ARE Exam

Hi Everyone. I am currently trying to purchase materials and programs to start studying for the ARE exam, and I am not sure which one I should go with. I see people using different resources based on their experience especially after taking one of the exams.

I am trying to purchase a package with coaching and covering all 6 exams at once. I am thinking to pass all 6 exams within a year, and I am looking for video lectures rather than a book, but if it has to be a mix, that is also fine. Any suggestions or tips, please?

Mar 14, 21 4:29 pm

I got my license last year under ARE 5.0 (not 5.1 or whatever they just switched to, without the scratch paper etc.). But I primarily used...

Ballast Guide for reference questions for all 6 divisions (they're tough questions which are usually harder than what was on the exams);

Black Spectacles Youtube Videos (not the paid courses, but the free "mock exam" videos and podcasts) as a last-minute refresher right before going into the exams

Amber Book for PA, PPD, and PDD. This one was actually extremely helpful.

I also bought Architect's Studio Companion for quick building systems studying, and I had a copy of Ching's Building Construction Illustrated open most of the time. But I also already had a pretty good grasp on structures and building assembly before I took my exams. The exam took me from May to December, failing CE and PPD once each.

EDIT: I do not recommend using Ballast as a primary reference for what to study. It worked really well for PcM, and alright for PjM, but for the rest of them, the scope of topics covered in Ballast was not nearly enough to prepare me for those exams.

Mar 15, 21 11:16 am  · 

Go to page 168 of the ARE 5.0 Handbook for a list of the books "frequently used" to create the test questions.  Buy or borrow these books and read them.

Mar 15, 21 11:25 am  · 
 ·  1

Read the primary sources as listed in the NCARB ARE Handbook. Those resources, while not as concise as 3rd party study guides, form the basis of the questions in the exam. I personally felt like I had questions lifted directly from those primary texts, that 3rd party materials didn't cover at all. If you study the primary sources, they're gimme questions. For each exam I took I studied more primary material, and felt like each subsequent exam was easier. 

I assume some of them are textbooks you may already own, or available through coworkers and Local AIA Chapters. If you live near an architecture school, their libraries likely have copies. I'm sure COVID has disrupted that, but it's out there. 

IMO, the 3rd Party resources are extremely valuable for their "mock exams" or practice questions. Being able to quickly answer multiple choice questions, and spend a bulk of the exam time on the case studies and other question types is extremely valuable. Some of the case study questions I had in my exam(s) were easy to solve, but extremely time consuming. Nothing beats Designer Hacks from a value perspective for mock exams. Architect Exam Prep probably comes in a close second. I will say I found a lot of value in their audio companion. 

NCARB Forums are a better resource than Archinect will ever be. Just ignore the people bitching about how many times they've failed some exam or tilted about a specific question. 

Mar 15, 21 2:32 pm  · 
3  · 

I started taking 5.0 a few months after graduation & found Ballast to be sufficient for every section with the exception of PDD. After failing PDD I read "Building Construction Illustrated" & "Building Codes Illustrated" by Ching cover to cover over the course of two weeks or so before my retake. It sounds like a lot of reading but in reality those books are primarily illustrations (as the name would suggest). I'd highly recommend reading those for PDD & PPD. Other than that Ballast sufficed.

As far as tips go, I'd recommend scheduling an exam before you begin studying in great length. Everyone is different, but I found I never could really focus until I had an "oh shit" moment 2 weeks or so before I had scheduled an exam. It's the only thing that got me to really crack open the study materials and stop going out to the bar with friends. I've never been a big studier, so I blocked off two - three weeks before each exam to ignore the world and just crammed for the test. My wife didn't like the approach at the time but in retrospect she acknowledges it condensed the suffering to a few weeks rather than dragging it out.

Go ahead & skip over anything math related, focus on basic concepts. If you can't do a calculation in a minute or two with basic math it's not worth wasting exam time on them anyways. 

I'd eco the sentiment previous posters saying that it's important to block out the negativity surrounding the exams on forums. You'll see everything from someone who failed numerous times to those convinced the whole thing should be abolished because NCARB is out to get them. Just keep a positive attitude and focus on yourself, keep pushing & you'll get there in time. It doesn't matter if you fail, only that you pass eventually.

Mar 15, 21 5:21 pm  · 
1  · 

Yes, the exams are not that difficult. I know several people with very low levels of architectural knowledge and little to no work experience (AXP fraud, don't ask) who completed the whole thing in about 12 months or so. You will fail 1 or 2 no matter what, so don't quit when that happens.

Mar 15, 21 6:01 pm  · 

Now adays you don’t need to have your AXP done prior to the exams. I passed all of my exams well before I completed my hours. I don’t think the exams are easy, but I do think it has just as much to do with mentality & commitment as it does architectural knowledge. When you fail an exam
it stings, but you just have to keep rolling. Too many people fail an exam or two and give up.

Mar 16, 21 8:26 am  · 
t a z

Are we abandoning the "ARE Discussion Central" thread?  There was some good stuff there.

My $0.02 for things others have not yet touched on.

Exam sequence:

There's a fair amount of overlap between several of the exams so it makes sense to group those divisions to consolidate study efforts.  Depending on if you want to start easier or harder, this is what worked for me.

1/2. PJM or PCM (to ease into the testing routine and get AIA contracts out of the way - most memorization required)

3. CE (short!  good to close out anything AIA contracts related)

4. PA (could float anywhere in the order, is the most stand-alone exam)

5/6. PPD or PDD (very similar material, but also the 2 longest exams which theoretically cover the broadest range of possible topics).


I had the misfortune of taking (1) of the new 5.0 exams.  You have to get familiar with the digital whiteboard so just get in the habit of using it with practice exams.  It's like taking a test with MS Paint, but I will withhold further commentary.

NCARB provides standard reference equations and tables with the exam.  I never needed to use anything from the reference section, not even once.  As best I can guess, it's a holdover from previous ARE incarnations.

Mar 15, 21 8:47 pm  · 
1  · 

Here's the link to ARE Discussion Central. Sometimes people might miss seeing it and start a new thread.

Take a chance to look there and there's no need to abandon the ARE Discussion Central thread so I am kindly noting it for the resources and thoughts given in that thread that can help the OP of this thread and others.

Mar 16, 21 7:19 am  · 

I had good luck using almost exclusively Ballast (for ARE 4.0) as well as some old textbooks from school on building construction, structures, MEP, etc. 

Mar 16, 21 7:50 am  · 

Hi everyone, I just wanted to get some feedback. I am starting to study again and trying to find more study material as I prepare to restart taking exams. I ran into this book Would you guys recommend this. Thinking about getting it. Thanks! 

Jul 24, 21 11:49 am  · 

i tried out alot of the suggestions on here and i found that black spectacle practice exams were the best way to study for me

Jul 24, 21 2:30 pm  · 
Yo. Arch exam prep and youtube. You will be set! Best part is you can take your studies on the trails if you want to get out and the rays. Worst part of studying was sitting in a damn room all day. Get the audio files!
Aug 5, 21 9:54 pm  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: