Live Q&ARE w/ Desk Crits authors Tess McNamara & Sam Zeif

To clarify my question above, do I need to get three level twos to pass? Its been a long day…

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Hello everyone! Tess and Sam here from Desk Crits. We’re so excited to be here with Black Spectacles (and all of you!) and are going to do our best to answer all of your questions about the ARE! For some background: Sam and I passed all of our exams last summer, and found the experience so hard to navigate that when we’d finished we decided to write a book to try to help our fellow soon-to-be architects get through it! Black Spectacles certainly helped us out along the way, so it’s fitting that we’re back here today to pass along some of that knowledge to all of you. There’s a lot more in the book itself so check it out!


Was BS the only paid-subscription you used?


This is a greeeattt question. We have a love/hate relationship with AHPP. On one hand it has so much good information, on the other it is just so long and has a lot of fluff! We don’t know of any flashcards written, but we tried to narrow down the helpful chapters in the Desk Crits book, which includes a study outline for what to read/skim and our notes on the material! I think the key to getting the most of AHPP is to read for the information that’s important, don’t set out to read the whole thing or even read a whole chapter. This means skim for material that you think would be on the exam – the ARE (usually) doesn’t test you straight memorization, so you can skip any weird historical tid bits. Pay special attention to the chapters on firm legal structures, financials, contracts, project delivery models, and risk. There is a lot of good information in this book, so try to make it through! But really you can skim – a few strategies include reading only the first and last sentence of a paragraph, even reading only the headline of a section to see if you think it is important based on what you know the exam covers.


How can I see the conversation, I dont see any link

Hi @jelberprado,

They’ll be posting responses here in this thread, no other link needed!

If you’re referring to a video, we didn’t include that this time around, however you’re not the first to mention it so we’re looking into doing that in the future.


I bought the book! Looks like a good organizer…if I don’t pass it I will return for full refund;) ( kidding)
I take any advise…
How much variations in material were the exams for you and your husband?

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Yes!! You got this, and we got tips. For timing – I think it’s important to get into a groove at first. This is the order we typically recommend you take your exams: PcM, PjM, CE, PA, PPD, PDD. The first three should be taken together. Plan on doing one a month for three months straight. Then you could take a little break (after CE), then go onto the next three. PA you need a month to study for, PPD and PDD you could take 5-6 weeks. The strategy we took for PPD and PDD was to study for around 6 weeks for PPD, then immediately move into studying for PDD for two weeks. There is a lot of overlap on these exams, so this worked well for us. But everyone is different!

In terms of books, there are a ton out there and some might be more suited to your studying style than others. We (of course :blush:) recommend Desk Crits – the book will tell you what to study for each exam (down to the page numbers in different resources!) and also gives our condensed notes for your reference. Here is a list of absolutely essential resources we think you need to purchase (does not include free resources (contracts, codes, etc).

  •      Desk Crits (duh)
  •      Ballast Review Manual
  •      Black Spectacles - especially the Practice Exams
  •      AHPP
  •      Building Codes Illustrated
  •      Building Construction Illustrated
  •      Architect’s Studio Companion

kinda new here, what is ahpp you refer to!

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What about ARE 5.0 revised review manual? Any thoughts ?

Another great question! The details are really hard to prepare for, you’re totally right. I think details play the biggest role in CA and PDD, which are both really challenging exams. Prepare as best you can but don’t freak out in the exam when you see things you don’t recognize! For details, Building Construction Illustrated will be your friend. We recommend looking at the following details: waterproofing, wall sections/roof sections/ foundation sections, weep holes, storefont details, parapets, attic ventilation, flashing, roof structures, concrete construction (rebar, foundations, excavation) and weld symbols. Not an exhaustive list, but a good place to start – and know that you will never be able to cover everything! As you are studying, we recommend drawing and re-drawing details to understand them and have included a few essentials in the book. Also, as you’re looking at these details, try and understand why materials are placed where they are. IE for waterproofing, try to follow a droplet of water down a detail to understand why flashing is lapped the way it is to prevent water from getting in! If you learn why details are designed the way they are, you’ll be able to apply that knowledge to a detail you don’t recognize.

Also just a big FYI – the drawings in the ARE case studies are word-searchable! Never know when that might come in handy!

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May I ask you where did you buy that book?

Hi! Incredible question. First thing to know is that you are not alone!! Search any forum and you’ll see how many people fail these exams. They are HARD. Our advice about failing is to first of all, immediately after your exam, write down EVERYTHING you can remember about the exam, down to specific questions you had and things that came up that you didn’t know (obviously don’t share any of this, it’s just for you). When starting out studying again, these fail notes are the first things you should look at. If it’s been a really long time, I would actually recommend taking a practice exam first, just to see what you remember and what feels more rusty. Then, with that knowledge, on top of your fail notes (and your score report, but those are honestly not very helpful) try to see if there are areas you are weaker in, and then identify the resources you have that you can use to brush up. If you have notes from your first time, you can skim those for refreshing areas you are confident in. One important note – don’t come at it thinking that you already have part of it covered! If you can, trick yourself into coming at the test with the same intensity as the first time around, that is best!

I also think sometimes you just get unlucky with a really hard test. The second time you take an exam it will feel easier!

I have just signed up for my first exam and creating a study schedule. Did you create your own schedule or follow a recommended study schedule?

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their ( desk critics) link
get the discunt from Black spectacles!


If you’re looking at purchasing Desk Crits, they have a $10 coupon code for this Q&A event: SPECTACLES10

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Hi! Ugh, ADA standards. It’s a lot of rules but it is very important!! Both for the exams and in practice. So – ADA will come up on PA, PPD, and PDD. For PA you should be familiar with the document, general information, and how to navigate it. The ADA is a resource where the outline really helps (click the little bookmark symbol in the PDF viewer in the exam to see the sections!) Also word searching ADA works wonders. If you need a different format, Building Codes Illustrated Chapter 11 has information on accessibility.
Generally – and for PPD and PDD especially – you need to know important dimensions from the ADA document – so draw yourself little diagrams to help memorize! Unfortunately, as far as certain sections of ADA to know, we found that the entire document is fair play…. That said, we’ve done our best to identify the key dimensions that come up again and again and have included a curated list of diagrams in the notes section of Desk Crits too.

Hi! PPD is really hard, and such a grab bag of topics. It starts to get more technical, but still operates on the concept level like PA – so annoying. If you could only pick topics to prioritize, I would say focus on MEP systems, and Sam would say the ins and outs of IBC. This is the first exam where you will see MEP system questions, so it’s important to be really familiar with the different considerations of how to pick one system over another. For this exam, the Architects Studio Companion gives the perfect level of detail for systems studying, so definitely take a look there! Good luck!!!

I am here in Alaska…did I miss this Live?

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