How I passed ARE Exam 4, Project Planning and Design, after failing it once


This is a report from Elif Bayram on the ARE 5.0 Community.

She took the ARE Exam 4 once, failed it, then took it again and passed.

She’s a big believer in taking the exam later in the day, and studying for the exam on its own. She also advises using multiple resources and creating your own practice questions.

She advises using MEEB, Heating, Cooling, and Lighting, the Building Code, and Simplified Engineering for Architects.

For more information, check out my guide on how to study for the ARE Exam 4, or read on for the original post.

Original post

Hello ARE family!

After almost 2 years of studying so hard, I finally passed PPD and PDD before the end of 2019 and I am done with AREs. I passed first 4 exams in 9 months, all at my first try and got stuck with PPD and PDD like most of you. Took me 2 tries to pass PPD and 3 tries to pass PDD. It has been a while but I will try to wrap up some bullet points for everyone studying for PPD and PDD. Here we go:


– I do not think that PPD and PDD are similar exams, therefor they should NOT be taken closely. It should be at least 4 to 6 weeks in between. 

– Take this exams later in the day. I have tried 8-9 am in the morning for both first times, like all of my other exams however I passed PPD/PDD when I took exams around 11-11:30am. This two, especially PPD, are the hardest of them all. (Look at the glorious pass-rates (rolling my eyes here) ) There is a huge stress about this exams and when you wake up in the morning it is good to give yourself some time to calm down before starting the exams. Besides me and a lot of other friends I know, couldn’t sleep well the night before the exams, so you may need to take a little more morning sleep before you go.

– Check your calendar before scheduling the exams. You should do this for all of your exams basically but it is way more important to make sure that there is nothing important scheduled during the exam date when it comes to PPD/PDD.

  • Don’t listen anyone who tells you they passed this exams just reading Ballast, or just watching Amber videos etc. (I have nothing against this materials btw, just used them as examples) No single material is enough for passing this exams! Honestly every time I hear someone saying something like this, I get super suspicious… Unless you have extensive knowledge about all of the content due to your daily job, such as you are a professor at a college or something, don’t listen people who says otherwise. Brace yourself to study A LOT to pass PPD/PDD
  • There is unfortunately a luck element in this exams, especially for PPD. The content is so broad, some people (very few though) get lucky and gets a good batch of questions that aligns with their background perfectly and voila! they pass! So, that is why they say they passed so easily, only studying for 40 hours or only reading Ballast. It is very rare, again look at the pass-rates. There is huge risk that it will not happen to you, until you learn a great deal of the content. For instance, when I passed this tests, it felt like they were very easy cause I almost read everything on the planet:)) So it finally aligned with my knowledge. Or when I failed PDD first time, I was soooo close to pass and later on I told myself that if I passed back then, it was gonna be super unfair to a lot of people, cause I didn’t deserve to pass.

– Failing is sucks! But it is part of the deal. Be ready! Again look at the pass rates and remember people had 3 trials in a year to pass and still only 42% of test takers could pass PPD. There are bunch of reasons for this low pass-rates and NCARB MUST TAKE some RESPONSIBILITY but they don’t and  it is what it is. Be prepared. Don’t beat yourself so much. Keep studying, make sure you are reading your stuff and learning the content.

– Take PPD first and PDD after. Start from larger scale and go down to smaller to have a better grasp on content.

– Try to really understand content so hopefully you can answer all the tricky questions. A,“enough to pass exam” approach doesn’t work with this two exams. You can’t memorize enough to pass, you need to actually know them.


I read almost everything in the Reference List and even some more. I felt dumb! I asked the question you are asking now; Why do I have to read so much? Answer is: this exams are very hard and there is not enough information in the Handbook so you need to flip every stone and make sure you covered everything before going to exam. Handbook only gives you very few sample questions per exam, which is a joke that no one but NCARB is laughing, but again it is what it is. So READ as much as you can! Even though I read more, here are the books that stood out for each exam.


– MEEB! Don’t listen who tells you otherwise, especially if you have taken this exam more than once. Pay attention all the diagrams and graphics in this book and read it. I read it twice! Sounds unhealthy I know but I got sick of failing and anger kept me going. 

– Heating Cooling Lighting: I think this book is the key to pass PPD. I read this twice too.

– Building Code: Memorize occupancy types, where is which information in code. Time yourself to see if you can find any information in code within a minute. Really spend time on code, passing PPD = Knowing Building Code.

– Architectural Acoustics Illustrated, Michael Ermann

– Simplified Engineering for Architects, Part-I. I love this book, great to understand structural stuff conceptually.

-Structural Design, A Practical Guide for Architects – Chapters 1 & 2

– Maybe Sun, Wind, Light – if you haven’t already read it for PA

– All questions you can find: ARE 3.1 and 4.0 questions, Ballast 4.0, 5.0, Kaplan 4.0-5.0, Designer Hacks, Amber, Hyperfine, WEARE etc..


– On top of the books above, Architectural Graphic Standards is a MUST for PDD. Try to review all details. This book is not for reading in my opinion, it is more like to review the details and make sure you can answer each element on the detail, once you covered the notes. 

– Building construction _ principles, materials, and systems-Pearson- Madan Mehta_ Walter Scarborough_ Diane Armpriest – (2013) This book is the reason why I passed PDD. Read the whole thing and took chapter end quizzes. 

  • Review you MEEB notes

– All questions you can find: ARE 3.1 and 4.0 questions, Ballast 4.0, 5.0, Kaplan 4.0-5.0, Designer Hacks, Amber, Hyperfine, WEARE etc..

DO NOT FORGET, I almost read or thoroughly reviewed everything in the Reference Materials and this are the books I found the most relevant. This list is not enough to pass.


I have not been a huge fan of relying entirely on 3rd party materials, however test-taking is a great strategy to solidify your learning. So I used and liked:

-Young Architect Academy – Bootcamp: It is more like a study group, not a quiz website but I think it was very helpful to me. I cannot thank Michael Riscica and my fellow Bootcampers enough. I couldn’t pass without their support.

-Designer Hacks questions


  • Ballast 4.0 and 5.0 questions


-Find your way: Try to find a method that is enjoyable to you, or at least sustainable. Take notes, make flashcards, make your own questions, study with a friend etc… Don’t just read passively. Try to include one or more active learning methods into your studying.

For example, even at my early days of studying, I had noticed and complained that there were not enough sample question and I decided to write my own questions. Every-time I read something that felt worth to note, I turned it into a question. It was the best way of learning for me. I ended up writing around 600 questions combined for PPD and PDD. And…I am planning to share them with ARE community soon. I have shared them with a lot of people while I was studying and I got great feedback so now I think it is my responsibility to share them with everyone else or I will go to HELL:) 

-Join or form study groups. I think reading a book with other people or solving questions together was very helpful to me.

  • Only do quizzes and solve questions two weeks before your exam. Stop reading books, only search stuff when you couldn’t get a question correct. Try to take same quizzes again and again until you consistently score 70%  and above. If you are getting 45% on one Designer Hacks 10 question quiz and 85% on the next one, it is not a good sign. Consistency shows that you learned the content.


Passing PPD and PDD took 11 months of my life. It is hard to pass them but IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE! I am foreign educated and worked in Turkey for 5 years before moving here. I have 4 years US experience too however my base knowledge comes from another country and it makes a difference I believe. English is not my native language. I have a two year old who was 5 months old when I started taking AREs and we have no family living in the states to help us and my husband was also going through his licensing exam for physical therapy so it was a mad house for about 2 years! I had a full time job (which required me to work min 12  hours a day sometimes)  during 7 months of that 11 month marathon. I took a huge financial risk and quit my super demanding job to be done with AREs. Spent so much money on books, online prep materials on top of losing income for months so I lost the count on cost…However I did it! You CAN DO IT TOO! DO NOT GIVE UP! Ask friends and family to support you, get every bit of help you can. Tell people that you are studying and if your co-workers judge you just ignore them. You dared to start this journey that they didn’t. You are trying to advance yourself in your profession. This is something you should be proud of! Don’t let failure make you forget this fact! After all, you are excelling in architecture, learning so much more and becoming a better version of yourself. So what if you had a bumpy road?! It is about staying in the game and you are killing it!

Wishing everyone Best of Luck!!! and Thank you very much everyone for all of your posts that helped me! 

PS: Here is my e-mail: Please let me know if you have any questions about PPD and PDD, I will try my best to find the answer with you. I am working on an idea to start some online gatherings to go through my questions that I mentioned above. Send me an e-mail if you are interested so we can start it together.

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