Watch youtube videos at speed 2x

When one is tired of reading lengthy study materials, sometimes watching explanatory youtube videos is a good way to take a break, while still getting some studying done. The problem is, while some videos are informative, they are often at a very slow pace, some even more boring than plain text.

Recently my friend Ninad shared a simple trick with me to overcome this – he said to simply watch the videos at twice the speed. It works surprisingly well! Even the narration can still be understood. Use this one as an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ_8aPTydr4

youtube speed

Click on the little gear icon to speed up the video

For vidoes like these, ones that just give you a little bit of visual aid/ big picture rather than specific details, I think this is the way to go. Now you can be twice as efficient!

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My ARE 4.0 Timeline

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

People always ask how long it takes to study for one exam, and the answer is often a generic “it depends”. Since it’s close to impossible to have an objective standard to base one’s study time on, I can only share my own journey with you. Here’s what it looks like, my own ARE timeline with my morale/ spirit/ emotion line running parallel:

click on image to get full resolution

click on image to get full resolution

I have included my trips in the chart, represented by the empty boxes, and I think those are the only days that I genuinely wasn’t studying at all (not even reading on the train). For the studying days, lighter colors are more laid-back studies (procrastinating in the library) and darker colors are more intense studies (studying while eating lunch).

Not included are office deadlines, birthdays, Christmas, as well as all the ups and downs of my personal life. As you can see I didn’t spend too much time in the “sane” zone- the line rises and plummets like the stock market. I am sure everybody has their own struggles and their own version of this curve that, only after it’s over, and only from a distance, can you see that the highs eventually outweighs the lows.

Walking out of it I do see a lot of things that I totally would have done differently if I knew better, but I guess one can say that about a lot of things in life. This is just a retrospective diagram that illustrates what I did, and I by no means suggest anyone follow it.

On a side note, NCARB recently published a document called “NCARB in numbers“. It says that people with a master’s degree on average take 1.81 years to complete the exam(page 28). I spent 1.33 years, so I guess you can see it as a sample timeline of a person with a master’s degree, slightly on the short side.

So that’s the past 16 months of my life in a glance. I will write more about each specific exam later…

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

ARE 4.0 according to NCARB

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Hi everyone! I have taken my CDS exam last Thursday, and now the only thing I can do is to wait patiently for the result. Meanwhile, I have finally found the time to make the third diagram of my “visualizing ARE 4.0” series. It really is a combination of the first two. Here you are:

Click on image to get full resoluation

Click on image to get full resolution

After taking all 7 tests (and retaking two of them), I realized one of the biggest pitfall most people encounter lies in the discrepancy between the content of the published textbooks and NCARB’s syllabus. Think about it, NCARB is the actual organization who makes the tests, while Kaplan and Ballast are just publishers who provide general information about those topics, and there is NO official coordination between the two. So when one starts studying, it is very very important that one goes to NCARB’s exam guide first.

For example, NCARB’s guide states clearly that there will be 4-12% project management questions in SPD, but if you only read through the two textbooks, there is no mention of project management at all under SPD. If you didn’t know about that, there will be a good 4-12% of the exam that seems to come out of nowhere. Also, even if you get the content areas right, make sure you pay attention to the distribution too. For example, almost 60% of SS is made up of seismic, wind and lateral forces, which is totally not proportional to what’s in the study materials.

Going back to my new diagram, the percentages in the pie charts are taken directly from NCARB, while the dots below are roughly what I think would make up that percentage. The topics are ballast chapters, but it’s more about the subject matters. Obviously, the more dots the more important it is in that division. Here are my comments:

***

PPP: Definitely read the AIA contracts.

SPD: Read part of the CDS for project management. Also read some BS stuff related to sustainability.

BS: “Vertical Circulation” (elevators, escalators etc) is included in Kaplan but not Ballast.. Ballast lists it under BDCS. I think it falls under “specialties” and therefore is part of BS. Other than this, there are not too many surprises in this one. Studying back to back with SPD might help but not necessary. 

BDCS: Same with SPD, there are significant project management questions. Know your AIA contracts. Also sustainability stuff from BS/ SPD.

SS: Not too many surprises in terms of scope, but while the fundamentals are important, make sure you focus a good chunk of your energy on lateral forces. Don’t get hung up on stuff like wood equations.

CDS: Not too many surprises either, but expect one or two questions from pretty much every division in it.

Overall: Always read ADA, IBC, and brush up your history.

***

All in all I am just trying to point out the importance of reading NCARB’s official guides first. To conclude, diagram 1 is a general overview of the 7 divisions, diagram 2 is a literal illustration of the number of pages, and diagram 3 is ultimately what I think is the minimum amount of stuff you need to know walking into the test. I hope all three combined will give you a comprehensive picture of what the test is like.

I am going to relax and not think about the test until I get my results (supposed to come at 6am this Friday!). For those of you still studying, keep calm and carry on! Good luck!

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Studying Outside

Talking about my favorite place to study, I am lucky to be in NYC with plenty of options. I like to mix it up, you name it- home, starbucks, office, on the train… and Bryant Park is definitely one of my favorites. For a nice warm Saturday, 2 hours in the beautiful NY public library and 2 hours under the sun in the park makes a pretty productive afternoon. It’s kinda tempting to people-watch, but at least it takes the pressure off and makes studying a little bit more enjoyable.

Few days before my SS rematch, I’ll just have to power through it.

Studying in Bryant Park

Studying in Bryant Park

(re)Starting with Flash Cards (SS)

Coming back from a two-week vacation in Hong Kong, it’s time to get back to study mode again. This is also about exactly one year since I took my first test, so maybe it’s a good time for a recap. For your reference, I did:

April 2013 – SD – pass
June 2013 – SS – fail
June 2013 – PPP – pass
Sept 2013 – BS – pass
Oct 2013 – SPD – pass

Nov 2013 – CDS – fail
Mar 2014 – BDCS – pass

In a nutshell, I passed 5 out of 7 tests in a year’s time, which I am pretty happy about. Looking back it might not have been the best testing order, but I was thrown off by the July-August blackout last year so it was different.

When I was studying for my BDCS exam, I realized it is extremely helpful to start with flash cards. I guess being familiar with the terminologies makes all the readings much easier. I also pin as much as I can on pinterest  cuz a lot of times pictures are better than words. As I prepare for my re-match with Structural Systems (SS), I plan to do exactly the same.

Kaplan Flash Cards

Kaplan Flash Cards

ARE 4.0 Reading

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [ Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

arewethereblog_ARE 4.0_reading

Click on image for full resolution pdf

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…

Visualizing ARE 4.0 [Part 1] [ Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

Study Mondays

IMG_3376

In general I study alone, I mean, it’s very hard to study “together” because everybody’s schedule and study modes are so different.

That said, I made plans to study with my friend Xiaopeng every Monday. It’s good to feel that you have some mutual support, and it keeps us going.  We usually just go to Starbucks, find a table and do our own thing. I made it through the “bidding process” chapter, I’ll all it a day!

 

List of Documents & the Project Manual (CDS)

List of Documents & the Project Manual

[CONTRACT DOCUMENTS]
Everything on the list

[BIDDING DOCUMENT]
Everything EXCEPT Contract Modifications

[PROJECT MANUAL]
Bidding Requirements
Contract Forms
Contract Conditions
Specifications

[CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS]
Drawings
Specifications

More info: AHPP on google books

By the way, if you want to write some study notes on a wall in the apartment like I did, you can buy the chalkboard paint from Benjamin Moore. They can make it ANY color. It’s kinda fun! They sell their standard colors online too.