Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby butleli » Thu Mar 23, 2017 5:51 pm

***UPDATE- Passed PDD & PPD! Highly recommend taking these 2 together. I would schedule them the same day if possible. PDD had some specifications; PPD had some site design & programming; but otherwise you need the same understanding of construction techniques, details, costing, structures, hvac, electrical, acoustics, & lighting. I took them a few days apart as that was the only option at my testing center and didn't study between tests as I was a bit burnt out. I wrote the write up below the day after I tested.***

Reading other people's experiences with the actual exams was probably what I found most helpful in preparing for the tests, so I am adding my experience here. I agree with what others have said about MC questions ranging from too easy to very very specific. If any info is too divulging, please let me know and I will remove it. Also note, I use *sshole and sh*t probably.

Background-
I signed up for all the tests in 2 months right after the new year (resolution!)- ARE4 CDS, SPD, PPP, then ARE5 PDD, PPD. I passed all the 4's first try, only time will tell about the 5's-literally just finished PDD... will update as I find out and after I finish PPD next week. I was not interested in spreading them out and prolonging the process, so I decided I would just do it all at once and go at it for 2 months. (If I had paid attention to NCARB I would have been an early tester and done it cheaply with free retests, but I flagged their emails as spam long ago)

Coming out of the ARE4 exams, I felt 50/50 I passed or failed; PDD I feel the same, but with the caveat that I ran out of time on the last question, so didn't get to go back and review marked answers. As others have said, MC was either really easy or highly specific; hotspots were generally really easy if you've been drawing details and understand basics about keeping water out & slowing heat or cold from getting into a building; the case studies were easy and straightforward, but timewise I had several fill in the blanks about cost estimating that were pretty simple math problems, but involved multiple calculations, and were pretty big time-eaters. ***edited to add- From my understanding, you will not fail the whole exam even if you fail 'cost estimating'; which in that case, I would recommend flagging the questions with lots of calculations and come back to them when you have time. 2 questions I had took probably 30 minutes, and I am certain that is why I ran out of time on my exam***

I've been out of school for 10 years, mostly working in small offices, one of which was an architect-led design build firm as well as doing concrete & steel fabrication & 3d viz for other architects (which exposes you to lots of details and how other people draw them.)

At the architect-led design-build firm I would say I had substantial experience in all parts of the project; from programming to creating a full set of cds & specs and actually drawing structures, mech, elec, civil & doing cost estimating, as we didn't hire consultants unless legally required and we were the GC... Which also means most of my experience is residential in rural areas and smaller commercial; mostly based in the southeast and Montana, with a bit in Illinois, & hurricane prone Florida.

Testing-
Time is an issue. Just know that it's not you. The vast majority of people on the forums have made a point about the lag time for questions coming on the screen & reference materials and running out of time. Twice I almost called the employees to come DO SOMETHING!!! because I was staring at a blank screen for 45+ seconds- the lag is worse the more graphic heavy the question that is loading. The clock keeps running too, like the asshole it is. I knew time would be an issue, but it didn't change how stressed I felt watching the clock go down while being incapable of doing anything staring at a blank screen; find your zen; it really is more of a mindfuck that I anticipated. Some people have suggested working on case studies first as a time management strategy- I would suggest NOT doing that. Case studies have lots of references- cd sets, code sections & stuff, that take a long time to load every time you look at them (especially the elevations with hatch patterns). All the answers to the case study questions are in the documents, but if you click back and forth between the documents you have to wait for the loading again- which means- note on your scratch paper or mentally where stuff is in the documents so you can navigate quickly, and use the search bar. I saved them for last, and I am glad I did. I was rushed going through them & generally knew exactly where the info was in the reference materials that I wanted to confirm to answer the question; if I had given myself more time by doing them first, I would have doublechecked everything which would have made me have less time on the general questions. I literally ran out of time on the last case study question, but since all the questions are weighted the same, I think they should be saved for last, since you can easily spend a lot of time on a handful of questions for the case studies if you are anal like I am and want to make sure you know what you know (you don't fail the whole test if you fail the case study, unlike ARE4 & vignettes, at least that is my understanding...) If you use more current editions of IBC in your jurisdiction, you probably want to doublecheck the ARE code as well, I believe the test uses 2012. I've run into enough differences where it matters in the 2012 vs 2015 when my jurisdiction switched last year (like tables numbered completely differently in chapter 10) to want to make sure that the ARE exams' IBC & FHA sections were what I was thinking they were.

I think the lag time is a combo of internet delivery + Prometric's shitty computers with barely a graphics processor. My desktop workstation that can blast through a coordinated Revit model or Vray rendering still had 'loading' messages for the case study resources on the practice exams, though they were not nearly as long as Prometric's. (btw, come on NCARB, we can cache resources delivered via the internet so so so so so easily in normal website coding, there's got to be a way to do it for your proprietary test; it's really not acceptable in today's internet to wait that long for content)

I am a really good standardized test taker; I've always done well with multiple choice & best educated guessing when I wasn't sure. (I feel like general knowledge of a romance language has led to correct answers on multiple ARE exam questions...so learn Latin? //sorry, not helpful) For the ARE4's I had loads of time to go back and review everything I was unsure about several times. This particular test has lots of fill in the blank & 'hotspots' which I suppose levels the playing field for good MC test takers with people that know the material but aren't great testers. I am a fan of the hotspots for sure, and fill in the blanks were mostly calculations, which if I had not felt rushed I think I would have felt good about as well as they weren't difficult, just took time that was so precious. A lot of the questions are still worded in the same convoluted manner we have become accustomed to in ARE4, so you read through a few times trying to deduce what they are actually asking you. Content seems to be the same, just reorganized division-wise.

Definitely look at the NCARB practice exam reference materials that are available for the entire exam, and be familiar with what you will have access to, versus what you will not. Time is an issue with this exam, and loading these materials takes a long time, you don't want to spend minutes loading these to realize there is nothing useful.

Regarding study materials-
I had access to Kaplan for ARE4, so I started reading through the stuff for CDS, but it was full of errors, so I quit because it was confusing and I was second guessing stuff I just had 'gut-instinct' or generally knew in an un-codified way from practice. It seems like there are other people on the forums that agree that Kaplan study guides are not necessarily the best for what you are actually tested on if you've got a good bit of experience (I think if you are fresh out of school with a few summers of IDP or whatever they call it now, its a different story, and those guides are probably the first time you've encountered a lot of info).

I used Caroline's notes for ARE4 stuff, & Jenny's notes on BS, SS, BDCS to cover ARE5 in PPD & PDD- if its been awhile since you tested CDS, SPD, or PPP, review Caroline's notes for these too (hers have less errors and are more well written? than Jenny's). I took all those exams last month, and stuff definitely showed up on this exam, literally some of the exact same things. Both of their study guides were also prone to occasional errors, but that was fine with me, I feel like I was aware when they were off, vs the authority that Kaplan was trying to instill misinformation, and I would look those things up to double check.

I felt like I didn't really need to study much for the are4 exams I took, and didn't study for SPD except for practicing the damn vignette software. The main aia contracts for CDS & PPP were a read, since I had only worked on 1 project that used them (AIA contracts are great for architects, but lots of clients have their own lawyers write contracts that protect them more than the architect; I am curious how many architects actually pay the fees to use these contracts...), but most of the material was stuff I was really familiar with- which I imagine it should be if you've been working for 10 years. I've been tagged by fire marshalls & plan reviewers enough times to know all the basic ADA dimensions & clearances by heart & a good bit about egress sizing & fire separation detailing without referencing code or UL listings; which seems to keep coming up on all the tests. (which I guess is the boon to working in small firms and doing small stuff...it's in & out quickly compared to a large project that takes years)

I used Mike-SE's stuff to review structures & refreshed all the beam diagrams from the ASD steel manual I had from school, which is mostly available in the reference materials on the exam and I used a total of zero times anyway. I did memorize equations for moment of inertia and section modulus from scratch, since I usually just look those values up, but it was probably unnecessary. I read through Buildings at Risk for seismic, since it is not something I deal with often, though I was already familiar with general concepts. There were a few very specific questions about seismic steel detailing, and I hope my best-educated-guessing from an understanding of general concepts about structures & seismic forces will get me through, but I am not confident on that question.

I still had Joseph Iano's materials&methods textbook from school (circa 2003?), which I mostly looked at all the pictures, diagrams and details while sitting on a couch with a tv on in the background (i.e. not intensely). I don't think that I actually opened it during school bc we wrote poems about trees for m&m and you could do really well in studio without ever presenting anything that resembled a building, as long as your design process was aesthetically documented (which isn't sarcasm or a dig at all, I probably wouldn't have finished school if it was like practice or the ARE tests). The materials & methods book is actually a really awesome textbook and I was like, man, I should have opened this before now!!! It really is a well documented & concise textbook, and I recommend looking through all the pictures and construction processes in general, and read the thing if you have time; its gotta be a better BDCS study guide than anything Kaplan could come up with.

Definitely some of the larger pre-stressed concrete type of construction I wasn't familiar with was useful to have a general understanding of how that worked for the exam. I do also own the graphic standards published by the AIA several years back with Bruce Mau's aluminum cover. It was useful to review details for big building curtain wall stuff that I am otherwise totally unfamiliar with, and some of the nitty gritty that I don't really give a shit about and use standard boilerplate in doc sets where the contractor will do what he is going to do regardless like unrated HM door frames.

If you aren't familiar with general concepts for passive building systems strategies for the easy climates, get familiar, there is definitely an enviro-leed slant, but only addressing the easy climates. The ARE exams & study materials haven't really addressed any details specific to the more difficult to passively-make-comfortable hot-humid climate; which is where I work most of the time, so it takes a bit of mental re-programming to get in line with thinking about cold & dry strategies and details. (Edit- reading through ARE5 handbook PPD section- and there is totally a question about passive cooling in hot-humid!)

There is a surprising amount of NPS historic preservation geared questions on these exams (all of them I've taken really). I've worked through a grand total of 2 projects with tax credits but live in an old city, so I feel like I know the NPS preferred way of how to handle things, but it seems odd how many questions were relating to that, as I would guess most people don't deal with it day to day. Buildings are only getting older though, so eventually they will all be historic and eligible for tax credits when a developer's pro forma says they are worth the money to convert that old masonry warehouse into a food court/art gallery/high end residence. //being flippant; those developers pay my bills.
Last edited by butleli on Sun Apr 16, 2017 12:48 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby butleli » Tue Mar 28, 2017 12:44 pm

Just received a pass for PPD that I tested yesterday afternoon; less than 24 hours turn around. Now only waiting on that PDD score.

I didn't study at all between PDD & PPD- I took PDD on a Thursday & PPD the following Monday. I would have scheduled them for the same day if it were possible.

Content is really really similar. More site design & a programming question or 2 on PPD, less construction details (but there were still some); felt like just as many detailed building systems questions as PDD; and a bit less on structures; and no masterformat spec questions. ARE5 handbook indicates PPD is preliminary design of sites & buildings, while PDD is integration and documentation. Related to actual project phases, I would say PPD is beyond design development; maybe like 75% construction documents but no specs.

I surprisingly didn't have any questions that addressed like what kind of structural or hvac system would be the best in a given scenario, it was more specific questions about systems and structures like I had on PDD.
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby dharapatel333 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 1:25 pm

Congratulations!!
I have scheduled for both mid May and wanted to know what other materials you used besides ARE 5 manual (esp. for structural and building systems)
Thanks for your feedback:)
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby johglins@gmail.com » Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:16 am

Thank you for the very thorough notes on study materials! Jumping to 5.0 mid-testing has me rattled a bit and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to help out the community. I keep telling myself that two tests to pass is better than 7 dreadful vignettes PLUS 4 MC exams.
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby butleli » Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:18 am

Score reports are out and its a PASS! Whew; I was worried about that one. I must have marked 50% or more for review and didn't get to review any of them... Good luck to everyone out there testing!
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby butleli » Thu Mar 30, 2017 10:49 am

Good luck on your testing and I think you won't be disappointed taking only 2 exams vs 4 more! Hopefully NCARB will iron out the kinks with the lag time & on-screen calculator, which if they do, makes it a very superior testing experience.

I wanted to add that a friend that thought I was still testing just lent me Architect's Studio Companion (which is also by Joseph Iano). It is a much lighter book than Iano's Fundamentals of Building Construction Materials & Methods I had from school which I used to review, but seems to cover all the same content.
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby Zanno » Tue Apr 04, 2017 6:50 am

One good piece of advice I heard in a Black Spectacles lecture was to use MEEB (and Fundamentals of Building Construction, etc) as a reference for your studies. Flip through the pages, rather than trying to read every page--if you're familiar with the content, then move on. If you find a diagram you don't understand, take the time to absorb it, google stuff, etc etc. I am going to use this strategy for PPD.

As a side note, I did NOT study for PDD, took it four days after I received my pass/eligibility to transition to 5.0 back in late February, and took it on a whim hoping to familiarize myself with the new test format. Was shocked to discover today that I passed. Like others have commented here, there isn't nearly as much structures/HVAC content as you'd expect (or, as you'd probably--no, definitely--see on the 4.0 exams). So it's worth spending time studying building construction methods/systems rather than getting bogged down in STRUCTURAL CALCULATIONS. Also, it helps to be nimble on the questions that do require simple calculations, and to be RELENTLESS in the case study questions, because it really comes down to how quickly you can navigate to the correct PDF in order to track down the information need to answer the questions. As absurd as the vignettes were, there is an element of the ridiculous with 5.0 in that it can sometimes feel like you're searching for a 'needle in a haystack.' As with all exams, staying calm and focused is key in this test, because you'll have to manage your time well to get through all of the questions.
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby butleli » Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:18 pm

@Zanno-
I totally agree with everything you said, and I thought about looking at MEEB, but basically got burned out and had covered the stuff more generally in Jenny's notes & Iano's Fundamentals book. What I found surprising on these exams was that there was very little building systems stuff that an architect might actually do themselves rather than hiring a consultant; like sizing a residential hvac system or riser diagrams. All the systems questions I had seemed geared towards big building typologies and some were really specific. I would assume that the big building stuff is a bigger market share for the profession, so testing probably reflects that.

And WOW! That is awesome that you passed PDD without studying! I am pretty confident in asserting that if you can pass PDD you will pass PPD. Brush up on site design / programming if you haven't recently, but otherwise I felt the content was really really similar. If you understand the systems / techniques / details to the level needed to pass PDD, PPD should be no problem. I think it maybe doesn't work the other way (i.e. if you understand to the level needed to pass PPD, you may not pass PDD)

If you don't mind sharing- how long have you been working professionally? I felt like having worked for a longer-than-typical time before taking exams really made them much easier than the horror stories and epic studying I heard about when most of my friends tested a couple of years out of school. I assume 10 years is longer than typical, though I don't know that I have ever actually seen any stats to back that up...
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Re: Thoughts on PDD - Let me know if I've said too much...

Postby Zanno » Thu Apr 27, 2017 9:22 pm

butleli--

I aim to study MEEB for PPD, partly 'cause systems are my weakest area. I also plan to review structures, as well as the content I studied for SPD, CDS, and PPP (which will hopefully all be relevant).

I will have 4 years experience in an architectural office this June, and I have roughly the same number of years' experience on the structural side as a drafter/Revit modeler (I graduated in 2009, so there were slim pickings). Most of my experience has been in construction documentation (as I imagine it is for most junior staff) and this definitely helped me feel confident on this exam.
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