time, and on almost every exam wasn't able to answer all of the questions because of time. I am very methodical in research, and I found it very rushed trying to find information buried within the test looking through huge pdf’s and large drawings on a small screen basically. The mandated screen size should be larger for the test, and I think a menu/contents system is needed to more quickly get to specific bits of provided information. Its not that bad, that’s just opinion to make it better. I felt I moved very quickly through the multiple choice and just never had enough time to really work through the case studies. Even another 10 minutes would be significant just because of how tedious it is to search through all of the stuff under pressure.
That said, the tests felt basically like taking a week’s worth of problem solving at work and trying to cram it into a few hours. It created pressure, it created stress, and it forced me to plan, prioritize and create a strategy.....not unlike what architects do every day. I felt as if the tests are geared towards experience, not memorization. Your experience might be geared towards some types information vs. others, but in the end your score will balance out with your strengths and an overall understanding of practice.
I never felt good about hitting the pass fail button. My heart always pounded out of my chest pushing it and then waiting for the results. It was an adrenaline dump. I never felt like I aced the test. I probably gave really bad feedback on the survey at the end. In many cases I had only studied a week or so, so I would always feel that ya, sure I could have studied more.
On the 4.0 tests I often finished early on the multiple choice, then ran short on time for the graphics portion. I found the 4.0 more tricky, and more about looking for the tricks of how they were asking the question. The 5.0 really tests your reasoning and selection of the best option, so you can often be left with some uncertainly. It doesn't try to confuse you. I never finished early. Good or bad that's what problem solving is much of the time. It’s the best thing you can come up within a given amount of time.. It not always as clear as 2+2=4. I didn’t feel that the test was trying to trick you either, just forcing you to think logically and critically about the best solution.
Strategy. I trusted my instincts and didn't over think questions. I almost always went with my first thought, or my first though with a little reasoning. If I wasn't sure, or had no idea, I guessed and moved on. For calculations, if they were short and had an obvious pathway I figured them out. If they appeared to be long drawn out solutions I marked it and moved on no matter if I thought I could figure it out or not. Early in the process I ran out of time for the case studies which is bad. It’s bad because all of the answers for the case studies can be found within the given materials presumably, so you want to give yourself enough time to find the answers.
On later tests, if I had a single question that I felt would take me 10 minutes I just moved on from it, and came back to it if I had time. A single difficult or time consuming question is not worth more than 5 or 6 easier ones answered correctly. That’s the way I looked at it.
These tests would be, probably are, and should be more difficult without experience in actual practice. Taking projects from start to finish, visioning exercises, predesign, concept work, working on specs, details, pushing through bidding phases, public bids, design builds, owner programming meetings etc etc etc are what prepared me for the test. That is the way it should be. You can’t teach that in college. College, like K-12, is really about training your brain to think. Architecture school helps develop your brain for design, problem solving, and creativity. It doesn’t give you creativity, nor does it teach you how to deal with an angry client, contractor, or city official. Some people will get through these exams by very focused and rigorous study. Some people will rely on years of practice, and brushing up on your test taking skills. If I can do it, you can do it.
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