How I passed the ARE Exam 4, Project Planning and Design


This is a report from Pavan Iyer from the ARE 5.0 Community.

He recommends the Hyperfine guides, the Architect’s Studio Companion, Building Codes Illustrated, Building Construction Illustrated, and Architectural Graphic Standards. He recommends cross-referencing these guides a lot.

He also recommends not only knowing concepts, but also always knowing the answers to these 3 questions for each concept:

  1. “Where does the water go?”
  2. “What happens in case of a fire?”
  3. “How much does this cost?”

He also has a lot of specific recommendations on what to study, which I’ve put into my guide on how to study for Project Planning and Design. You can also read on for the original post.

Original post

Hi everyone, provisionally passed PPD yesterday and started the New Year (today) with the official pass! Next to my books, this forum has been my most helpful resource, so thought I would try to give back with my own wisdom on PPD (arguably the most broad and challenging of the tests), as well as bonus advice I have for NCARB to rethink how these tests are done.

There have already been tons of posts of study materials, so I’m just going to take a rambling approach to giving advice so I can basically knowledge dump while the exam is still fresh on my mind:

– If you have not checked out Hyperfine’s study guide to the PPD/PDD exam, I highly recommend it. In general, I do not recommend using 3rd party exams/materials much for PDD or PPD, but Hyperfine was very very helpful, especially the study questions and one-sheet study guides.
– Architect’s Studio Companion was by far the best resource, focusing primarily on the structures chapter and systems chapters (both passive and active are important).
– I jumped a lot between Building Codes Illustrated, Building Construction Illustrated, and Architectural Graphic Standards (also a very helpful resource, and I am pretty sure they pull a lot of questions from this book). What I found was key to studying for PPD was not just studying one resource at a time, but cross-referencing them, including between books and Google/Youtube. I would also advice to make sure you know concepts, but continually ask detail questions to take that next level of understanding.
– For systems, make sure you have a complete understanding of not just what system is appropriate in what situation, but how the systems are distributed throughout the building.
– Know different ways electricity is distributed, types of electrical wires (and cost implications), what distribution methods are cheapest and which are most flexible for electricity, know how to read the one-line diagrams for different phases of power distribution, very simple once you do it once or twice. Know when which phase needs to be used (one vs three), and what the voltages are for each situation of building type.
– Know how power gets from the street to the building, understand where the transformer goes, know the types of transformers, where to locate transformers in different situations, know where the power meter goes in different situations, and always do your best to understand how the location of these electrical elements impact design decisions in the event of a fire (architecture 101 in the real world).
– For plumbing, know how stormwater and sewer flow out of the building. Know the different types of piping materials (ABS vs PVC vs PEX vs copper) and why/when they are used. Know spatial implications of plumbing walls.
– Understand and do a problem related to plenum depths. Know what runs through the plenum and what general strategies are for reducing the depth. Know the implications of duct shapes and sizes (in regards to efficiency, space, and noise).
– For HVAC, know all-air vs all-water vs hybrid systems and when each one is appropriate. Especially know how air and water flow diagrammatically through a building, including chimney, boiler, chiller, and cooling tower locations. Know what goes in a fan room (fresh air intake is almost always needed, as well as exhaust). Know acoustical, air quality, and, of course, fire implications of the locations of these things.
– Make sure you know your passive systems and what climates they are most appropriate for, and which ones are the most efficient for each climate. Go the extra mile and learn how double skin facades work, how sunshades should be oriented, etc. Know where your major heat losses happen in a building.
– Like PDD, know where the vapor barrier goes. In general, what always has helped me with anything architecture is that water needs to go away from the building and that heat is always looking for that cold, condensing surface.
– Know how to orient your building and in which climate to do it. 99% of the time, the best way to orient a building is on the E-W axis. Consider also how things like glare/views are impacted by this orientation (i.e. heat gain/southern exposure isn’t the only factor driving an EW orientation in some cases).
– Know implications of green strategies on building structure and systems. Does a passive system get you off the hook for active (what climate are you in)? Does a green roof impact your structure? Also how does everything impact cost (another architecture 101 real world question)
– Know how wind pressure works and how wind loads affect a building.
– Know basic earthquake stuff, seismic failures in particular. Know the cost and spatial implications of one seismic strategy over another (what can a rigid frame do that a braced frame can’t, for example). Know the different types of seismic failures. Know how different materials react to seismic.
– Know implications of materials/structural systems on acoustics and MEP systems. What materials/systems are best acoustically for particular programs (especially ones where acoustics are important)? What do you have to consider when designing MEP systems for different types of structural systems?
– Knowing masonry was helpful (mortar types, how brick walls fail, face brick vs common, etc). Same advice for concrete (types of joints, failures, R-values, acoustical properties), steel (connections, shear vs bending failures, reaction to fire). Know general spans for the different types of structural systems for each material.
– Know your ADA stuff. Memorizing Chapter 3 and 4 go a long way (chapter 5 and 6 almost as important). However, biggest test taking tip I would have is to mark pertinent code questions in your general multiple choice for later review. There is always a chance that the case studies will reference IBC and ADA.
– For IBC, make sure you know your occupancy types and how to determine it. Make sure you know how to determine occupancy loads. Know how these get you the amount of egress paths/exits you need. Know how to analyze a building and do code analysis, both for egress and ADA stuff. Practice doing this for a couple drawing sets you may have access to. Go the extra mile and change sizes of rooms and see how that impacts your egress.
– Know acoustics for sure. How does sound travel, NRC vs IIC vs STC, wall types/sections (also know rated wall types), sound mitigation strategies (staggering studs vs locating sources away from each other vs materials etc), and understand how sound travels and reverberates.
– Know lighting. Know types of light bulbs, the way each renders color, their impact on heating/cooling loads, efficiency, where they are most commonly used. Know the color temperature scale and where the different lights exist on it.
– Know how topography works for streets (architecture 101 real world question: where does the water need to go),
– For everything, especially sitework stuff, know implications on cost (excavating an underground garage is obviously more expensive). Know general slopes that are required for sitework. Know soil types and know foundations (and know which foundation is best appropriate and cost effective in which soil type and situation). Also, when taking the test, know what the client wants when there is a client mentioned in the question! Something that I struggled with was picking the answer for what I wanted (classic architect, amiright?), like underground parking is always great! But especially for the ARE, the answer is what the client wants, not just what works the best.
– Random things to know also include: historic preservation types, types of locksets, how fire alarm systems work, components of a fire alarm system, types of smoke/fire detection systems, embodied energy (I would recommend reviewing generally which materials require more energy than others to produce, should be a table in Building Construction illustrated), how to calculate solar angles, pyschometric charts, shear and moment diagrams, calculating deflection, and calculating static head.
– An obvious strategy, but my best piece of test taking advice that I did way more for this exam than others is striking out information that didn’t matter in the question and then eliminating the wrong answers. This was by far the most efficient way to get through the test quickly, I had over an hour left to review my answers (which is a good and bad thing, don’t second guess yourself too much, I would say, and stick with eliminating the wrong answers).

PPD is the broadest exam in my opinion, and I know most folks have advised to just know concepts. I highly recommend that you know concepts as well, but I even moreso recommend going the extra mile for each concept and learning more details on some of the nuances. Whenever I studied a concept, I continually asked myself three questions: Where does the water go? How do I plan for a fire? How much does this cost? These not only gave me some detailed understanding of things that helped for the test, but I think made me a better architect.

The last part of this post is a recommendation to NCARB because now that I’m done, I have the infinite wisdom of an architect to give advice 😉 There are too many tests and PPD and PA in particular are too broad (it’s odd to me that a standardized test has no standardized information to study). My un-solicited advice for ARE 6.0 is to reduce the number of tests from six to three in the following subject categories:

– Liability and project management (PcM and PjM).

– Building and site analysis (PA and PPD).

– Documentation and construction (PDD and CE).

These tests need to so badly be streamlined in content and focus. Having the process be 6 tests long and so all over the place in content not only makes it difficult to standardize competency for our profession, but creates barriers to actually becoming an architect (time and money are at the highest value in our industry). I also would imagine keeping up with six tests can be a logistical nightmare for NCARB as well. Reducing the amount of content and making the questions more purposeful and focused so as to actually gauge and test our competency as architects I think would make everyone, NCARB included, more successful and, of course, happier.

Good luck to all! It definitely feels amazing once you are done; It made it that much better going to sleep a candidate New Years Eve and waking up an architect for the start of 2019 🙂

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