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A Look At the 3 “Harder” Exams for the Architect Registration Exam

We recently wrote a post and grouped the exams into the Easier and Harder Exams. We’ve previously taken a deeper look at the 3 “Easier Exams” and today, we’re going to take a look at the 3 “Harder Exams” for the Architect Registration Exam.

3d Learning to count with the little grey man

When deciding upon your approach to the AREs, one thing to consider is ranking which exams may be easier to tackle vs. which exams may require more in depth study on particular building systems.

Here we will discuss the exams that may tax your brain more than the others.

The “Harder” Exams in the ARE consist of:

1. BS – Building Systems

2. SS – Structural Systems

3. BDCS – Building Design and Construction Systems

I should start by saying that these three exams are more difficult because they are highly technical and specific as opposed to the broad range of the material covered in SPD and PPP.  Those exams focus more on building and design theory while these more technical exams focus on intricate systems that must be calculated in order to function properly.  Saying they are “harder” is more of an objective statement since there are many people who may find structural systems fascinating and can calculate moment and modulus of elasticity in their sleep (though many of these people likely go on to become structural engineers rather than architects, but I digress…).

First we will take a look at BS or Building Systems which contains a Multiple Choice Section and a Graphic Section.

The first portion of this exam consists of 95 multiple choice questions covering the various types of systems found within buildings, such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, fire safety, etc.  Each of these disciplines is often designed by outside consultants, however it is important as architects that we understand their relation to the overall building design and coordinate the services of the consultants to make sure the building functions properly.  The 7 content areas covered in the NCARB BS Exam Guide are as follows:

Module 1 is Codes & Regulations  and covers code specifics that relate directly to building system regulatory requirements and permitting.

Module 2  is Environmental Issues and addresses the environmental impact of building systems on topics such as indoor air quality, sustainable design, natural and artificial lighting, adaptive reuse and alternative energy systems.

Module 3  is Plumbing and covers the principles related to plumbing systems as well as the materials and technology used within plumbing lines and fixtures.

Module 4 is HVAC and covers the principles related to mechanical systems and how they impact building design, indoor air quality and thermal and moisture protection.

Module 5 is Electrical and covers the principles of electrical system design as well as how the various components such as lights, panels, and emergency systems are integrated into the building.

Module 6 is Lighting and covers the principles of lighting and how the use of natural versus artificial lighting within a building can impact spaces in different ways.

Module 7 is Specialties and covers various topics such as acoustics, communication and safety systems, conveying systems and fire detection and suppression systems used within buildings.

The graphic vignette for BS consists of a single mechanical and electrical plan where you will have to develop a reflected ceiling plan that includes and integrates lighting, mechanical duct work, building structure and fire safety considerations.  This vignette is fairly lengthy in its technical requirements, however with a strategic approach it can be finished with enough time to double check your solution to make sure you covered all the program requirements.

Next we will look at SS or Structural Systems which consists of a Multiple Choice Section and a Graphic Section.

The multiple choice section for this exam is by far the longest and most grueling of all the AREs.  It contains 125 multiple choice questions and  covers theories of structural design related to lateral forces and general structural systems as well as several calculation questions requiring you to dig way back to the days in your structures course in college.  While you may never actually perform one of these calculations during your career, it will be vital for you to understand how structural systems work and how building design impacts the structure of a building.  The NCARB SS Exam Guide includes the following 4 content areas:

Module 1  is General Structures  and covers EVERYTHING: moment, section modulus, modulus of elasticity, simple beams, cantilevers, dead loads, live loads, maximum capacity of structural members, building materials (wood, concrete, steel) as well as the codes that impact the design of the structure.

Module 2 is Seismic Forces and covers the principles of seismic forces and how the building design reacts and responds to seismic forces.

Module 3 is Wind Forces and covers the principles of wind forces on a building and how the structure can adapt and respond to levels of high wind force.

Module 4 is Lateral Forces and covers the principles of lateral forces in relation to both seismic and wind and how a building responds to movement of the structure.

The graphic vignette for SS consists of a single structural layout which will require you to produce a schematic framing plan for a one-story building with a multi-level roof.  This portion of the exam comes as a sigh of relief after 3 ½ hours of multiple choice torture.  You will have an hour to complete the vignette, but it is very likely you will finish in far less time.  This vignette is very straight forward and not as complex as some of the other exams.

Finally we have BDCS or Building Design and Construction Systems which contains 85 multiple choice questions and 3 graphic vignettes.

I like to refer to this exam as the cumulative ARE as it covers topics found in nearly every other multiple choice section of the other 5 exams.  My recommendation is to save this one near the end of your testing process, not because it is difficult, but because you will be able to apply your knowledge from the other exams to this one.  This is the exam that is a good general over view of what an architect actually does – a little bit of everything.  We become a sort of jack of all trades while relying on the expertise of consultants in order to produce building system designs that function as they need to.  The 5 content areas in the NCARB Exam Guide are:

Module 1 is Principles and covers the basic theories behind building design, human behavior, space planning, adaptive reuse and architectural history.

Module 2 is Environmental Issues and covers topics such as hazardous conditions and materials, indoor air quality, sustainable design, natural and artificial lighting and alternative energy systems.

Module 3 is Codes & Regulations and includes the process required to obtain government approval as well as specialty codes such as accessibility, historic preservation and life safety.

Module 4 is Materials & Technology and covers each of the basic construction materials – masonry, metals, wood and concrete – as well as implications of other types of materials such as glass, composite systems, special equipment and building accessories.

Module 5 is Project & Practice Management and covers topics such as construction sequencing, cost estimating, value engineering, project schedule management and risk management.

The three graphic vignettes for this exam consist of the following: an accessibility ramp layout, a stair design and a roof plan.  Don’t be intimidated by the fact that this exam has three vignettes as each one is fairly simple and straight forward in the way in which you should approach a solution.  The good news is there is no one right or wrong answer for each of these which allows you to be a little more free in your final solution.  However, don’t forget to follow the program and try not to get too caught up in making a pretty design.  In the end, as long as your solution meets the program requirements, you should do well.

As for the order in which to tackle each of these exams, I would highly recommend saving BDCS for the end.  It will require a bit of knowledge from CDS, PPP, SPD, BS and SS so it makes sense to wait until you have experienced each of those first before you try to take this one on.  Whether you should start with BS or SS would ultimately be up to where you feel your strengths lie.  If you have a predisposition to solving moment diagrams or are fascinated with how truss systems work, perhaps you should take on SS first.  Gaining momentum by passing a difficult exam will help keep you going and boost your confidence as you approach the final stretch.

Just remember not to get too bogged down in the weight of everything there is to study for each of these exams. While they are highly technical in their nature, you won’t have to memorize the MEEB book in order to pass BS nor will you have to solve every structural equation correctly in order to pass SS.  Focus on what NCARB is requiring for each section of each exam and go into each with a clear head and a calm mind and you should do well.

Good luck… and remember…

“The number one reason why people give up so fast is because they tend to look at how far they still have to go, instead of how far they have gotten.” – Author Unknown

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4 comments… add one
Abbas Garba Wuyo August 2, 2014, 7:44 am

Thanks a lot for the write up its really good encouraging and moivation and its give one the insight to all the exam one face and prepare for it.
Thanks

David August 6, 2014, 6:31 am

You’re most welcome Abbas! I hope you have a rewarding and successful ARE journey!

Thanks, David

josh buono November 26, 2014, 6:42 pm

I can’t wait for the schematic design study guides to come out. these are great sources for studying. I can say that of all the test I have taken, I have had not had any issues with any exam but BDCS. the multiple choice is straight forward but the vignettes are terrible. I have failed this test twice because of the vignettes. no problems with any other test but this one. I wish that NCARB would give insight as to what contributed to the failing solutions because it would be very helpful to learn the specifics of what items went wrong.

David December 15, 2014, 1:11 pm

Hi Josh, thanks for the kind words. We should be releasing SD before the end of the year. I agree, it’s unfortunate we don’t get feedback about specifics when failing a vignette as it makes the process more stressful. But the 60 day retake is a huge advantage to being able to maintain momentum during the process. Keep at it and you will succeed!

Thanks, David

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