ARE Prep: Programming Planning and Practice

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Next on the ARE chopping block is Programming Planning and Practice. Two weeks after taking Site Planning and Design, I dove into PPP and just received my pass notification. Following the same format as the previous ARE Prep articles, I’ll review the materials and study tips I found to work best for me. Be sure to read the other ARE Prep articles for more tips, tricks and resources.

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

photo credit: Stefano Montagner via photopin cc

photo credit: Stefano Montagner via photopin cc

Materials I used for Programming Planning and Practice

Programming Planning and Practice (PPP) exam consists of 85 multiple choice questions and one graphic vignette: site zoning.

For the vignettes, 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 twice, using the NCARB example and an alternate from the ARE Forum. I uploaded my solutions but did not receive any feedback (which I take as a good thing).

The best resource I found for the vignette was Brudger’s method. The PDF is a bit long-winded, but the method worked well.

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

NCARB Exam Guide

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

Ballast sample problems and practice exams

Gang Chen’s Mock Exam book

Architectural Handbook

NALSA iphone flashcards during lunch breaks

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

Be sure to check out all of the online and free study materials I’ve used or plan to use for ALL exams here.

Timeline for studying

I began studying for site planning and design concurrently with programming planning and practice. Cumulatively, I spent about 3 weeks preparing for programming planning and practice. This is exam is purported to have lots of overlap with Construction Documents and Services as well as Site Planning and Design. Fortunately, I took both of those exams prior to programming planning and practice. PPP is tied for the lowest pass rate along side BDCS. It is often attributed to the exam covering a wide range of material, but I believe it is rather due to the conceptual nature and overlap with the aforementioned exams rather than a ‘randomized’ smattering of questions. If studying concurrently, allow about 3 weeks dedicated to PPP concepts. If studying for this exam alone, allow 4-6 weeks to review CDS and SPD concepts as well as focused PPP material.

General Content Focus

Programming Planning and Practice is difficult mainly because you will be presented with multiple ‘correct answers’. The challenge is figuring out which is the best or most correct answer. Construction Documents and Services questions will pop up through all tests, so be sure to do a once-over review of the contracts. Understand programming concepts, review your history notes and make sure you understand the ‘practice’ aspect of architecture as it relates to running a firm, contracts and risk management. PPP was the first test I saw any history questions, but they made up a large percentage of the exam. For a history review, understand eras, movements and basic aesthetics attributed to each (knowing the top ‘famous’ structures’ for each period or movement is a good start).

General Tips and Tricks

The vignette appears straightforward, but it is crucial to pay extra close attention to all the requirements and execute them exactly. Remember that setbacks are maximum limitations, so if in doubt, stay ‘under’ the limit by a click or two.

For the multiple choice questions, think about broad concepts and how they apply to the question at hand. Think critically about why your answer is the best answer and be sure to review Flat’s Kick the ARE MC tips for how to approach the MC questions: http://ironwarrior.org/ARE/Flat’s_Kick_the_ARE_MC_in_the_Butt.pdf

Remember: More concepts, less facts.

I’ve created a spread sheet with links to all of the materials I’ve found and you can find it here. There is a tab for each division and items in bold are things I felt were especially helpful. Don’t forget you can also check out my Amazon store for direct links to study books if you need to purchase them. I find that the Ballast and Chen books in combination with the NCARB practice exam are enough for me to feel confident in the material.

The next posts will cover Building Systems, Building Design & Construction Systems and Structural Systems. Yep, I’m planning to take all 3 before the blackout. See you on the other side!



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  • Jeremiah Russell

    I keep hearing that BDCS and PPP are the most difficult. I took BDCS and studied for maybe 2 weeks. In my opinion it was one of the easiest second only to CDS. I’m taking PPP next as well (as soon as the blackout is over). Good luck. I hope you pass! 🙂

    • Technically, they are the ‘most difficult’ due to tying for the lowest pass rate. I think the difficulty factor is that they cover a wider range of topics and the questions can be very specific and/or worded very strangely; it can trip some people up. Good luck on PPP!

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