I finally passed all 6 ARE exams with PPD being my last in the span of 5 months from my first pass! I wanted to give back to this amazing NCARB Community Forum to share what I did as writing this post was a dream of mine for the past year! I know this is long but feel free to reply back to this post with any questions.
First of all, I need to thank Professor Michael Ermann and the entire Amber Book Team. Without them, I am sure this process would have taken much longer (I was preparing for the next 2-3 years of my life being devoted to the ARE's). Below is my story and words of advice:
1. I never considered myself a great test taker and have always been more of a visual learner. That is why projects and physical models for architecture studio classes were always my strength.
2. I graduated from an accredited 5 year architecture program in the summer of 2015. I worked through college and right after graduation for my current design-build architecture firm. We design and provide construction management services for high-end custom residential projects throughout the east coast. It is a small firm but we average 20-35 active projects at a time so we move at a pretty fast and efficient pace.
3. Once I completed my AXP hours, I registered for the exams and was accepted by the state back in the end of 2018. While still learning how to work in the real world I did not have much time left for studying. I also bought and reconstructed a multi-family building which was my dream project. During this time, I studied a significant time with Black Spectacles as it was the only NCARB approved test provider at the time. I took PDD in 2019 as my first exam and did not pass.
4. After failing the first try at PDD, I realized I had to finish construction of my multi-family investment first. I later picked back up studying in the summer of 2021. This time I spent about 15-20 hours a week studying using the Ballast PPI "telephone" book, Ching Books, Black Spectacles Practice Exams, etc. In August 2021 I re-took PDD and failed a second time. FYI, PPI focuses WAY too much on structures equations.
5. At this point I was very discouraged but I knew my dream to become an architect could not be shattered. Using the advice from this forum, I revamped my study schedule and started from scratch by studying with Amber Book. This is where I realized the single biggest advice I can give. Study for ALL 6 divisions at one shot and take them as quickly as possible as if it was one big exam! There is so much content overlap in each exam. Also, you have to OWN the content, don't just study to memorize.
6. Without being able to take time off work, I was not able to take all of the exams back to back, but I did maintain 2 exams per month. I mainly used Amber Book as my main source along with my some supplementary sources being Schiff Harden Lectures (B101 & A201 ARE A MUST LISTEN) and Black Spectacles Practice Exams. I only studied MEEB and FEMA Seismic documents the last couple weeks before PPD but I would flip through that earlier if I had to do it again.
7. My study routine was perfected in the Fall of 2021 when I passed PDD and CE in back to back weekends. Now in the Spring of 2022, I am done! I was studying a minimum of 21hrs a week and ramping it up to 35hrs the week before an exam. I would take a minimum of 2 full length practice exams the weekends leading up to the real thing. While driving in the car or having dinner, I would listen to YouTube lectures to ensure that every extra hour was salvaged.
8. Before the exam I would wake up, review Amber Book notes, have a big taylor ham egg and cheese bagel with coffee and vitamin water and drive to my test center. I would get there with 45 minutes prior to exam and have a protein bar before walking in. I never took a break during any of the exams because you can't go back and check your work if you do. I would leave an extra 2hrs during PDD and PPD for the case studies/checking flagged questions and 1hr - 1.5hrs for the shorter exams. Case study questions are tricky and at times poorly worded but with enough time are not difficult (I learned that the hard way). If I ran into a difficult problem during the exam, I would simply flag it and return to it later when I had more time and was less stressed. Usually I would still have +/- 30 min. to quickly check all answers one last time. Never end a test early!
9. In conclusion, I know it sounds cliché but if I can do it, you can too! You just have to know what to study, how long to study and some simple test day tips. Amber Book, the visual nature of their interactive video lecture series and their real-world examples, really resonated with me. Michael and the Amber Book team also provide free 40 min. of Competence Zoom calls every Thursday afternoon which I will miss! Below is a YouTube link to preview Amber Book and below that is my final exam record:
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