Monday of this week, I passed the PA exam on my first try.
Architectural master’s degree with 4 years of professional experience (US) and a few years (abroad). Most of my project experience is new/renovation of commercial, educational, and institutional.
Beginning of this year I took time off from work to focus on these exams. I started with PcM and PjM until March and then started focusing on the big next Three. With COVID hitting around the end of March and not being able to take the tests. I ended up studying for PA, PPD, and PDD all at once. When I finished studying all, I came back to review and practice one by one. PA being the first one attacking.
Main Resources I used for PA and the sequence of using it:
- Watching Black Spectacles Video >>> Warm-Up
I would not say it covered lots of stuff or I got lots of information related to the exam from it. This was just a way to start and warm-up and start thinking about what NCARB means by each exam section.
- Black Spectacles Tests >>> Still Warming Up
These exams helped to deepen the learnings from the videos and give me some preliminary hits so when I was studying the main resources I could pay more attention to topics covered.
- Site Planning and Design Handbook: Chapters 1,2,3,4,7,8,9 Appendix A
Highly Highly Recommend taking notes while studying which will make the review process way smoother and faster.
- Problem Seeking: most of the colleagues are saying it is a super easy book but for me, I wasn’t comfortable with it at all. I think this book makes simple concepts so complicated in an unnecessary way. But I ended up studying it and especially the second chapter several times. (Calcs and Efficiency Factors). I would say pay attention to 24 Concepts on the first Part and then five steps and calcs (page 90-125) on the second part.
- Kaplan- Brightwood: despite all the negative feedbacks regarding this 3rd party resource, I found the narrative and sequence beneficial. Easy to read and follow and the diagrams are SUPER! They stuck to my memory fast.
- Taking Ballast and Walking the ARE practice tests after Site planning and Brightwood study; this way I could understand which topics I am missing and whether they were in the resources I studied so far or not.
- Planning and Urban Design Standard: Chapter 2 (Environmental planning and Management) in detail and chapter 4 (places and placemaking) and chapter 5 (analysis Techniques) where I needed to understand some concepts better.
I think this resource was very valuable and I could relate a handful number of questions to it. I think you can still pass the exam without reading this book but I would say using it as a complimentary resource will prepare you much better.
- Designer Hacks + WeARE practice tests: between studying sessions to make sure I am covering all the main topics.
- Ballast: It was a GREAT third-party resource for this exam. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Ballast but after this Exam, I believe I couldn’t pass it without Ballast. Both the Exams and the Textbook.
- Sun, Wind, and Light (3rd Addition): Part VI – Favorite Design Strategies Condensed
If you have a good knowledge of Passive strategies maybe you can skip this book, but The Condensed Strategies was a great review and it was easy and fast to review. There were some terminology and basic Ideas that I can assure I could answer during the exam with the help of this book.
- Jenny’s note, Hyperfine and Ballast Practice Tests as review and going back and forth to main resources to review the sections I was lacking the most.
Study time: overall 6 weeks, I studied for almost one month and then 15 days of review and practice. I covered studying for ADA and Code during my PPD and PDD study. I would suggest adding an extra week if you are not familiar with them.
** start with reviewing NCARB Handbook and listing all the main topics. If you know these main ones very very well you can certainly pass the exam.
** TAKE NOTES and Organize them based on the NCARB exam sections. Let's say you are studying brown Field and remediation from several resources such as Ballast, Site Planning, and Urban design, take notes, compare them and compile a final version for this topic. When you get to the review process, by reading one page of your notes you are covering all three resources.
** Instead of spending a lot of time memorizing numbers, spend time to get to understand the base of them and where they come from and why. Therefore, the knowledge will stick to you forever. We want to be better Architects and learn more than just a simple pass/fail score. Now that we are spending our time on these exams lets really learn ;)
** Time is very crucial for this exam. lots of interactive questions. I suggest getting comfortable with the topics you can predict that is fast to answer such as:
Consultant Needs, Environmental Conditions, Remediation Methods, Programming Stages (from survey and needs till submission to the client), different budget types and their uses, how to calculate construction and project costs and their differences, life cycle costs and analysis, Sustainability and materials, efficiency (not only calculation but also the main logic behind them! Start with why we even need all these ideas and then move all the way to the calculation, this topic is a huge chunk of the exam in all different forms). The code questions were very basic and straightforward.
during the exam, you must pace yourself but don't get overwhelmed. Take your break, breathe, and believe you can do it!
Good Luck to all of you.
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