How I passed the ARE Exam 4, Project Planning and Design, after studying for 2 months


This is a report from David Kaplan from the ARE 5.0 Community.

He studied for the exam for 2 months for about 8-10 hours per week.

He recommends the Architect’s Studio Companion, Building Construction Illustrated, the FEMA Earthquake Manual, and practicing cost estimation.

He also advises making sure you understand building form and it’s relationship to climate and sun movement patterns.

Last, he advises using unit conversion to help answer tricky calculations, as well as the equations that are given.

He does NOT recommend MEEB.

For more information, check out my guide to studying for PPD, or read on for the original post.

Original Post

Got the “provisional pass” at the end of the PPD test yesterday and official confirmation today.  Everyone’s study approaches and insights into this exam have been extremely helpful, thought that I would add to the discussion and offer my study approach: 

  1. I read Architect’s Studio Companion cover to cover.  This book really gives a great overview of structural and MEP systems, explains them in terms that are simple to understand.  It further covers Daylighting and Passive Systems design which is huge.  I liked as well that there was a very helpful summary of when certain systems should be selected (for example: minimizing first cost of system).  After reading the entirety of the book, I then reread these summary pages several times, and also looked over the MEP systems diagrams many times, just to become familiar with equipment layouts and the various components that make up each system.
  2. I read Building Construction Illustrated cover to cover.  To be honest, I think this book probably is better applicable to PDD.  It’s a lot like Graphic Standards, has a lot of details.  The structural systems parts were pretty good.  MEP – I thought ASC was much better.  Definitely think this is a good book though if you don’t have a lot of construction document experience, there’s lots of good details.  If you are studying for both PPD and PDD at the same time (which I HIGHLY recommend doing, as well as taking the tests close together), you can’t go wrong with this book.
  3. FEMA Earthquake Manual – Chapters 4 and 5.  Definitely glad that I read this.  I didn’t know much about seismic design going into this test, or how buildings reacted to seismic loads.  I sort of had an understanding of shear walls and bracing, but after having read this I have a much better understanding now.  It’s well written, has a lot of good diagrams, and is easy to understand. 
  4. Ballast 4.0 – Structural Systems – so I had this old 2010 Ballast book that my office had lying around.  The three things that I used this book for were Structural Engineering 101 type items: moment and shear diagrams, super basic calculations (what is the moment about point A?), and wind design (since FEMA didn’t cover this).  I skipped over any and all detailed calculations.  If NCARB was going to ask me to calculate how many bolts are needed in a shear plate of ½” thickness to resist 25 K of shear load, the answer was going to be “10” and I would move onto the next question.  I simply am not willing to relearn detailed structural engineering equations, and I will tell you that I am happy to report that this paid off and I did not need to do any of this on the exam.  Very glad that I went over the wind design concepts though.
  5. Site Planning and Design Handbook – I had read this book for the PA exam, and it is still applicable for PPD.  Pay particular attention to Chapter 10 – it covers use of evergreen and deciduous trees for things like blocking winds, dust, and sound.  Talks about landscape buffers and how to use them to help block sound and wind.  Don’t forget that this test covers Site Planning considerably.  It’s not just MEP and Structural systems. 
  6. Cost Estimating – I’ve seen a lot of people post on here as to what sources are good for cost estimating, and unfortunately, no one has really been able to cite anything.  What I did was just print out the ARE 5.0 Handbook and did all of the sample questions that involved estimating.  I redid them several times until I felt comfortable with them.  That was enough for me.

Some further insight:

  1. Have a solid understanding of building form and how the form relates to the climate that the building is in.
  2. Have a solid understanding about sun movement patterns and Daylighting Design approaches.  How does light enter a building?  What are ways to control how it enters the building?  What are ways to orient the building to maximize daylighting approaches?

Last piece of insight:

You will inevitably be presented with a calculation question that at first glance you’re like “uhhhhhhh I have no idea how to do this.”  Or, “I definitely did NOT study this.”  This happened to me a few times and here’s how I overcame this:

  1. I was able to finish all 120 questions with about an hour and a half left, which gave me time to go back to these questions and really sit and think about them.
  2. Look at the units to help you figure out how to approach solving the problem.  Let’s say that it’s a structural question and that the four multiple choice answers are all in lbs.  You’re given some sort of diagram with dimensions of a building on it and are told that there’s say 10 lbs/ SF force acting on a building.  So how do you get from that to an answer in lbs?  Think about it this way: if you multiply lbs per SF X SF, you will end up with an answer in lbs, because the two SF units will cancel each out.  So, that means that you must have to calculate the area of something in the diagram above to get SF. 
  3. Don’t forget that equations are often given to you.  I did end up using the reference material a couple of times, was a big help.

It was a tricky test, definitely required lots of studying.  You can get through this.  I was surprised by how much time I had left over after the exam.  It was very helpful because I had time to go back over every question, even those I hadn’t marked.  I was glad that I did because with a clearer mind, I saw that I had made a few errors and was able to correct them.  There was probably 5 questions that when I reread them, I realized that I had made a mistake and was able to fix it. 

Case studies I thought were very straightforward.

Onto PDD and hopefully an end to this licensing process!  Best of luck to all.

PS – the giant MEEB book is terrible.  I have it, I tried reading one section of it, and quickly said never again.  It is a terrible waste of money.  I forbid any of you to study from this book!!!!!!

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