I passed my fourth ARE Division, Programming and Analysis (PA), on August 12, 2019. I can feel the finish line now with 4 out of 6 passed.
There is a lot of new content to study as the test shift from Practice management to construction analysis and detailing but I wanted to share again some of my experience with studying for the test that led me to this point:
• I started studying for 3 weeks, then restarted my studying about 3 weeks before the test due to some life issues. I do not recommend this, I had to reread material and it took me a bit before I got back into the studying habit. Also this test blends into the next test Project Planning and Design with a lot of shared materials so you want to retain knowledge for the other exams.
• I studied the Ballast 5.0 study guide and later the Ballast Practice Exam, the Kaplan ARE 4.0 material, and Site Planning and Analysis, one of the recommended books by ARE. This book covers site planning, soil and earthwork, and environmental reviews, all of which were covered on the actual test. I also used Building Codes Illustrated to review code. I recommend this book if you do not do a lot of code review. It is an excellent resource even after the test. Hopefully you have the chance to do a code review for a building at your job. There is a Black Spectacles PA mock exam on YouTube. This was very useful in explaining several concepts found on the exam.
• Study soil types, soil classifications, and how to read a site plan. Understand what is a Brownfield Site and how to remediate a brownfield. Understand what is an Environmental Site Assessment and what the difference between a Phase I ESA and a Phase II ESA. Understand how to read a site plan, understand how contours work, and how to grade a site for a new building or regrade for better drainage.
• Study the Standards of Historic Preservation and the difference between preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction. I used a really good chart to understand this.
• Unless you do code review every day, understand building occupancy groups, building construction types, building allowable areas, and know how to calculate an occupancy load.
• Understand FAR ratios, and Net\Gross Ratios and building efficiency of different building types. Understand how local zoning ordinances affect your site and building analysis. You must understand the concepts of setbacks, easements, parking requirements and flood/wetland zones.
• Understand programming at the schematic design phase. How to assign spaces in a plan based off a client program. There were a lot of questions about assigning spaces (as expected of Programming and Analysis test). Most are common sense but there are a lot of graphical problems where you drag and move spaces or labels or fill out an adjacency diagram or floor plan.
• There were a lot of questions about how to environmentally site a building based of a topography, climate, and solar orientation.
• There were questions about what is hazardous materials (Asbestos, Lead, Radon, VOCs), and how to remediate them.
• I studied 1 hr every day either at lunch or after work then 3-4 on Saturday and Sunday. I tried to not do more than 1 hr of studying at a time. The hardest part was removing distractions, so lunch studying at work may or may not work for you. You have to figure out the time and place for your studying but there is no way I could do it in less than at least a month of studying.
• READ the NCARB ARE handbook and study the required concepts. If you have a doubt of “is really going to be on the test” look back at the require concepts and whether not it applies. Look at the reference materials and concepts.
• The best resource I had for studying is the ARE 5.0 community found at the My NCARB site. I found other people testing experiences, study guides, and words of wisdom. I found these threads the most useful on figuring where I needed to study: https://are5community.ncarb.org/hc/en-us/community/posts/360033138834-P-A-Passed-on-my-first-try-my-study-materials-and-suggestions
• The Ballast study guide is very useful for concepts but I emphasize that the test might pull from more than one division therefore you cannot assume to just study one division and be done. This was especially the case for this test. The Ballast section of the test is barely 1/10th of the book but this test covered much more than that. Definitely study Chapters 12 -15 and 19 through 21 of PPD in Ballast as well. Anything that has to do with site work, accessibility, and codes and regulations. Do not assume that that all you have to do is study the PA part of the Ballast book and you will pass the test. I spend a lot more time with the Kaplan 4.0 material than the Ballast 5.0 material. I studied the multiple choice chapters in Programming Planning (Part I, II and III) and Practice & Site Planning (Part I) and took all the quizzes in the chapters. This was to strengthen what I thought my weakest areas of study which was Site Planning, Site Analysis, and sustainable design. This is key in this test that covers a lot of varied materials. Self-access your weakest areas, then study through multiple means that weakest area. The sheer quantity of information was the hardest part of the exam for me.
• I took the Ballast practice exam to see where I was and I barely got over 50 percent right, which was very discouraging but this pushed me to study more material. I would restudy areas and retake the question until I got every question right. I retook the test completely and got 70% percent right. The difficulty of the ballast test was around the same difficulty of the actual exam minus the calculation questions which I found useful come exam time.
• I used other people study notes to restudy concepts to keep information fresh. If I didn’t have a lot of time to study, I would study a chunk of the study guide.
I went through each question, marked any questions that I skipped or was not 100% sure of, but worked as fast I could to finish the test. When I finished the test, I went back and looked over the questions that I was not quite sure 100% and tried to really try to understand what the question was trying to ask and answer it to the best of my abilities. Try not spend more than 1 minute on a problem. From what I read a lot of people have time issues on this test if they do not hit the case study with 1 ½ to 2 hrs remaining. The case study requires you to read through a large program, floor plans and site plans. Something useful is that in the Case Studies, they give you ADA code which is useful for other ADA questions. Also there is a search bar function that is very useful to look through the case study documents. Figure out what the test is asking for you to find, and then I used the search bar to find the term or code section rather than read an entire document. There will be material you don’t use inside the code and zoning document. This is to test that you understand the code rather than just copy information.
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