March 18, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Architecture (Part 2)

Construction Documents and Services seemed like the best option for my second exam because my particular work experience gave me a strong advantage with the exam content. Most of the exams cover very practical content and work experience is the ARE candidate’s best friend.

Inversely, studying for the AREs involves learning about the practice of architecture that directly informs work experience. After reading through the B101 or the A201 one night, I’d find myself dipping into that information the next day at the office. Studying for the exams was making me a better, more informed architectural professional, and putting the study material to practical use during the working day reinforced the information I studied at night.

It sounds ridiculous and absurdly geeky, I know, but studying for the CD&S exam was a turning point for me, the point at which I rededicated myself and knew I was fully committed to my architectural career. As I absorbed more about the functioning and principles of architectural practice I grew significantly as a professional and found a great deal of satisfaction in making connections and understanding the logic behind certain practices. Best of all, extrapolating from that logic to situations I encountered at work, I was able to function a lot more independently and with a lot more confidence.

My respect for the intensity and extremely broad knowledge base of the profession was also renewed as I studied for this exam. The expansive exam material highlights the complexity of the architect’s responsibilities, with duties that span several professions: we must, at different stages of the project (and sometime simultaneously), think as designer, engineer, builder, educator, lawyer, accountant, mediator, negotiator, bureaucrat, agent and businessperson. This is in addition to the duty to act as a cultural steward, a medium for bringing coherence to the built environment that was so strongly emphasized in architecture school.

The studying process for CD&S was intense – I read the PPI (Ballast) review manual, but I also relied heavily on primary sources of information, reading the main AIA contracts (A101, A201, B101, etc.) several times as well as relevant chapters of the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice. The AHPP is pretty dry reading, but a wealth of information, both for working practice but also specifically for ARE preparation. I’ve had several questions on my various exams so far that have come directly from AHPP articles.

I took about two months to study for this exam. Again, probably overkill, but my general philosophy is that it’s infinitely preferable to be over-prepared for any situation than to be caught off guard.

Of course, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men and such: on exam day the multiple choice section was very tough and included a lot of questions on topics I hadn’t studied, hadn’t even known I ought to study, as well as several questions which seemed to be subjective.

This type of upset question appears on each and every ARE exam with multiple choice sections. The key is to become good at reasoning through the problem by deduction. The correct answer will be derived from some combination of principles with which you are probably familiar. This synthesis and application of multiple precepts is a totally separate skill set from memorization or even familiarity with architectural knowledge, but it can be learned and mastered with practice.

When I walked out of the CD&S, I was sincerely worried that I had failed the exam. I prepared myself for disappointment, and waited anxiously for two months to get my results (again, pre-blackout). When the Pass letter finally arrived, I was thrilled and relieved beyond belief and, if I’m being honest, there might have been some dancing around the house and celebratory whooping involved as well.

Programming, Planning and Practice and Site Planning and Design were the next two tests on the agenda, and I took them in rapid succession. Both of these exams I took after the blackout and received my pass letters (or emails, more accurately) within one week. Again, although I read the PPI review manual and some Kaplan material, I also relied heavily on primary sources like the AHPP, Edward Allen’s Fundamentals of Building Construction and Frank Ching’s Building Construction Illustrated.

I am now simultaneously studying for my fifth (Structural Systems) and sixth (Building Design & Construction Systems), which I plan to take in tandem in about a month. As the weather starts to turn nice, it will be increasingly difficult to sit inside and study on the weekends, but my goal is to finish the last three exams before the summer solstice, and that requires focus.

Abstemious focus pays off, however. In a few months I will be licensed, and I do think that is a significant achievement.  The process is not just about obtaining a license and the title of Architect. It is a valuable learning process as well (the last thing I ever thought I would say about a standardized test!). Studying has significantly enhanced my architectural knowledge and thus my architectural ambitions.

Architecture, of course, is a discipline that can never truly be mastered: it demands constant education and continuous growth on the part of its practitioners. The license is a career milestone, but it certainly does not signal the end of an architectural education. The life-long learning characteristic of an architectural career is something I look forward to, with the conviction that the more knowledgeable I become, the more I will have to offer the discipline of architecture and the culture of the built environment.


Rae Solomon 


  1. Hi-
    I went to NY Tech in Manhattan, also (I went in the 1990's). I enjoyed reading your story. I really wasn't aware of just how few black architect's there are.

    1. I presume this was meant for the "Black Architect" Post ( ). Thank you for your comment! There are many minorities in the field, but when it comes to attaining their license, the numbers don't add up.


Thoughts? Comments? Agree? Disagree?