PPD - Practice Exam Mezzanine Question

There is a question regarding openness of a mezzanine. See attached image. The answer states that mezzanines must be open to the floor below, but accord to section 505.2.3 exception 2, mezzanines can be enclosed with two means of egress and exception 5, in occupies other than H and I in a building with two stories or less and equipped with an automatic sprinkler system with two or more means of egress, the mezzanines are allowed to be enclosed. Can you explain why this question answer is incorrect?

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Hi @mwarren: great code analysis! You found the exact right section to be referring to for this question. This will serve you well on the AREs and in practice!

To answer your question, the tricky thing about the NCARB exams is in determining the constraints for a question like this; we can only use the information given to us in the question, and can’t make additional assumptions.

As you pointed out, exception 5 allows for enclosed space on a mezzanine in the case of an automatic fire sprinkler and 2 means of egress. Because we weren’t given information pertaining to the sprinkler system, egress or hazardous materials in the question, we can’t assume whether they do or do not exist. In this situation we have to look for the lowest common denominator in these questions.

What we DO know about the building is:

  • two stories
  • car dealership

Based on only those two facts, we need to read section 505.2.3 for the answer. If we look at the exceptions, we can’t be sure they apply to our situation (unfortunately). Therefore we need to rely on the section as stated, which does not allow for walls greater than 42" in height, which would not satisfy our clients request.

I hope this helps. I know questions like this can be frustrating, because in practice we’d likely have more information to make an informed decision. Please let me know if you have any follow up questions!


Hi @cat.heard9!

Ironically, I was looking through the site to for an avenue to address questions that seem off, and happened to come across this topic on the very question I was looking to discuss!!

So, I totally get approaching the lack of information given in the question, and trying to nail down the lowest common denominator, and I think this question still fails to address how mezzanines are understood in the code, or to emulate well the type of question we would see in the NCARB exam.

There are a number of questions we come across where we’re expected to have a good handle of how the code handles exceptions, for example, since the mezzanine would be classified as a Business group B occupancy, we’re given 1000 sf to play with under the first exception in 505.2.3, and you can fit at least 4 good sized offices (150 sf) with a healthy corridor all enclosed within that limitation:

Mezzanines or portions thereof are not required to be open to the room in which the mezzanine is located, provided that the occupant load of the aggregate area of the enclosed space is not greater than 10.”

We’ve had to exercise knowledge that a classroom accessory to a church isn’t classified under Educational group E unless it’s designed to hold 100+ people, so this level of nuance is reasonable for our purposes with NCARB, but perhaps to address a larger point, the way the question is worded actually lead me to choose yes. The question reads:

“Can his request be satisfied?”

Clearly, yes. If we’re playing the architect, we could make his dream come true by recommending a sprinkler system and hit exception 5, and since we haven’t been given a restriction on the number of offices/size of enclosed area he wants, it’s reasonable to assume his request could be satisfied even without it.

I think the trip up is this question doesn’t restrict itself well enough to lead a candidate to one reasonable conclusion, and the wording of the question actually misleads the reader from the intended result. Perhaps a slight addition to the question:

“The building is limited to two stories and the client does not want to sprinkler the building…he asks you to add offices and a conference room for 10 and tells you to put them on a mezzanine level. He also tells you to make sure the spaces are visually and acoustically private.”

This would thoroughly close the loop on the exceptions. It would align the question better with not only how code interprets mezzanines, but also how NCARB may phrase a similar question. Most importantly, it would offer a good learning moment for how we may interact with these buggers and balancing our clients wishes in the practice.

Let me know your thoughts!

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Hey @Ben.A, thanks for your follow up. So, I think you’ve touched upon one of the biggest frustrations of the exams: the ambiguity in some questions. When I was going through the exams I really struggled with NCARB offering what I felt were subjective questions and expecting an objective answer. I think it’s important to remember the objective of the exams here; NCARB is making sure candidates know where to find the answer in the code, not how ‘good’ of an Architect they’ll be.

I absolutely agree that a ‘good’ Architect would ask many more questions in this scenario and likely determine that the request is possible, given the proper resources. This question is testing your ability to determine given constraints and make a decision based on only the information you have, not the information you might infer or how well you can help a client realize their vision.

Unfortunately the exams are full of similar questions (PA especially). Just like any standardized test, part of the strategy is in critically reading the question and determining the appropriate answer they’re looking for. It sounds like you’re operating on a level of great Architect, but remember, NCARB is only looking to make sure you’ve met a certain level of competence, not your ability to find the best answer every time.


Hi @cat.heard9,

Sorry I lost track of this for a bit. Thank you for following up on my earlier comment, I appreciate the insight. I think, however, we’re misunderstanding each other somewhat.

I’ve taken a few of the other divisions of the ARE, so I am familiar with the way NCARB designs their questions. Based on my experience, this particular question by Black Spectacles does not accurately emulate the way a question would be formed in the ARE around this subject matter, because any familiarity with the first exception in 505.2.3 and an indeterminate number of offices prescribed by the question would lead a candidate to reasonably deduce the client’s request can be satisfied based on the simple space calculation I outlined above.

I think leaving the quantity of offices undefined is a loose end in the way Black Spectacles formed their question, and I wanted to bring this up as a suggestion to alter it slightly. I think you would agree NCARB is careful to carve a path with their formulation of a question so, even though elements may be vague or subjective, there is still only one reasonable conclusion if the candidate is familiar with the relevant constraints on the subject matter; the undefined number of offices, and the low threshold posited of “can his request be satisfied?” (which reads “Is it AT ALL possible?”), reasonably leads to a different conclusion from that seemingly desired.

I hope that’s clearer than my exceedingly long narrative earlier. Let me know what you think.

Hey @Ben.A! Thanks for explaining a little more. I see what you’re saying; NCARB likely wouldn’t leave as much room for interpretation in the phrasing of questions (let me know if I’m not reading that correctly). It’s a good thing to bring to the attention of Black Spectacles. Let’s ping @Lara; she can pass this information along to the people who QA the practice exams/quizzes.

Adding this to our items for review, so thank you for finding this!