It seems that everyone has this question at beginning. And it can be very daunting when you look ahead and see 7 exams! But I hope that you will take this information and it will give you some direction on how to tackle these obstacles. Everyone has an opinion, just ask them, but there are a few tricks to think about that can help you decide what is best for you.
Even though there are 7 exams there are some that have some commonality, which means they should be taken in succession. For example, Construction Documents (CDs), Planning Programming and Practice (PPP) and Site Planning & Design (SPD) should be taken together. Here’s why: there are questions on the PPP exam that are about CDs, if you know nothing about contracts you will likely fail PPP. I made that mistake! PPP and SPD have very similar reading material (in fact they used to be one test – Pre Design) so these tests should be taken around the same time. It does not matter if you take PPP or SPD 2nd or 3rd but you SHOULD take CDs before either of these tests. I believe that PPP is a more comprehensive test and therefore if you study for it then you should be able to take SPD a few weeks later (after conquering the vignettes).
Three other exams that have a lot of overlap are Building Design & Construction Systems (BDCS), Structural Systems (SS) and Building Systems (BS). BDCS is a comprehensive exam and covers a lot of material so it’s good to get this one done first in the trilogy. Again, it does not matter what order you take SS or BS after BDCS. BDCS covers metals, wood, and concrete related to Structures and covers vertical transportation related to the BS test.
Schematic Design (SD) is a test that does not have overlap with other ARE Exams. SD can be taken first, last, or between these 2 groupings. This test is a good one to take first if you want to get a test under your belt. It takes a few weeks of preparation to learn the drawing program. Once you feel confident with the software, you can take the exam. It will also prevent you from having to learn the software while studying for a multiple choice exam.
A friend of mine, Aimee, said “I always tell people whatever they were good at in school or whatever they think will be easiest for them. Just to get their feet wet and so they don’t get discouraged. I know a few people who have failed their first couple of exams and then they just throw in the towel for a while, it’s hard to get them motivated again.”
I find that the best way to stay motivated is to have a plan. Set goals for yourself; know when, what and where you are going to study. Attend as may lectures as you can and get a study group, AIA Dallas’ Success Teams will be starting this summer (June), to help keep you accountable. It takes time and dedication. Good luck and I hope that you will post some success stories on the blog and let us celebrate YOUR success!
Leticia B. Canon, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Associate at FKP Architects
2011 Associate Co-Chair, AIA Dallas
2012 Tour of Homes Co-Chair, AIA Dallas