ARE - Site Planning / by Michelle Linden

After studying for and finishing the pre-design and construction documents multiple choice exams, I decided to switch gears to the graphic exams. For those of you who aren't aware... the current version of the exam consists for 6 multiple choice exams and 3 graphic exams. The graphic exams have some of the lowest pass rates, which is why I wanted to take them sooner than later. If I was going to have to retake and exam, it would be easy to tack another onto the end... but if you fail that last exam, then you've got to wait a full 6 months before you can retake it.

Anyway... In my opinion, the hardest thing about the graphic exams is learning the new software. NCARB uses a proprietary software, rather than something like AutoCAD, so that no test taker can have an advantage over another. The problem though, is that more often that not, a failing score is due more to difficulties with the software, than difficulties with the scope of the exam. Having said that, I did think that this was the most difficult (in scope) of all the graphic exams, and it was the only exam of the 9 that I used every last second of available time.

Again, I relied heavily on Kaplan products for studying, including the book and practice tests. The practice tests give you a problem similar to the exams, with one or two solutions in the back. I found that once I saw the solution, that I could no longer think beyond it... it would just get ingrained in by brain. So, in order to practice each tests multiple times, I worked out 3 separate solutions on trace paper before looking at the solutions. A big portion of this test relies on you having a good understanding of and inherent ability to space plan. Because you will never know the problem in advance, you must rely on common sense and your own space planning to find the best solution.

The site planning exam is made up of 3 sections, site zoning, site grading, and site planning. Both the zoning and grading vignettes are fairly simple and short. Between modifying contours to affect drainage, and drawing a site section and plan reflecting zoning requirements, there is no reason that any intern architect should not be able to pass these sections of the exam. However, the site planning portion (which is longer) is a bit more difficult. There are a great deal of site requirements such as shading, handicap access, parking, views, and protection from the elements that must be considered (just like any project). The difficulty comes in accommodating all of the requirements in a relatively short time frame. I personally found the parking to be the most difficult, as its something that I don't regularly deal with at work. While working on this portion of the exam, I copied down the requirements onto my scrap paper, so that I wouldn't need to flip between the drawings and instruction screens. This turned out to be well worth the effort, because I ended up using every last second (I noticed a missing shady areas at the last minute) moving some trees around and would not have had time to flip back the the instruction screen to review my solution.

I thought the most important thing to do in order to study for this test was to practice the NCARB software over and over. Make sure that you know how to use every function without thinking, as you'll want all the time available for design, not struggling with the computer. Also, try to remember that the computer will not grade you on the most exciting design, but rather the most correct one... you need to be careful to fulfill all of the programmatic requirements before you try to do anything fancy with the design. This is a little different than the way many people work, but its what you need to do in order to pass.

Good Luck!