Hey fellow future architects,
Got the PA Pass today! This was my first ARE 5.0 exam, and this community was a CRUCIAL resource for me in passing PA. That said, I am doing the post-test brain dump to help others, as the forum helped me in preparation for the big day. A lot of this is echoed from previous posts, but that should only verify the importance of taking advantage of this forum!
I graduated just two months ago from a 5-year M. Arch program, having worked 15-20 hours/week for firms throughout the last 4 years. So, recent graduates… you CAN do this! However, real, practical work experience will give you a distinct advantage for this exam, especially understanding building codes and ADA standards (and I anticipate every other exam to be the same). The firm I currently work for is very supportive of employees working towards licensure and has provided me multiple resources as noted in the ARE 5.0 Handbook’s Reference Matrix, as well as Ballast study material. I did not purchase any additional reference material that I had not already previously purchased for school.
ARE 5.0 Community – Use this forum to your advantage. So many people give their ideas, tips, tricks, and strategies for what worked for them, and utilizing their insights worked great for me! I’d say I spent almost just as much time researching what worked for people and what to focus on through this forum, compared to actually studying the reference material for this exam. Use this free knowledge base; it’s worth it!
ARE 5.0 Handbook – This document tells you EXACTLY what to expect on the real exam. Understand the 4 sections to this exam, and how much content to expect from each section. This will help you organize your study material and understand your weaker areas that require more studying.
Ballast/PPI – I believe this to be the best overall review guide of the PA material, and its nicely divided into the corresponding exam sections as described by the ARE 5.0 Handbook. This is the only material that I took detailed notes over. I highly recommend writing your own set of notes of all the relevant Ballast chapters (7-11). It is a great general overview of the exam material but will DEFINITELY need to be supplemented with the study other reference materials. Gauge your understanding of material with the practice questions, and put it to the test with the practice exam (and be sure to time yourself!)
Black Spectacles (BS) – I utilized BS (premium version) solely for the timed practice exams. I highly recommend these practice exams as a study strategy to help gauge how fast you need to pace yourself for the real exam. They follow the EXACT format of the real exam, with a combination of multiple choice, drag and drop, check-all-that-apply, hotspot, and quantitative fill-in-the blank question type, as well as calculators, breaks, and timers. Additional note - I honestly did not watch a single one of the BS study videos, that’s just not my most efficient way of learning material.
ARE 4.0 Kaplan – My firm still had Kaplan study material from the ARE 4.0. I used the “Programming, Planning and Analysis” and “Site Planning and Design” material solely for their extra practice questions.
Planning and Urban Design Standards – I skimmed chapters related to environmental management, environmental hazards, hydrology, soils, topography, parking lot design, site utilities, and environmental assessments. I did not take extensive notes.
Architectural Graphic Standards – Again, I skimmed chapters. Primarily focused on sitework, energy and environmental design, historic preservation, space planning, and accessibility. I did not take extensive notes.
Building Codes Illustrated (BCI) – Again, I skimmed chapters. Primarily focused on building heights and areas, means of egress, and accessibility. I depended a lot on my work experience using the IBC and ADA. I did not take extensive notes.
Site Planning and Design Handbook (SPDH) – Again, I skimmed chapters. Primarliy focused on chapters 3-4, 6, 7-10, and Appendix A.
Problem Seeking – I read this book cover to cover. Easy read. I would recommend taking light notes of this book, because this book focuses on the programming process, which is the core of the PA exam! Also helps you to understand net/gross sq. ft. calculations, which are important.
Historic Preservation – Understand the different procedures for historic buildings as prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, using the four strategies of preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction. This showed up frequently on my exam.
I did NOT utilize Designer Hacks, Brightwood, Hyperfine, flashcards, or any other reference material not listed above.
What I Wish I’d Studied More
If I had to do it all over again, I would spend a more time studying the following categories than anything else: Brownfield site remediation (ESA Phases I and II), reading soil/geotechnical reports, soil boring logs, spatial adjacencies, site planning for solar/wind orientation, parking requirements per local zoning, net/gross sq. ft. calculations, ADA ramps, and knowing WHICH consultants do WHAT scope of work.
Test Prep Tips
- I recommend studying for AT LEAST a month for this exam. I studied 10-15 hours per week for four weeks prior to the exam.
- I recommend taking the test early in the week (I took mine on a Tuesday) so that you are not distracted by a pressing Friday work deadline or thinking about your weekend plans.
- I recommend NOT studying the day before your exam. Don’t try to cram things into your head at the last minute. Be confident in your organized study habits, and go into the test with a relaxed mindset after a good night’s sleep.
- Anticipate the actual test to take LONGER than your practice exams. I only say this because I was finishing the practice exams with 30-45 mins to spare, but was forced to rush at the end of the real exam. The next bullet explains why.
- Anticipate MORE drag and drop, and hotspot questions than are on the Ballast/BS practice exams. These questions take 2-3x longer than standard multiple choice, which I wish I’d prepared for more before the real exam.
During the Test
- After starting the exam, but before starting the multiple choice, go to the Case Studies to see what resources they provide they may help answer multiple choice questions. This may include the IBC or ADA. DO NOT RELY ON THESE RESOURCES BEING THERE. My exam unfortunately did not have useful resources in the Case Studies, but it was worth a look.
- I recommend doing the multiple choice FIRST, before the case studies. They make up approx. 70% of the exam so there is more incentive to finish these first. Even if you don’t know the answer, take your best guess and simply flag it if you think you need to go back to it later, if you have time. You won’t get any points if you leave it unanswered!
- After the finishing the multiple choice, I took my break. The break was 25 mins. Go stretch your legs and relax! I finished the multiple choice portion with exactly one hour left.
- I used the last hour to finish the 2 Case Studies, and very quickly review the questions I marked before running out of time. Be mindful that the Case Study supplemental documents take a long time to load, and can be frustrating.
- Lastly, these questions are NOT meant to trick you. There is a best/appropriate answer to every question. Use deductive reasoning to select the most correct answer and move on. 90% of the time your gut instinct is probably right!
Best of luck to all, I’m on to the next!
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