What Are The Best Study Books For ARE?

I have almost completed all my hours for IDP and was wondering what's study manuals you suggest for ARE? I was told by friends that Kaplan study materials were useless. What do you think?

Dec 12, 13 2:28 pm

I recommend using your old textbooks and notes for the technical sections. You'll find that their familiarity helps you refresh your memory of the material more quickly. I also did the flashcards, which were very helpful on general knowledge questions and getting used to the format of how the test is structured.

There isn't really any way to prepare for the design sections except to note that you should get in the habit of looking for the "gotcha" in any design problem that might occur on the test. As an example, when I took it, the building section problem had me cutting through a hallway in one wing of a building, but the hallway was continuous all the way through to an area in another wing that had a large amount of ductwork passing over that same hall. This required the ceiling to be low enough to pass under all those ducts. If I'd been rushing through, or not paying attention, I would have missed that.

The best way to prepare for the Contract Documents section is just read a lot of AIA contract documents. Even the obscure ones. The entire CD section when I took it was detailed questions about an obscure variant of the Owner-Architect Agreement - Construction Manager version. Fortunately, I'd just been wrestling with that very thing on a recent project with a troublesome CM, so I knew it cold.

Admittedly, my experience is a bit out of date now (I took the ARE in 1998). But from what I've heard talking to folks who've recently taken it, the basic approach hasn't changed much. When I signed up for the test, I scheduled all of them up front, one section per week, starting four weeks from when I signed up. I scheduled what I thought would be the most difficult sections first, in case I failed one and had to re-do it. I then spent an hour a day studying and working problems off my old notes and the flashcards, every day, from then until the first test date. In the end, I passed all of them on the first go. So that method clearly had something going for it in my case.

Dec 12, 13 7:25 pm

Thank you so much gwharton for all the advice. I'll pull out all my old notes and start going over the AIA contracts, I think I'll take that test first. If you don't mind telling, what was the hardest test?

Dec 12, 13 7:40 pm

check out

Dec 12, 13 8:52 pm

Oooo, great site urbanity. Thanks for the post.

Dec 12, 13 9:51 pm

I used the Kaplan materials and passed all of the AREs. I'd say they helped, but ended up reviewing a lot of information from other sources that presented a lot more diverse information on various topics (AHPP, AIA docs, Francis Ching's Building Construction books, etc.).

Dec 13, 13 9:37 am

Hi Monica

I am in the midst of the ARE's right now - so welcome to NCARB's version of Hell. Anyways, I am 4 for 4 so far on my exams. My winning strategy has been: Jenny's Notes (, Ballast, Dorf`s Lectures, Carolyn`s Notes and the ARE Forum. The ARE Forum is closed down currently, but ARE Coach is a good alternative. I have Kaplan too, but I think it is very long winded. It's a great resource if you are new to the industry, but if you have a few years of experience, it's pretty dry....

The hardest test? It depends on what topic you think you may struggle with the most. I am studying for Structures right now. It will be my hardest one to date I think. 

Dec 13, 13 9:47 am

I actually thought the Contract Documents part was the most difficult, but that's mostly because of the obscurity of the material that section covered when I took it. I expected structures to be the most difficult, but it wasn't (for me). 

Dec 13, 13 7:20 pm


I used the Ballast guide as my main study tool  (I retain well from reading).  If you learn well by reading too, then that book pretty well covers all you need to know to pass the test.

Schiff-Hardin lectures are a must!  They're free to download... Just Google them.  These guys provide a super presentation and will really help you on the AIA contract items, as well as helping you understand your legal position in your future projects (not just for the exams).

I used the NCARB practice programs to rehearse the vignettes... They were plenty adequate to give me a reasonable expectation of what I saw on test day.  I didn't do any of the third-party vignette simulators.  I did peruse the posts at ARE Forum to see different folks' take on solutions, which was very helpful.

I also went over Jenny's Notes, which were really great for the structural section. 

That's about it.  Passed all 7 sections on the first try.

If you're qualified to practice, you'll pass the tests.   Be confident... You've been working in the industry for a few years already... Go in with an attitude that you know what you're doing, and do it.  Just like that. :-)

I took the Cali Supplemental Exam, too.  That one is so poorly constructed, that you won't know if you passed.  Luckily, they tell you right on the spot. <g>  I passed that one on the first swing, too.  I used Dave Douchette's study materials for the CSE, which were very good.  Hope you don't have to take that test... I'm a 'good test taker', and that one had me sweating bullets... The answers are like voting in an election... 'Do I choose this turd, or that turd?' <vlg>

Remember... Just like in our profession... You don't have to be =perfect=, you just have to show =reasonable facility=.  Nobody knows what the cutoff score is, but it can't be over 70%, right?  You probably need to perform at 95% just to keep your job... This test should be a walk in the park, assuming you do a little 'speed learning' on your weaker spots.  Nerves are what undo most people, I think... Not lack of prep or knowledge.

Go get 'em!!

Dec 13, 13 11:25 pm

All you have to do is pass.

Like that old joke: What do you call a guy who finished med school with a D average?


Dec 14, 13 12:39 am

Ballast is good. Kaplan is fine. You don't need both if them. Flash cards are mandatory. AIA docs for just the CDs exam. ARE forum and Dorf for the graphics portions. Don't study MEEB. Don't over study. Don't retread your class notes. Ignore people who tell you to study a stack of material, you'll just be stressed and confused. Just enough to pass.

Dec 14, 13 3:51 pm

Thank you everyone for all the great advice. Nick Ladd, I wish I would have just paid more attention in my practice courses, I was probably too sleep deprived. Benjamin_ Thank you for the list of notes and lecture, those are going to be very useful. gwharton, I agree everyone says structures is the headrest but I loved my structures courses so I'm hoping I'll be like you.
DMS-USA, I like studying too and I'm glad you posted that you passed with the Ballast Guides as a main study aid. I do plan on moving back to Cali but I don't think I have to take the same test as you. I'm sure the one I'm forced into will be equally distastful. Thank you for the positive words. I appriate it. guren, no MEEB, got it, thanks.
I took notes on everyone's suggestions and plan to get started soon. Thank you.

Dec 16, 13 1:49 am

When I studied, I took pre-tests so that I would have a better idea what to pay attention to in the study material. It helped to get a big picture about what I needed to do and not feel like I had a mountain of work ahead of me. Afterwards, I took practice tests till I scored at least 80%. I did pass all the ones I took. 

Dec 16, 13 5:16 am

I want to reiterate: 1) you don't need anything but the study materials, AIA docs & ARE forum. 2) don't over study & ignore people who suggest you study more than my list above.

Dec 16, 13 9:06 am
Young Architect

Wow Gruen, that's pretty arrogant of you to dismiss other people's advice. Your method may have worked for you, but there is more than one way to prepare for these exams. I didn't find flash cards particularly useful. I preferred getting my hands on as many practice tests as I could. 

Monica - I would choose Kaplan or Ballast (my preferred choice). I do agree that you don't want to over study.

Dec 16, 13 12:28 pm

I'm just so happy I got so many good leads. I wish the tests weren't so expensive. My friends a lawyer and didn't pay anything close to what we pay for licensing, and if that's not bad enough she makes a whole lot more.

Dec 16, 13 5:06 pm


"My friends a lawyer and didn't pay anything close to what we pay for licensing, and if that's not bad enough she makes a whole lot more."

<chuckle>... Maybe.... But look on the bright side.  Your profession is way cooler to talk about at a cocktail party.  AND... Only =contractors= will hate you.  Everyone else will think you're a great artistic master!   :-)

Hard to get rich doing this, but it sure can be a lot of fun.  That's worth a lot.

Dec 18, 13 3:33 am

@Ben- agree that practice tests are very important, from any source one can find-it is very hard to find enough practice questions.

My observation is that the posters on AREForum who recommend a very large list of study matls are also the same ones who fail frequently.

Class notes- I wonder which classes? My structural notes were excellent but radical overkill for the ARE. Would have been a waste of time to study them. Prof practice didn't dig deep enough to the AIA docs. Look, this is a set of standardized exams and you should study as you would for any standardized exam. You wouldn't review 4th grade class notes for the GRE, yet that's where the GRE math tops out at.

Dec 18, 13 10:51 am
vado retro

for aia docs,cds and professional practice you want to listen to

Dec 18, 13 1:15 pm
Young Architect

I published Part 2 of my ULTIMATE list of ARE Materials.

Jan 3, 14 5:33 pm

AREForum has been down for several months now. You are welcome to check out at this link:

Jan 4, 14 11:19 pm
Young Architect

Gang Chen's books are also really great resource for the ARE. I felt like i got my money's worth each time I used them. Unfortunately I wish Gang Chen was in the scene several years earlier when I took my first few exams. 

Feb 3, 14 1:30 pm

As an intern prepping for the ARE, I appreciate all the links and advice everyone has chipped in here.

Feb 5, 14 11:45 am

I agree with Jeffrey Parnell, I really appreciate this culture of support. Thank you everyone.

Feb 7, 14 1:09 pm
Young Architect

Here is my Part 3 where I break down the vignettes and share some information. Hope this helps.

Feb 10, 14 11:20 am

Now, We can easily read the books on any subjects with the help of online sources. It will be more convenient and simple source from any place. Recently, I read a book about the architect because I am very much interested about that one.



sell used textbooks for cash

Mar 19, 14 1:02 am
Young Architect

Architect Exam Prep has been putting out alot of products. I havent personally used them myself but several friends have had alot of great things to say about their products.

Heres a link. 

Jul 4, 14 11:30 am

Another vote for Architect Exam Prep.  This is exactly my learning style.  What is offered is unmatched by any other study material package.  I've had several correspondences with real people including David himself.

P.S. I'd rather stick my head in a toilet than read AIA contracts.  I passed CDS without reading one; did study plenty about them though.

Dec 29, 15 5:01 pm

"I'd rather stick my head in a toilet than read AIA contracts.  I passed CDS without reading one; did study plenty about them though."

Please explain how you understand what your contractual responsibilities are without reading the contract.

Dec 29, 15 5:13 pm

That's a great point (seriously), I'll cross that bridge when I get there.  In my experience most firms use a pretty limited number of contracts.  So for purposed of learning everything mentioned in the ARE I'll stick with the "head in the toilet".

Dec 29, 15 5:32 pm

I think you'd be surprised at how often the client makes modifications to the standard, ideal contract. The AIA contracts are not all that great at protecting us from the higher priced lawyers that developers and other clients can hire to begin with, and it's every team member's job to know what the firm has been contractually obligated to do. That way, when one of the folks who didn't read the contract volunteers the team to produce 3 renderings by Monday (on a Friday), you can remind them that it should be an additional service.


HOW to do the above without coming off as a lazy, thriftless no-good, know-it-all is something they don't teach or test, but I believe a good employer (or PM) will thank you for keeping your eye on the financial and legal ball.

Dec 29, 15 6:00 pm

Read a thread on coach's forum the other day regarding Architect Exam Prep (specifically PPP): Not Happy with Architect Exam Prep. Interesting to see one commenter speculate that they copied portions from Jenny's notes.

Personally, I've stuck with Kaplan, Ballast, and Coach's Forum ... haven't really looked into anything else and haven't felt like I've needed to (so far, I've passed every exam I've taken).

Yes, I did read the AIA contracts and think that anyone who calls themselves an architect should at least be familiar with them. Your firm may not like them nor use them, and your clients may not as well, but I've seen a lot of different forms of agreement and general conditions and almost all use regurgitated portions from the AIA documents (I've yet to see any as complete and concise as AIA's docs). You should at least know the source material and know what has been changed.

Plus, I'd rather read them and know them than have my head stuck in a toilet. I'd rather get the information first-hand than through someone else's filter. Sooner or later, knowing what they say will save you/your firm in one way or another. Can't say that about drowning yourself in urine and feces (unless of course you are the problem, then drowning yourself seems extreme but still a plausible solution). 

Dec 29, 15 7:52 pm

Agree with ei, but most importantly, the AREs are based on AIA contacts, that's a good enough reason to read them for me. There were many questions regarding them in cds and ppp

Dec 29, 15 8:32 pm

This is what I studied.  It's not intended as a one-size-fits-all list - I know people who studied much less, and others who studied much more.  I took all the tests over a 5-month period and passed all on the 1st attempt.  The majority of these are books I already owned, so weren't originally selected for their pertinence to the ARE, but reviewing them served me well:

Dorf:  Solutions

ArchiFlash cards

Ballast - the non-structural topics book only

Kaplan - the Construction Documents book only

Kostof: A History of Architecture - mostly reviewed the photos and captions

Christopher Arnold: Buildings at Risk: Seismic Design Basics for Practicing Architects

Ching:  Visual Dictionary of Architecture, and Building Construction Illustrated

Why Buildings Stand Up

Why Buildings Fall Down

MEEB:  mostly looked at the pictures and diagrams and read the captions. 

CSI: Project Delivery Practice Guide - this is a great resource, especially for contractual relationships and all pro-practice topics.

Graphic Standards:  Only the short chapters pertaining to Historic Preservation, and elevators/escalators/moving walkways


Things I didn't study:

Any other test prep books, courses, or products not specifically listed above.  I was particularly wary of companies who were advertising in these forums, or seemed to have sock puppets touting their products in the forums, or who were providing free copies of study guides in exchange for positive reviews on Amazon, etc.

AIA contracts - past experience with preparing contracts, and the topics covered in the sources I listed above, were adequate for all material I encountered on the exams pertaining to contracts. or its various predecessor and successor sites:  too much conflicting and dubious info - some of it provided by people who hadn't tested yet, or who had failed multiple times.  In my opinion it was best to stay out of the test-specific areas of those sites entirely - though the general bulletin boards were good for commiseration and cheer leading.

Dec 30, 15 2:08 pm

... and one more book that I forgot:  How Architecture Works, by Gordon & Stubbs, 1991 (NOT the more recent Witold Rybczynski book with the same name).

This is an easy read - it's an AIA publication written mainly for non-architects, with chapters based on questions, like "what's that sticky stuff between panels in building facades?"  It's the fundamentals - things you've surely learned before somewhere along the line - but this book was uniquely helpful in preparation for the ARE because it seemed that every single thing in the book came up somehow, somewhere on the exam.  Think of it as the Cliff's Notes of ARE prep.

You can get used copies of this book for a penny on Amazon - a very well spent penny.

Dec 30, 15 6:27 pm

For me, it was mostly the Kaplan study guides and a series of ARE prep seminars at my local AIA chapter. For Structural Systems and BDCS I added some additional study materials cobbled together from friends who had recently taken the AREs as well as the Thaddeus structures seminar. If you're as math-phobic as I am, I highly recommend attending a Thaddeus seminar if he comes through your area.

IMO, the AREs are more about knowing the big-picture concepts rather than minutia, and it's possible to over-study. Ironically, the two ARE divisions I flunked on my first attempt were the ones I had probably spent the most amount of time studying for. (In each case it was a stupid mistake on the vignette section that doomed me.)

Dec 30, 15 8:25 pm

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