ARE Prep: Construction Documents and Services

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I was excited to receive notification that I passed my latest ARE: Construction Documents and Services. For those just joining in on the series, the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) consists of 7 exams and is required to obtain an architecture license. This series of posts outlines the study tools I used in preparation and chronicles the journey towards my licensing goal.

As a reminder, ARE candidates are not allowed to share specific exam content, so please don’t ask.

photo credit: Marcus Hansson via photopin cc

photo credit: Marcus Hansson via photopin cc

 Materials I used for Construction Documents and Services

The construction documents and services (CDS) exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions and one building section graphic vignette.

For the vignette, I practiced with the NCARB software which you can find on their website here. Also available through the link is an exam guide for each section. I read through this before beginning my studies to get a good understanding of the type of content that would be covered and browsed the sample questions to gauge my knowledge on the topic and establish a baseline for my study timeline. I practiced the vignette about two times, and did not upload my solutions to the ARE Forum.

For the multiple choice, I used the following materials and resources:

NCARB Exam Guide

AIA Contracts (2007 Version) Available for free to ARE Candidates

Ballast Review Manual (comprehensive study book on all ARE divisions)

Ballast sample problems and practice exams

Gang Chen’s Mock Exam book

Schiff Hardin audio lectures on the legal perspective of architecture practice and contracts

AIA Contracts – A201 General Conditions Cliff Notes from forum user Laz. Search for it on the forum.

NALSA iphone flashcards during lunch breaks

Random browsing through Forum posts from those who passed and failed the exam

Browsed IBC and other codes online for free

Timeline for studying

I initially gave myself 1 month (4 weeks) to prepare for this exam. Due to work stress and life stress, I felt unprepared and extended my study time by 2 full extra weekends. (2.5 weeks) In the end I felt much more prepared going into the test, and I was glad I rescheduled. I think I would estimate about 4 weeks study time in general for this exam. While many people find the Schiff Hardin lectures very helpful, I found them to be only marginally useful because I am a visual learner and the audio format did little for me beyond what I read in the books. In terms of exam preparation, listen to the lectures if you are an audio learner, but skip them for now if you are a visual learner; create a summary outline of the AIA contract documents instead. (These lectures are still useful for general knowledge and understanding of legal implications in our industry, so listen to them at some point)

General Content Focus

The hard part about the multiple choice tests is that you can never know when you’ve studied ‘enough’. The content varies between candidates and there will be overlap between exams, too. Approximately half of the material I covered did not show up in my exam, and I had about 25 questions I flagged to review by the end of the test. At least 10 questions were completely left field or had little to do with actual construction documents. The key to content is to understand concepts and application. Understanding the roles and responsibilities (action items and legal implications) of all project team members is important when you get ‘scenario’ based questions. Plenty of questions will force you to put on your thinking cap and figure out what the question is really asking and how the hypothetical situation would be handled. I found this forum thread after my test and I think it is a good way to catch those tough or tricky questions:’s_Kick_the_ARE_MC_in_the_Butt.pdf  This list of questions is a good litmus test for where you stand in terms of preparation. If you know at least 70% of the answers, you are doing well. If not, keep studying.

General Tips and Tricks

I found that the vignette was rather straightforward and did not require any ‘input’ or creative solutions on my part warranting a review of my solution from the forum. The building section vignette should be simple if you pay close attention to the program, double check your drawing and make sure everything aligns. All of the information is given to you in either graphic or written format, so simply ‘following directions’ in your section drawing should be enough. I did review some other member’s solutions to see what the common mistakes were (incorrectly sized ducts, missing an item that should show up, using the incorrect wall type, etc.). Again – pay close attention and double check everything.

For the multiple choice questions, I found that they were not as easy as the NCARB practice questions. They felt more on par with the Ballast and Chen books in terms of wording, phrasing, and general content. While studying I found many of the questions in the study books to be confusing, poorly phrased and full of errors (grammar, spelling, etc.). Ultimately I found that these ‘poorly framed questions’ were actually very similar to the real test questions. Some of the exam questions made me wonder if it was a statement and not a question. Get used to the study books and it should serve you well come exam time.

Remember: More concepts, less facts.

Here are some helpful forum links that may be beneficial as review after core studying:

Study Notes

Forum CDS index

ADA flashcards and more ADA flashcards

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  • Dancy

    These blog posts on the ARE have been very helpful. 3 down and 4 to go. Thank you for posting

    • I’m glad to hear that, Dancy! Good luck on your next few – you’ll be done before you know it!


    This is a great post. Thank you for share this preclear, and direct guide how to study CDS.

    This link is broken:’s_Kick_the_ARE_MC_in_the_Butt.pdf
    Please, Maybe do you have the Pdf copy and would you like to share it?

    • Hi, I’ve noticed that link can be problematic. Try pasting just the first portion into your browser and then find the PDF within the list of documents. Go to then look about 1/3 the way down the page for the PDF. Hope that works!


        Thank you, for your fast answer. I got it.
        The list of questions that direct to the AREFORUM, I did not get it. Because Areforum is out. Do you have that list of questions?
        The Book of Gang Chen is around $ 50 dolars. Are you selling yours for less? Let me know.
        Thank you,


    “This list of questions” This link redirect to Areforum and it is out. Is there other way to get that “list of questions”?

  • The resources that are working here are great.

    Additionally, I just made a quiz for CDS that randomly pulls 25 questions from a pool of over 100. Some people might find it useful as a study tool in it’s own right. It certainly helps gauge where you’re at.

    • nikki neel

      I like your quizzes. thanks

  • wincelhaynes

    Creative discussion . Incidentally if people need to fill out a AIA Document A101 , my friend saw a template document here