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]


SS Vignette

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.

ss vignette

ncarb sample vignette program

ss vignette 2

ncarb sample vignette passing solution- upper level


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!!!



Back from Italy!

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.



palazzetto dello sport

palazzetto dello sport

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

Insulation Stuff (BDCS)


 :)  :(
Cellulose High recycle content
Low embodied energy
Cotton High recycle content
Low embodied energy
Vermiculite Might contain asbestos
Plastic Fiber


 :)  :(
EPS Not ozone-depleting
High embodied energy
XPS High R-value
High compressive strength
High resistance to water absorption
Polyiso Not ozone-depleting
Recycled content
High embodied energy
Polyurethane Not ozone-depleting
High R-value


 :)  :(
Sprayed Polyurethane
(Close Cell, High Density)
High R-value Ozone-depleting
 Sprayed Polyurethane
(Open Cell, Low Density)
Not Ozone-depleting Low R-value
 Icynene (Low Density) Good for retrofitting

Difference between Malleability and Ductility

“The difference between malleability and ductility is that malleability is the ability to deform easily upon the application of a compressive force, and ductility is doing the same with tensile force.

*Ductility is a mechanical property used to describe the extent to which materials can be deformed plastically without fracture.

In material science, ductility specifically refers to a material’s ability to deform under tensile stress; this is often characterized by the material’s ability to be stretched into a wire.

Malleability, a similar concept, refers to a material’s ability to deform under compressive stress; this is often characterized by the material’s ability to form a thin sheet by hammering or rolling. Ductility and malleability do not always correlate with each other; for instance, gold is both ductile and malleable, but lead is only malleable. ”