Back in November, I took and failed PDD for the first time. On Monday, I retook PDD and PASSED! No more AREs for me!! To say I am relieved is the understatement of the century. I have major test anxiety, so I am so proud of myself for completing these exams!
During my first round of studying, I studied for 7 weeks (1 section/week and then a review week). I covered so much material that I really thought my brain was going to explode. This exam has a monster mountain of information. Repetition and review periods are super important for this exam. The only thing I did differently on my second try was add in the Hyperfine Course, as well as thoroughly studied Fundamentals of Construction (FBC). The Hyperfine course was incredibly helpful this round to help me utilize the learned material in practical ways.
Below is a detailed approach for how I studied for PPD. Remember, what worked for me, may not work for you. Best of luck!
- Study duration – 13 weeks TOTAL. First take, I studied 7 weeks. Retake, I studied 6 weeks.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 120 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. This is the process that feels best to me during the exam.
These materials I studied in depth for the first take, and then simply reviewed notes and any critical diagrams for the retake:
- The material in Ballast is a great first introduction to the exam material. I know there is a lot of information for this exam. Ballast provides more detail than what I think you need for the exam, so it’s a great resource to fully prepare you for the breadth of information on the exam. The structural examples are almost too detailed – but if you understand them, you’ll definitely be fine on the 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 the week 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
- I find this material to be highly beneficial. It’s a great foundation to help you learn, and the lectures will explain how to solve load calculations, mechanical systems, lighting zonal cavity method, 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. I would highly recommend going through all of them. I tend to be scoring around 70-80% before I go into the actual ARE. For PDD, because I had already taken the actual exam before, I was scoring closer to 90% on the practice exams.
- My firm provides this subscription to us to help us study, so I can’t say for sure If I would pay for the service out of pocket, but I believe the practice exams are the most valuable portion of this service!
- Architect Exam Prep (AEP)
- I read through this lightly but mainly used the lectures while I was driving in the into work. They have good tables to break down all the material, structural systems choices, and design decisions related to climate.
- I did a light review of this material. I mainly reviewed the diagrams and key concepts. Lots of chapters to review. I would focus on items that you tend to be struggling with. However, I will say that some of the pictures on the book are VERY helpful to know for the exam.
- Building Construction Illustrated
- All Chapters! Helpful images to help you understand the base concepts of detailing and how to put a building together. I would suggest FBC for more detailed information.
- Building Code Illustrated
- Chapters 3-7, 9-10, 11, and lightly skim chapter 29. The way this book outlines the code was incredibly helpful. If you don’t use the code in your day-to-day practice, it will give you a good base knowledge. If you use the code all the time, this is still a helpful tool as it goes into depth and provides diagrams to explain all the concepts.
- Architects Studio Companion
- I love this book for the tables at the beginning of the sections. The tables outline which MEP system to choose under different circumstances, which structural systems to choose, spans, etc. The material behind the tables goes into further discussion and explanation if you’re needing more information as well.
- Jenny P Notes
- This is great set of notes (a few pages) that really explain the MEP systems accurately and concisely. I used this as last-minute review material on both exams. Great reminder.
FEMA Ch 4 &5
- Great overview for Seismic and Lateral Stability of buildings.
- I would come up with a pneumonic device to help you remember the order of the spec sections. It came in handy for me during the exam multiple times.
New Material for retake:
Fundamentals of Building Construction : Materials and Methods (FBC)
- Entire book, and really focused on the details represented.
- THIS BOOK WAS THE KEY TO MY SUCCESS ON MY RETAKE. I fully believe that without FBC and Hyperfine, I would not have passed this retake.
Hyperfine with Ben!
- The above link is for both PPD and PDD. It was $60 for the case study and all the practice problems/videos. This “course” is meant to supplement your other study materials, but honestly, I found this material to be my most engaging, helpful study material I have bought to date. It provides great study questions and the applicable study materials related to that question. It helped focus my attention on the right material without being superfluous. HIGHLY recommend.
- Amber Books
- I had people through this forum recommend using Amber Books to help me with studying for my retake of PPD and PDD, and I am so glad I paid for a month subscription! Really helpful videos that break down the content in a different way than the other study materials above. There are practice questions scattered throughout the videos to help you retain the information while you’re digesting the lectures. I highly attribute my success on this exam to this study material. It gave me that extra layer of confidence I needed to pass the exam on the 2nd try.
- I used my notes from using Amber Books during PPD primarily during my review time for PDD. I didn’t purchase another month to use Amber Books, but I was able to use the material I had already taken notes on prior to help me. If you’re tight for cash like I was, this was a helpful way to utilize Amber Books without spending multiple months’ worth on the expensive subscription.
- Karin Notes
- another great set of diagrams/notes from a fellow ARE exam taker! 17 pages of almost everything you need to know. Great to review right before you enter the exam.
Architectural Graphic Standards
- I reviewed details throughout AGS as needed. It wasn’t my primary study source for details, but it helped reiterate areas I was struggling with and helped me feel more confident.
Best of luck studying! Don’t let these exams get you down! Keep studying and keep going no matter the outcome!
If I can do this, so can you! Now to figure out what to do with all my free time…
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