I passed my final ARE exam yesterday after a 10-week blur of studying and test taking. I used the Amber Book course as my primary study material and wanted to share my experience. For reference, I finished my M.Arch in 2016 and have about 4 years of professional experience.
The Amber Book method is a quick and deep dive into all of the material covered in the six divisions of the ARE. The premise is that there is so much overlap in knowledge needed for the 5.0 exams, that you should study for them all at once and take the exams back-to-back. It sounds very intimidating, but I decided to trust the method and knock them out over a 10-week period.
I started with the Amber Book course in February 2020 and had unfortunately just completed the course when my exams were cancelled due to Covid. I decided to let the dust settle for a couple months and rescheduled for late August. Due to the quick/deep Amber Book strategy, I decided to take the entire course a second time starting in July. The course itself took me 8 weeks to complete and my exams were scheduled during week 9 and 10.
The Amber Book was my only study material other than AIA contracts A101, A201, B101, and C401. I was very impressed overall and actually enjoyed the content. The information was well presented and applicable to my daily practice. They really excel with the building systems and construction info. My only criticism is that the pro practice videos lack some of the depth and interest of the rest of the series. In the end, I still struggled a bit to understand the AIA contracts.
I also took several of the Black Spectacles practice tests. In my opinion, their content confused my AB learning. However, their testing platform is spot on to NCARB’s and it was good to sit down and take a test for 3 hours and get used to the search tools, calculator, etc. In retrospect, I would have skipped this and stuck with the NCARB practice test based on the cost.
I scheduled my exams as follow:
Monday Week 9 – PA
Tuesday Week 9 – PPD
Wednesday Week 9 – PDD
Monday Week 10 – PcM
Tuesday Week 10 – PjM
Wednesday Week 10 – CE
I lumped them into these groups based on other NCARB forum discussions. (The Amber Book suggests the order does not matter). I think these groupings made a lot of sense. PPD and PDD share basically the same content, as do PcM and PjM. Know that CE has quite a bit of code and building systems info on it and PA was a good exam to kick things off.
Overall, I was very impressed with the questions on the ARE. There are very few giveaways and most questions take a lot of consideration. The tests were difficult (I thought I had failed on two exams) but the questions were well written. I only ran out of time on one exam (with two questions left) but almost always cut it close. I tried to leave 1.5 hours for the case studies and review of marked questions.
Quirk #1 - I took my break prior to the case studies and the timer would start counting down from 25 minutes. However, I believe the NCARB break time allowance is 15 minutes. I took a 17 minute break on one of the exams and the final test timer ended a couple minutes early. Not sure what the deal is here, but I would recommend sticking to 15 minutes or less for your break regardless of what the break timer says.
Quirk #2 – Maybe I had a slow internet connection, but the case study reference materials took a long time to load. It was probably less than 10 seconds, but felt like an eternity in a timed test situation. Just be aware and stay calm.
After completing the ARE, I think a holistic study method makes total sense. For example, the professional practice content is found in all of the test divisions; site and building systems content is also scattered throughout. The Amber Book is expensive, but highly effective in my experience. I think it was well worth the cost to have all 6 exams behind me after a 10-week marathon. It is a daunting process, but you can do it. Good luck everyone!
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