How I passed the ARE Exam 1, Practice Management, in 1 month

This is a post from Patrick Edwards from the ARE 5.0 community.

He mentions that he first made the mistake of just reading the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice back-to-back, but didn’t find it helpful.

What he found helpful instead were these 6 steps over the course of a month:

  1. Start by familiarizing himself using the Ballast text
  2. Watch all the Schiff Hardin lectures
  3. Take the Designer Hacks PCM test
  4. Go to AHPP and focus on weak spots
  5. Retake Designer Hacks until you score above a 93%
  6. Watch the ARE live mock exam

To learn more, check out my post on how to study for the ARE Exam 1, Practice Management, or read below for the original post.

Original post

Howdy NCARB Community,

Glad to be posting from the other side of Pass #2. I passed PjM in early Jan, and posted my thoughts. I have general test-taking tips there, I’d recommend a look if you’re starting out and need some focusing.

Again, very impressed with NCARB’s test-writing. Nothing on the test was pure rote memorization, but because I had familiarized myself with all the testable areas, I was able to think critically and reason through to the right answers, just as if I were a practicing architect. And to those of you who are studying like a student – aka just to pass – you have the wrong mentality. You need to be studying like a professional – absorbing the material with the mindset of how you would apply it to your own practice and work experience.

I estimate I spent 3 months total studying. The first 2 months were reading the AHPP in sequence, according to PluralSight’s guide. I read 900 pages with little retention before realizing I needed to be much more efficient. Since I’m starting AXP at about the same time, most of the concepts were new and rarely used in my work (govt) and I couldn’t just intake mostly new concepts completely cold.

So – I switched tactics, and it worked out really well:

Strategy: In order to read the AHPP at the depth/nuance required, go general/overview first.

After watching NCARB’s PcM Intro Video,

Step 1: I used Ballast to familiarize myself with the basics. I read the PcM section a few times so that I made sure I had a good understanding of the concepts. They do a decent job of synthesizing the concepts down to the essence. On a related note, although their tests are the hardest out there, it doesn’t mean they’re the best.

Step 2: Schiff-Hardin lectures. I can’t speak highly enough about these. I know AIA contracts cold from just putting these on in my spare time. An outstanding post from Emily that is an “all 6 done” summary recommends listening to 6,7 – but I listened to them all and it was well worth my time.

(Review any other general/overview material you may have, to include Brightwood, or AEP if they ever get their act together and release it)

Step 3: Buy Designer Hack PcM test bank for $39. Although the questions are pretty elementary and lack nuance, the advantage it offers is a guarantee: 93% or better on their timed 85-question exam = pass PcM or money back. It was a fun way to go through questions and get opened to new concepts/terms. This allowed me to baseline where I was at overall, and identify my gap areas. Side note: DO NOT use this product in isolation. It is only useful if you’re studying and then use it as a barometer.

Step 4: Using your newly-identified gaps, go to AHPP and hone in on the sections you need to know. It will flow a lot smoother and you will have something to base on.

Step 5: Keep doing Step 3 until you CONSISTENTLY hit 93% (or higher)

Step 6: Watch ARE Live/Black Spectacles Mock exam

By Step 6, it should all be Blah Blah Blah Yeah I know this…

The test itself: it’s not surprising that it has the highest fail rate. That was a sturdy 2.75 hours, only 2-3 real gimmies. Again, like PjM, I went straight to the case studies. The advantages are: you’re fresh, and the resources usually help you out with a few answers in the first 60 multiple questions.

Case studies: USE YOUR RESOURCES. I kind of forgot that, and the first 6 case study questions I had a sinking feeling because I’d never even heard of some of these things. BUT keep in mind that if it’s a really minute specificity you’d only really know by looking it up – then it probably is, so try to find it in the case study resources. The Search box is your friend for unusual keywords. So I went and dug by efficiently searching the resources, and bingo found the information that led me to critically think my way to an answer. Keep in mind that almost nothing on these tests will be pure flashcard regurgitation. Always stop and think and make sure you’re answering what they’re asking, and providing the best response to the situation. Again – learn and test like a professional, not a student.

Then I went to the first 60 questions. All of them required thought and care based on things I should have known (financial reports, contract law, etc).

Probably the most important thing I can leave you with: if you memorize ‘what’ a term is, but only know the ‘words’ of what it is, but you don’t actually understand how it applies to the practice, what situations it would show up in, and what factors affect it, you probably won’t pass this exam.

Example (I made this up off the top of my head, and it’s not from the exam so don’t get your hopes up)

– Fast-Track delivery method uses multiple prime contracts and is used for compressed deadlines


– Fast-Track is used by a client who is under a lot of pressure because they have big loans and want to pay off interest as soon as possible. They’re willing to compromise and have a more generic building so that the foundation and structure can get going quickly. The architect will take on risk and so they’ll need to worry about what supplemental conditions to the contract might be needed in case things go south, what “points of no return” need to be built in, etc…

Ask your co-workers and principals what the terms you’re studying mean to them. Ask your company accountant about cash vs accrual accounting. Your understanding of the application will help you answer these test questions.

Good luck!!!

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