A few months ago we took a look at all 7 Exams of the Architect Registration Exam and I grouped them into Easier and Harder Exams. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the 3 “Easier” Exams.

1,2,3The “Easier” Exams consist of:

1. SPD – Site Planning and Design

2. PPP – Programming, Planning, and Practice

3. CDS – Construction Documents and Services

Let’s take a look at each one and then we’ll examine the common traits. BUT before we begin, please understand that just because I’m referring to these as the “Easier” Exams, I am not saying they are easy, because they are not.

They’re just easier than the more technical oriented exams focusing on structural systems and building technology. Studying for those can literally make your head spin.

First up is SPD or Site Planning and Design. SPD consists of a Multiple Choice Section and a Graphic Section.

The Multiple Choice Section for SPD consists of 65 questions covering the broad topic of Site Planning and Design. Of the three Exams we are discussing, this is the broadest and most likely to have some overlapping information. The NCARB SPD Exam Guide breaks SPD down in to 5 main content areas, or as we here at Architect Exam Prep refer to them; Modules.

Module 1 is Principles and consists of subject matter related to Site Planning, Site Design and Design Principles, Implications of Design Decisions, Adaptive Reuse of Buildings and Materials and Architectural History and Theory.

Module 2 is Environmental Issues and covers subjects related to Interpreting Existing Site/Environmental Conditions and Data, Design Impact on Human Behavior, Hazardous Conditions and Materials, Sustainable Design, and Alternative Energy Systems and New Material Technologies.

Module 3 is Codes and Regulations an contains Government and Regulatory Requirements and Permit Processes, and Accessibility Laws, Codes, and Guidelines.

Module 4 is Materials and Technology and consists of Construction Details and Constructability, Construction Materials, Fixtures Furniture Equipment and Finishes, Product Selection and Availability, Thermal and Moisture Protection, Natural and Artificial Lighting, and Implications of Design Decisions.

Module 5 is Project & Practice Management which covers Construction Sequencing, Cost Estimating, Value Engineering and Life-cycle Costing, Project Schedule Management, and Risk Management.

The Graphic Section for SPD consists of two Graphic Vignettes, Site Design and Site Grading. The Site Design Vignette is the more difficult vignette as you are required to strategically place objects on the site, being careful to pay attention to the program requirements and setbacks from the property lines as well as other site features. The Site Grading Vignette is more straight forward and simpler, as long as you understand drawing contours and the contour formula.

Second up is PPP or Programming, Planning, and Practice. PPP consists of a Multiple Choice Section and Graphic Section.

The Multiple Choice Section for PPP consists of 85 questions covering the practice of architecture. The NCARB PPP Exam Guide breaks the content down into 4 content areas, or Modules.

Module 1 is Progamming & Analysis and consists of Architectural Programming, Interpreting Existing Site/Environmental Conditions and Data, Adaptive Reuse of Buildings and/or Materials, Space Planning and Facility Planning/Management, and Fixtures Furniture Equipment and Finishes

Module 2 is Environmental Social & Economic Issues and is comprised of subject matter relating to Regional Impact on a Project, Community-Based Awareness, Hazardous Conditions and Materials, Design Principles, Alternative Energy Systems, New Technologies, and Sustainable Design, and Architectural History and Theory.

Module 3 is Codes & Regulations and covers Government and Regulatory Requirements and Permit Processes, Adaptive Reuse of Buildings and Materials, and Specialty Codes and Regulations including Accessibility Laws, Codes, and Guidelines.

Module 4 is Project & Practice Management which includes Project Delivery Methods, Project Budget Management, Project Schedule Management, Contracts for Professional Services and Contract Negotiation, Construction Procurement Processes, and Risk Management and Legal Issues Pertaining to Practice and Contracts.

As you can start to see, PPP and SPD have content that is overlapping which is why we recommend taking them around the same time. I’ll cover the order I recommend taking these three exams near the end of the article.

The Graphic Section for PPP consists of an easy, but no room for error, Site Zoning Vignette. The Site Zoning Vignette is not difficult but there is really only one solution so attention to detail is critical because if you miss an important requirement, it will be difficult to pass. So attention to detail is what this vignette is all about.

Rounding out our 3 is CDS or Construction Documents and Services which also consists of a Multiple Choice Section and Graphic Section.

The Multiple Choice Section for CDS consists of 100 questions covering the concepts related to the AIA documents. The NCARB CDS Exam Guide breaks the information down into 4 content areas, or Modules. A quick note here is Module 1 and Module 2 is a small part of the Exam. Module 3 and Module 4, which focus on concepts associated with the AIA documents, makes up 82-92% of the Exam.

The most challenging part of  CDS is becoming familiar with the content of the AIA documents. They cover a lot of information and you are expected to be familiar with them and know how they apply to real world situations. The good news is this information is straightforward and there shouldn’t be any mystery once you understand the AIA documents. CDS is focused almost entirely on the AIA documents and that is a good thing because you know exactly what you should be studying.

Module 1 is Codes & Regulations and consists of Government and Regulatory Requirements and Permit Processes, and Specialty Codes and Regulations including Accessibility Laws, Codes, and Guidelines.

Module 2 is Environmental Issues and covers Hazardous Conditions and Materials, Indoor Air Quality, and Sustainable Design.

Module 3 is Construction Drawings & Project Manual and covers Site Design, Building Design, Building Systems and their Integration, Specifications, and Construction Details and Constructability. Module 3 predominately focuses on how we, as architect, provide our design services.

Module 4 is Project & Practice Management and includes topics relating to Costs, Scheduling and Coordination, Project Delivery, and Contracts & Legal Issues. Module 4 predominately focuses on Contract Administration.

The Graphic Section for CDS consists of one Graphic Vignette, the Building Section. The Building Section is not difficult providing you’ve practiced and are comfortable drawing sections in a limited amount of time. Like the other vignettes we’ve discussed, paying particular attention to the program requirements is one of the most important parts in order to draw your solution correctly.

A few months ago in my post about understanding the 7 exams better, I recommend taking the 3 easier exams in the order of SPD > PPP > CDS.

However, after spending knee deep in NCARB’s exam guides and creating the material for each of those divisions over the last several months, I think the better plan is this; 

CDS < PPP < SPD

The reason is because CDS is the most focused of the three, and more focus means easier preparation because you know exactly what to study. There’s less guesswork or gray areas in this subject matter.

CDS is predominately about how we provide architectural services and contract administration during construction. So I recommend starting with CDS and jumping in with both feet into the AIA documents, especially the A201 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, B101 Agreement Between Owner and Architect, and the A101 Agreement Between Owner and Contractor. There are some other AIA documents you will want to be familiar with as well including the B202, B203, C401, G701, G702, G704, G710, and G714.

One of the key concepts to understand with the AIA documents is the role, responsibilities, and relationship of the main three players, the Owner, the Architect, and the Contractor. You have to have a solid understanding of what each player does and how they relate to each of the other players.

I hope this helps in planning your own path to taking the Architect Registration Exam. Remember, the main thing here is to dive in and get started.

Have you started taking the ARE? What exam did you start with first? Let us know by leaving a comment below.