ARE Prep: Building Design and Construction Systems

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Following up on my final three ARE 4.0 exams, I will review my preparation methods for Building Design and Construction Systems. Be sure to read the other ARE Prep articles for more tips, tricks and resources for each exam and learn how I got through 3 exams in just 6 weeks before the blackout.

As a reminder, ARE candidates are not allowed to share specific exam content, so please don’t ask. These are general overviews of what worked for me in terms of how to prepare.

photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc

photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc

Materials I used for Building Design and Construction Systems

The Building Design and Construction Systems exam consists of 85 multiple choice questions and three graphic vignettes: stair, ramp and roof design.

For the vignettes, I practiced with the NCARB software which you can find on their website here. I practiced the NCARB problems at least 3 times each, as these vignettes are tricky and can be time consuming. I posted my solutions and clarification questions about the vignettes to the ARE Forum for comment and feedback. 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.

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

NCARB Exam Guide

    Ballast Sample Problems

    Gang Chen Mock Exams

    Building Construction Illustrated

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

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

    Timeline for studying

    I studied for building systems, structural systems and building design and construction systems cumulatively for 6 weeks. I spent only about 1 week of dedicated time on Building Design and Construction Systems content, with additional coverage throughout the cumulative study time. Given that I passed, it is very doable, but I would recommend at least 3-4 weeks if the material is unfamiliar to you, and to allow time for practicing the vignettes several times each. I also recommend studying for Structures and BDCS concurrently.

    General Content Focus

    BDCS fluctuated between very specific and very broad. I found that most of the questions were either ‘dummy’ questions (you should know the answer if you were awake during college) or very difficult and you either knew it or you didn’t. While BDCS showed up in Structural Systems in a few areas, I found that BDCS was rather straightforward and on topic. For studying, try to be generally familiar with as many types of construction as possible (and the details that go with them), and know your construction vocabulary words.

    General Tips and Tricks

    The vignettes were tricky in that there are three of them, and you will likely feel a sense of panic to get them all done as quickly as possible. This can create a negative feedback loop of anxiety, time constraint and perfectionism paired with doubt. Remember to breathe, and go in with a plan. Know going in which vignette you will start with and finish with, and remember to set a realistic time limit for each vignette with some left over for review. Read your programs carefully, take notes, breathe, and begin. The ramp was deceptively simple, while the roof vignette tripped me up and I ended up starting over on my solution based on a hunch that I may have missed something ‘big’ (probably over-analyzed). During my second solution, I caught a few items that would have been in violation of the program, so be sure to review your code and check with a fresh set of eyes; don’t gloss over your solution and be too much in a hurry! The stair really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t for the life of me remember whether it was a fatal error to have two separate runs/flights have different riser heights. I ended up going around and around on my solutions trying to force each flight to match. Finally I conceded that I would either pass or fail and let it go with my best effort. After the exam I was relieved to learn that independent flights do not have to have equal riser heights; only risers within a single run/flight of stairs need to be equal. All this being said, review the ‘rules’ of each vignette and make sure you understand what is acceptable/unacceptable for solutions going in so that you don’t panic.

    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.

    ATTENTION STUDENTS!

    Join Amazon Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students

    Consider using the free Kindle to read your ebooks – I used this for the MEEB book (because who wants to carry that thing around?). The upside is you can have ALL of your study books with you wherever you go. The downside is you can’t re-sell the books when you are finished. Either way, the app is Free!



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  • ompong

    please advise what are the construction system

    • Hi, can you elaborate on what you are looking for? That is a very broad question.

  • MAr

    Hello, How many multiple questions does BDCS have? –Thanks