How I passed ARE Exam 5, Project Development and Documentation, on my first attempt


This is a report from Esther Campbell on the ARE 5.0 Community.

First, she warns that the exams seem to vary drastically from person to person, so she’s not sure how helpful any specific topics are for any specific exam. However, she still recommends studying specific topics (like those I put in my study guide), rather than any topics in general.

She’s happy that she took the exam, as she was considering rescheduling it, and found it very helpful to study for exam 4 and exam 5 simultaneously. In fact, she took exam 5 only four days after exam 4.

Her main materials were Architect’s Studio Companion, Building Construction Illustrated, and Ballast. She has a long list of topics she focused on, which she wrote down below.

She warns that her test lagged, so test-takers should be prepared for some technical glitches. Also, she wants to let everyone know that, although failure is tough, this information is still useful in an architecture career.

For more information, check out my study guide to the ARE Exam 5, or read below for the original post.

Original post

Passed PDD on my first attempt!

THIS IS A VERY LONG POST so just skip to the sections you want to read!

I felt it important to include my whole experience for those who are struggling to get through this process — YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

<< PROLOGUE >>—————————————————————————

I transitioned from 4.0 with the 3+2 path. I studied and took PPD (my 1st 5.0 exam) last Friday – a week before I took PDD this past Friday. I chose not to look at the provisional pass for both exams… and just let myself unwind after the exam. As a friend of mine said, it feels even more devastating after 5 hours of stress to feel it all explode at once with a heartbreaking fail… might as well give yourself 24 hours to enjoy the accomplishment of simply FINISHING the exam because that IS a feat in and of itself so give yourself some credit regardless of the result! But on Saturday night, seeing the big red FAIL letters was a huge punch in the gut and I just need at least 2 hours of no-judgment crying. I felt like I prepared as best as I can given the time and circumstance I was in. After a whole day (Sunday) of feeling totally beaten down, I was ready to pull the trigger and spend the $80 and reschedule my PDD exam. The wise counsel of people around me (my husband and my parents) encouraged me to just take the PDD exam… and if I fail, at least I would have run through the exam once and know how to better study for the exam the next go-around. So I knew I need to just buckle down and think of a game plan for the 4 days I had left before my exam on Friday.

<< MATERIALS I USED >>—————————————————————

(again, I studied for PPD prior to taking PDD, so this list includes all the things I studied in preparation for both… because a lot of my PDD studying is just refinement on the foundations laid in studying for PPD)

  • Architect studio companion — Cover to cover
    • PPD — read and took thorough notes via pen and paper
    • PDD — honestly didn’t have time to review any notes taken from this book, but it helps to have had read it though it a couple weeks ago just as a good foundation
  • Building Construction illustrated — cover to cover
    • PPD — Read and took thorough notes via pen and paper
    • PDD — re-read specific section mentioned in the list below.
  • Architectural Graphic Standard
    • PPD — Read the chapters I felt like were relevant
    • PDD — re-read specific section mentioned in the list below
  • Ballast 5.0, PPD & PDD sections
    • PPD — Read and typed up very through notes
    • PDD — re-read specification sections mentioned in the list below
  • Dug out some 4.0 Materials to review and re-read notes that I types for CDS prep:
    • Ballast 4.0 CDS
    • AHPP

<< THE GAME PLAN … if you’re in a time crunch >>—————————–

In the 4 days, I had before my exam, I decided to just scour the forum and make a list of every topic that people felt like they encountered during the exam, and just focus my review on those specific topics. I figured if I knew those specific topics inside out… at least I would be able to answer those questions correctly. This method was good and bad at the same time…

This was a GOOD method because I didn’t feel overwhelmed about having to re-read BCI or AGS, just find the topics on the list, and read and take notes on those chapters. You open those books and you don’t even know where to begin… it’s like “I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING…”… but realistically… you can’t eat and digest everything so that it can be of some use during the exam.

This was a BAD method because all the exams are different! I got barely any lighting questions, which is what a lot of people stressed so I studied everything about lighting the most… and I got a ton of Door and Window questions – a section that I always just glanced over and never really took notes on in all my studying.

This list is a compilation of what Kurt Fanderclai, David Kaplan, Elise LaPaglia, Michelle Gonzales, Kristen Charters advised to focus on and I just organized it so that I can just tackle a few sections a day.


  • Fire/smoke detector types and best location of
  • Different types of system


  • Coordinating plumbing system with other systems
  • Invert distance


  • One-line diagram — how to read them, how they are arranged and simple concept behind them
  • Electrical distribution
  • Know the different types of bulbs (incandescent, fluorescent…)
  • Their properties (CRI, Kelvin, efficacy)
  • Know the appropriate amount of voltage for certain circumstances
  • Zonal cavity method
  • footcandles on a work surface


  • Thermal comfort indicators
  • Coordinating around mechanical systems
  • Directing detailed mechanical changes based on the design


  • Control  // isolation // construction joints
  • Water table and waterproofing
  • Vapor barriers — location in different climates
  • Flashing — location, connections…
  • Air gaps
  • Connections
  • Metal interactions


  • Fire separation
  • acoustic separation
  • Thermal insulation


  • How to calculate
  • How they relate to each other
  • k-value — thermal conductivity of a material


  • Moment and shear questions and how they relate to different design/ construction decisions
  • Seismic and wind design terms
  • Lateral system
  • Beam plans
  • Beam sizing
  • Equation: Fb = M/S & section modulus equation


  • Wood — grain patterns


  • Calculate the cost of a material if given a specific area/volume
    • Read the questions well, figure out what exactly they are asking for and do the best math that you can. Don’t forget to change to the correct units for your calculations.
    • Figuring out how much of a material was required for the question and multiplying it times the cost to get your answer.  Use the practice questions in the ARE Handbook to guide you through this


  • Navigating a CD set
    • Know how to read/coordinate drawings for Civil, Landscape, MEP, Lighting, structural drawings and where certain aspects of the design can be found
  • Specs & Project Manual
  • Changes to project scope and its repercussions


  • Egress sizes
  • IBC ch 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 29



  • Coordination of different systems and knowing where the responsibilities lie in correcting certain issues.
  • Watch out for units, i.e. question given in ft, answers in yards, etc.”


  • Door and window details — read through BCI section and that should be good enough depth.
  • *** (If you are a 4.0 transition-er) STUDY 4.0 CDS MATERIAL… I had probably 5 questions that were straight from my CDS exam. A LOT of overlap!!!***    

<< THE EXAM EXPERIENCE >>————————————————————

I am a fast test taker and a generous question flagger. My game plan was to be on question 50 when the test clock was at “3:00:00” (1 hr 15 minutes into the exam) and question 100 at “2:00:00” and give myself at least an hour for the case studies… take my 15-minute break afterward and then give myself an hour to review all the flagged questions.

I really feel for the candidate that talk about their horror experience of their computers crashing…In the middle of my case study, my computer was SUPER laggy… the construction document references were not loading… and then my computer totally froze and “lost internet connection”… I tried to click on the break button just to stop the exam clock because it was still rolling but everything was offline (except the exam clock). The proctor was checking in people and I didn’t want to leave my seat and waste precious exam time to wait for him… so I just stared at that one case study question for legit 3 minutes (the longest 3 minutes of my life). Eventually, my computer started working again and I lost around 5 minutes of time. (hopefully, I got that one case study question right….) On my break, I notified the Prometric proctor… but they said since I didn’t notify them at the time of the incident they cannot officially record the issue.

SO LEARN FROM MY EXPERIENCE — If you experience a lag in your computer/if your exam goes offline raise your scratch paper and stare at the question while you wait. Maybe this is common sense… but my brain couldn’t function. Stay calm, take deep breaths… pray. Haha. and just tell yourself to keep pressing forward.

<<  A NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT >>————————————————–

Studying for these exams feels like a huge sacrifice on time with family and friends. But followed with a pass it is great! But followed with a fail is really really crushing. I found that changing my mindset on WHY I was reading this material and NOT just reading to pass an exam help me push through the long hours and late nights. (Although, let’s be real, reading through building codes illustrated or Ballast isn’t exactly for-fun reading that you would do if not to study for an exam.)

I studied with the mindset that once I am licensed I will need to immediately stamp drawings… would I be comfortable to using my stamp? (which is the purpose of licensure, right?) Even if you know you aren’t going to use your stamp immediately, it helps to study with the mindset that you ARE going to be running a project on your own. You are reading to make sure you can communicate with your consultants intelligently, and design, plan, manage and build a project safely and responsibly. Which again, is the purpose of licensure! Maybe this is another common sense thing.. but sometimes we get bogged down in cramming information in our head and not reading to genuinely enrich ourselves as architects.

We never stop learning. We may be done with the exams (and would love to have a bonfire with our study guides to rid ourselves of the memories..) but I know the depth in our architecture career doesn’t stop at licensure. We are becoming wiser, better architects and people with every project and challenge we encounter.

With my ARE failures… My father always reminds me “If you think it’s difficult – everyone thinks it’s difficult. But because it is difficult to pass it has worth. If it was as easy as passing your driving exam, then everyone would be a licensed architect. The difficulty is what gives the licensure its value.”

So don’t give up! Keep pressing forward! You are gaining useful knowledge with each read/ re-read of Building construction illustrated!! You’re not alone! (I’m still on this journey with you with a PPD retake in November.)

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