Three Components of Success on an ARE test and how a fail can be the best thing



I am writing this article with having PDD left, 5 passes and 4 fails in my bag. I wrote previously on some best practices that worked for me. With my most recent PPD pass on the first try I’d like to emphasize and solidify some elements for success, and show you how something beautiful can come out of a fail.


Thinking retrospectively, my two PA fails are probably the best thing that happened to me on this journey. I’m not lying, that’s what I genuinely believe. Failure does not define you. What you make out of a failure is what defines you. Are you going to let it get to you and postpone taking another test for six months at least (and yes I had done that too in the past), or are you going to do the work and introspectively look for ways to improve and continue to actively fight and grow? Because of my PA failures I started becoming more dedicated to creating and sharing more content, which helped me tremendously. Honestly, it was all part of my soul searching. Every advice or piece of knowledge that I shared with you, I had to test on myself first. I know that there is no one simple straightforward recipe that works for everyone, but if something works for me, there is at least a chance that it might also work for someone else. My fails taught me so much about myself personally, and I can say they made me more mature and thick skinned.

Now let's look at the general success components that are true regardless of how you learn and/or absorb knowledge.


Success Component 1: Hitting the books/resources Success Component 2: Getting (some) practical experience


I often hear new professionals postponing their ARE journey by convincing themselves that they need X number of years of experience. Yet I also hear from seasoned professionals that they struggle with these tests. So where is the catch?

At this point, I believe that ARE exams are not interested in the size of your sheer knowledge or years of experience. Many times I left a test thinking that I knew so much more than what I was tested on. ARE exams are in fact interested to see if you can use your knowledge TO THINK LIKE AN ARCHITECT. This means that you know how to be strategic, and how to find that straw that will pull you out of a tricky situation. In order to be in the position in which you can recognize the clues and answer something intimidating, you need TO WORK A LOT. If you have a lot of experience, you need to hit the books to learn the rules and reasons behind what you do every day. If you are fresh out of school and you already hit the books, you need to pest your supervisors to have you review life safety sheets, to study an evacuation plan, to lay out fixtures in an accessible bathroom, to coordinate a ceiling with stuff in the plenum, to review site plans with utilities shown, and so on. If you are studying for Pro Prac, have your accountant explain some terminology to you. That way you will put your theoretical knowledge to practice. If you’re mostly building site models in Sketchup, don’t expect PPD or any ARE exam to be a breeze. Take charge of your career.


Let’s be honest, unless you are a genius of some sort, it’s nearly impossible to be equally, highly passionate, confident and competent about every single topic in architecture or on PPD specifically. There is nothing wrong or unusual with that. If you work in a similar workplace as I do, you will see that grown up architects indeed have specialties - some know code really well, some know financials, some know finishes, some know HVAC… If they need something that they are unsure of, they will ask a colleague who is the office expert in that particular field. However, they always know enough to ask the right questions.


It is natural and normal that not every topic will equally resonate with you. My advice is that when you hit something that intrigues you, either easy or super difficult, go to the bottom of it. Learn all the nuts and bolts of it. Become a specialist of it, and help other people. Let your office know and prove to your coworkers that you are a specialist in that topic. Topics that you are meh about still deserve attention. By a meh topic I mean a topic that you neither enjoy or hate, but major concepts of it all make sense to you. For instance, structural forces and seismic stuff are a bit of meh topics for me. I nevertheless made sure that they generally make sense to me and that I am well familiar with all the structure related formulas and diagrams that NCARB gives you as a Reference during exam. And boy, was I glad. You can see all those formulas and diagrams in the Demonstration exam.














Success Component 3: Mental prep and maturity


Hours of studying and practicing can easily yield a fail if you are not prepared in your head. Ironically, from my experience, mental prep takes the least amount of time and effort, but can make the largest difference in your performance. I wrote extensively about how I prepared myself mentally for PA, and I can confirm that after passing PPD, those points still hold true. One difference between PA and PPD is that you have 30 additional questions, 60 additional minutes. Endurance is critical. Preparation for this is paramount. Organize your tempo before the test. Plan when to take case studies, when to take a break, at what point in time you want to be on the 70th question, and so on. I haven’t heard as many people reporting lack of time for PPD as much as on PA, but I can tell you that I was fairly comfortable with time on PPD. I took case studies first, and they did not seem overly difficult. I took notes of references that were given. I came back to check them multiple times during regular questions. I took a break at the 42nd question, with 65 answered questions, and 55 left to go. I took that break with 2hr 2min left. I went through all the questions with 57min left. I had 28 flagged questions. I reviewed the last question, and 2 more minutes were left.


Before and during the exam, I was telling myself - Marina, whatever happens, it will happen for your benefit. You can visualize a pass, but be genuinely zen with either outcome really. If you fail, you’ll get an opportunity to learn more and better next time. If you pass, great, your wish was granted, now go celebrate and help other people.

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