The ARE seems to be such a mystery to a lot people. For those who are looking to get started, the two most asked questions are “What do they test you on?”, which I attempted to answer in my previous post, and “Is there a lot to study?”, which is what I try to answer in this post. Short answer, 1794 pages. Long answer…
I have made this diagram that visualizes how many pages there are to read in each test, from the two main publishers. Before we dive into the diagram above, I must make one point extremely clear:
Kaplan and Ballast are NOT the only books you have to read.
Kaplan and PPI (commonly referred to as “ballast”, after the author) are both publishers who publish ARE review materials. They seem to be the most popular, although I don’t know if NCARB has ever declared them “official” study materials. Some people study them exclusively while others say they are “complete waste of time”. If you go to “coach”‘s forum, you will see a diverse range of study materials and different opinions about these two publishers. Resources go from wikipedia, youtube to user-contributed notes, flash cards and quizzes, but that’s the topic for another post.
Nevertheless, Kaplan and Ballast are usually where people start. Kaplan publishes one book for each test and Ballast is one giant 800-page review manual. I broke them down to all the chapters so you can see the topics in each test. Since Ballast is one complete book, it does not repeat information if it’s included in two different exams, but only cross-references it between sections. Kaplan on the other hand, tends to repeat information in different books.
There are few things that this diagram doesn’t quite convey:
- Ballast is more technical and more wordy. For me it takes at least twice as long to read one page on Ballast compared to Kaplan.
- Some content areas are way heavier and more complicated than others. This is highly subjective, it really depends on your knowledge and work experience. Like for me, going through 10 pages of PPP’s “urban design” is like a walk in the park compared to 10 pages of SS’ “Seismic Design”. All I am trying to say is merely looking at the number of pages might not give you an idea of how hard the subject is.
- The “links” between tests are the most obvious ones, but there are many overlaps in general. You will know what I mean ones you start studying.
- These are pages for the multiple choice section only. You will also have to read and practice for the vignettes.
So here you go, my attempt to answer “how much do I have to read”. Not too surprisingly, SS is the winner, followed by CDS, BS, BDCS and PPP with more or less the same amount of reading, and then SPD has the least. The amount of time you have to spend on reading them depends on your test-taking order, familiarity with the subject matter and whether you focus solely on these two publishers or branch out to read materials from other sources.
Like I mentioned previously, getting started is the hardest thing to do. Once you get started, the more you read, the faster you read, and the more comprehensively you understand things. For me, the first 1-2 months were hell and everything got easier afterwards. I personally don’t like reading (architects are all visual people after all, right?), but I do have to say, there is so much I just can’t learn from work (nobody has time to explain to me how all different types of HVAC system works) and reading all the materials has helped me a lot professionally.
Again, please feel free to share this with whoever wants to know more about the ARE.
Now, back to my reading of the AIA contracts for my CDS test next Thursday…