ARE - Pre-Design / by Michelle Linden

After I finally received approval to test, I quickly started studying for the Pre-Design exam. Actually to clarify, I had been casually studying for both Pre-Design and Construction Documents for several months while I waited for permission to schedule an exam.

You see, I had mistakenly thought that it would only take a month or two for my records to transfer (I had semi-regularly kept up my NCARB/IDP file). Of course, I was absolutely wrong... it took more like 6 months from the time I requested the transfer until I received the letter of permission. During this time, I purchased the Archiflash Cards and had casually reviewed the two sections mentioned above.

One of the big problems I had with starting studying was the absurd list of reference materials listed by NCARB... How on earth are we supposed to know which materials to study?!? The list is so long and inclusive, there is no possible way for anyone to read, comprehend, and retain all of the information.

Based on the advice of a few friends that had passed the test, I decided to use the Archiflash cards and the Kaplan Pre-Design Book and Pre-Design CD-ROM Mock Exam as my study guides. This particular test is one of the most inclusive exams, incorporating programming and analysis, environmental, social, and economic issues, codes and regulations, project and practice management, and site planning/design principles and environmental issues. And of course, architectural history has been dispersed throughout all of the multiple choice exams (although, I thought pre-design was the most history heavy).

I spent a great deal of time studying for this exam... to be honest, I probably spent more than needed, studying approximately 20 hours per week for 8 weeks. But, I'm a bit of a nerd and a bit compulsive, so not knowing how difficult the test would be, I thought it would be better to be over prepared than under. Looking back, I think that I likely spent more time studying than needed, but I personally needed the confidence boost of knowing that I knew all of the archiflash cards and could score a 90% or higher on all of the practice exams.

Using the Kaplan book was very helpful, but its really only useful if you already have a general knowledge of the material. If you are looking for a more in depth explanation of a particular subject, than you are far better suited to check out the reference materials listed by NCARB. The cd was also helpful (I had received the whole set as Christmas gifts), but perhaps a bit redundant if used with the Kaplan book. The biggest benefit was to practice the exam in a timed format similar to the actual test.

As the test date got closer, I started to panic about the history portion of the exam. While I feel that I have a decent understanding and memory for architectural history, it had still been a long time since I cracked a history book. One weekend I decided to check out Borders, specifically looking for a quick and easy refresher course. I knew that if my memory was jogged, I would be able to recall more specific architectural information. The only book I could find that seemed appropriate was Architecture for Dummies. I can't tell you how embarrassed I was to buy the book, but I must admit I sure am glad that I did.... There were multiple questions on my exam, whose answers I could specifically remember from the Dummies text. Go figure.

Once I finally sat for the exam, I felt that I could not possibly be more prepared... And then I started taking it. This was one of the most difficult of all the exams (at least for me), and I struggled through the entire thing (with the exception of the history questions). The toughest thing about this exam is the shear volume of the material. I feel like there is no amount of studying that would truly prepare you for this test. All you can really do is study hard and use common sense when applicable. All of the site and environmental issues are particularly crucial in both theory and application. If you don't deal with these sorts of items on a regular basis at work, then I would definitely recommend dedicating some study time to site and urban planning.

Somehow, even though I felt this test was impossible, I managed to scrape a pass. I think one of the keys is to leave enough time to carefully review each question of the exam, as sometimes you will find the answer to one question in another. I actually had more than 45 minutes to review the exam, as I either absolutely knew an answer or absolutely didn't (and had to guess).

Hopefully, this will help someone in their studying... As always, the most important thing is to have an understanding of the material rather than pure memorization, as the likelihood of the question exactly matching anything you have seen before is very slim.

Good Luck!