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:
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…
This is it – I did it I did it I did it!
The result came a little early – on a Thursday afternoon. After I saw the email from NCARB, I told my coworkers to give me a moment. I clicked, clicked some more and scrolled… there they were, the four big blue letters I was waiting to see all this time: PASS!!!! As I screamed and jumped around in the office like a mad person, I felt almost like someone winning an Oscars. Even though nobody was hurrying me to wrap up my speech, I was scrambling up a list of people I had to thank, figuring out what I had to say. I was definitely elated; but I was also incredibly grateful for all the love and support I have gotten along the way, the things I’ve learned, and more than anything just relieved that it’s finally coming to an end. I never knew my mind could be so full and so blank at the same time.
“Are there tears of joy? Squeals of excitement? Does the weight of the ARE albatross hanging around one’s neck suddenly disappear? …. As my moment arrived it was a strange amalgamation of those things, a deep exhale of relief while blinking back a tear. Upon reaching the light at the end of the tunnel one is enveloped in a warm sun lit glow of a perfect summer’s day. It’s the most intimate and yet all encompassing feeling. It’s not big or flashy, it’s simply tranquil.”
I went hiking last weekend, and what Jenny described is not unlike seeing this beautiful view after climbing painfully for 3 hours (1 of which we spent just being lost).
For those of you still battling the ARE, I wish you the best of luck. Like I said in my earlier post, it is supposed to be hard, otherwise everybody can do it. As far as I can tell, it’s totally worth it.
This will not be my final post – it’s interesting how one can realize so many things only in retrospect. And therefore I will continue to write. I will put together all the information I find useful and share them on this site. To quote my friend TJ, who happened to find out he passed his final test the same day I did, we all know this is only one step towards bigger things. So, stay tuned!
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:
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!
Since I am not supposed to disclose any contents of the exam, all I can do is to draw your attention to one point that I was (still am) very confused about, something that almost threw me off entirely.
In the sample SS vignette on NCARB’s official guide, instruction #11 says “The structure must accommodate a clerestory window to be located along the FULL LENGTH of the north wall of the common area”. In the sample passing solution, there are two columns in that north wall, hence, according to my understanding, violating the FULL LENGTH requirement.
People on the forum suggest that instruction #4, which says “Columns may be located within walls, including the window wall and the clerestory window wall.” means it’s ok to put columns in the middle of the wall. My interpretation is that you can put columns at the ends of the wall, not in the middle of it; it just sounds like two conflicting requirements to ask for “full length accommodation” yet allowing columns in it.
Anyway, all I am saying is that I was not aware of this before going into the exam and it took me a long time to decide whether to put columns in the middle of the wall or make the beam span longer than it’s supposed to- more than 40′, which almost cost me the whole test.
That said…. (I can’t believe) I passed!!! Other than this hiccup in the vignette everything was pretty reasonable, not too many curve balls and WTF questions. I am working on “visualizing ARE 4.0” diagram #3, hopefully can share it soon.
Retaking CDS next month… last one!! Almost, almost there!!!
After retaking SS on 23rd June, I went on a short trip to Italy, as a little reward for myself for all the studies I’ve done so far. I saw two buildings from Kaplan’s “notable buildings”… The Pantheon and Palazzetto Dello Sport. Pantheon I planned to see (duh), but Palazzetto Dello Sport I just randomly came across on my way to Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI. What a pleasant surprise! It was a humble, quiet gem in a less busy area of Rome. If you are going to Rome, make sure you don’t miss it!
Sure I learned about them in “architecture 101”, but seeing these beautiful structures after taking the exam help me appreciate them even more.
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.
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.
|Cellulose||High recycle content
Low embodied energy
|Cotton||High recycle content
Low embodied energy
|Vermiculite||Might contain asbestos|
|High embodied energy|
High compressive strength
High resistance to water absorption
|High embodied energy|
(Close Cell, High Density)
| Sprayed Polyurethane
(Open Cell, Low Density)
|Not Ozone-depleting||Low R-value|
|Icynene (Low Density)||Good for retrofitting|
source : etsy