SPD Exam Reivew

First off, apologies to anyone in the Portland Prometric who might have overhead my faint mouth popping noise a la Donkey from Shrek. Nervous habit, my bad, I’ll work on it.

I’m either becoming a regular at Prometric, or was the last person checking in for the day on Sunday. I hadn’t even signed in and they called me by name into the office to get going on the exam. My 12.30 start time became 12.05, which meant there was no chance to nervously wait and watch the clock. I kind of like that. After the usual emptying of pockets and wanding, I found myself in front of a different work station, this time in the middle of the room. Not a bad spot, but the chair felt like it was designed for someone 6′-0″ and I had to sit on my knees half the time to feel like I was positioned at the desk properly. I’ll have to ask next time if they adjust.

Multiple Choice questions were fairly straight forward, and didn’t throw too many curve-balls. It was a case of you either know it or you don’t. I marked about half of the questions during my first attempt, which is pretty typical for me. By the end of the time (I used the whole 90 minutes) I had five marks remaining, which were the WTF questions that I had to make a guess on. I felt prepared for the most part.  I was glad that I had already taken PPP and CDS as there were some familiar issues addressed, but nothing that wouldn’t have come up if one was studying the “Project & Practice Management” concepts detailed in the NCARB exam guide. I left feeling ok with this section, about the same as I felt after taking CDS. I don’t think that I bombed it, but it doesn’t feel like a guaranteed pass either.

The Site Grading problem was straight forward.  I practiced the NCARB example about five times, and felt prepared. Unless I missed something in the program I think it should be fine.

The Site Design problem was a definite challenge for me, and I’m very concerned about how I did on this portion.  To me, it was more difficult than the NCARB example, but not as bad as the alternatives found on areforum. I spent about a half hour trying to come up with a design that would work, and while I felt that I ultimately had a solution that met the program, it certainly wasn’t pretty and had a few faults that will likely get counted against me. While studying, I focused a lot of my time on parking design and didn’t pay that much attention to shading and compact plazas. They always just “fit” as best they could at the end, and I think that strategy (or lack thereof) really hurt me during the exam. I finished with 30 seconds to spare, and seriously white knuckles from gripping the mouse so tightly out of sheer fear of missing something major.

would you like a beer with your lemon?

After the exam I met Nate downtown and blankly stared at him when he asked where I wanted to go for a drink. He suggested Jake’s, a local landmark with a killer $3.95 cheeseburger and fries. (All those exam nerves sure do make a girl hungry.) We talked about the exam and how I felt I did. I’m constantly amazed with his confidence in me, and find it so comforting as I worry about my results. We enjoyed another Post Prometric Pint, a local hefeweizen, and then headed down the street to wander our favorite sections at Powell’s. Lucky for us, Architecture and Photography are all but adjacent to each other.

Pass or fail, I feel like I learned a lot about the NCARB examination process on this test, and was a bit humbled by the experience. I think I learned a hard lesson with the vignettes in that I shouldn’t put them off until just before the exam, nor should I neglect in asking for help. While I reviewed comments and other submissions on areform, I never made a serious effort to post my work. Rather, I chose to look over my alternative solutions and rate them against others. On future exams (as well as a potential SPD retake) I will be sure to allow more time to work through them and develop a more refined approach to solving the problem.

And speaking of next exams, now that I’ve done the CDS/PPP/SPD trio, I am going to be tackling the dreaded Structural Systems. But first, a couple days to give my brain a bit of a rest. It needs it.

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9 thoughts on “SPD Exam Reivew

  1. Laura J W says:


    I recently found your blog through the areforum and I love your humorous take on the process. Definitely a bright spot during studying. Like you, I am taking the CDS/PPP/SPD trio with SPD scheduled on Friday. Its always nice to hear post-test recaps that don’t leave you shakin in your boots. I look forward to hearing about your results! And structures might just be a nice change of pace from all that contract jargon!

  2. Jenny C. says:

    I’ve just recently stumbled across your blog and really enjoy reading your take on the whole experience. I was wondering you had any advice for this fellow ARE-taker, studying wise. Current I have passed CDS and failed PPP twice and failed SPD once already. I’m studying for SPD again and am really having a lack in motivation when it comes to studying because of the previous fails. Seems to always be the MC questions that get me. I’d love to hear any advice from anyone about studying methods. Or anything really.
    Thanks in advance.

    • jennypdx says:

      Hi, thanks for reading, and congrats on passing CDS! Sorry to hear that you’ve been having a rough time with PPP and SPD. With a bit of percervierece I know you’ll pass them, you’ve already proven that you can with construction documents.

      Studying is different for everyone, but when it comes to multiple choice, I like to chip away at it a little bit every day (even if it’s only 15 minutes) so I don’t get overwhelemed. I start by reading other peoples’ notes on AREforum, and then fill in the gaps with supplemental documents, such as Defenisble Space and Historic Preservation Guidelines for PPP.

      My best source of motivation is to have something social to look forward to at almost all times. It could be dinner out, or wandering around shooting photos with my boyfriend, or screaming my head off at a Timbers match. If there’s something anti-ARE to do later in the week, I’m able to convince myself that it’s time to push hard on studying now. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the examination process, but we have to remember that it shouldn’t take over our life. The trick is finding a balance between studying and playing that works for you. Then enjoy and appreciate the moments you have given yourself for both.

      Good luck, cheers!

  3. Ivan says:

    I am about to start the CDS/ PPP/ SPD trifecta of exams. Any suggestions on how to study would be greatly appreciated.

    • jennypdx says:

      Hi Ivan, good luck! I’d suggest starting with CDS or SPD, and then give PPP a try. It’s more efficient as there is a lot of repeat information on PPP from the other two. I usually go through all of the general study resources I can find first (Kaplan, notes on areforum’s FTP) and then supplemental information from different websites or texts you find or are recommended (check the references on my study guides for some sources that I found helpful). Read areforum often, and post your vignette attempts, especially on SPD.

      Hope that helps, good luck!

      • Ivan says:

        I have passed SD/ BS/ BDS so if you need any help on those let me know.

        I learned my lesson the hard way (didn’t pass BS the first time) by not loading up my vignettes on the are forum and not reviewing peoples post test brain dumps.

        I have the following study guides for these exams:

        Fundamentals of building construction
        Ballast ARE Review manual
        Ballast exam guides for the 3 exams
        Archiflash cards

        Do you think I need anything else? There is a book on amazon called site planning, but I am hesitating on whether to buy it.



      • jennypdx says:

        Thanks for the offer, I’ll keep that in mind when i get to them later next month!! I think you’ve set yourself up with a good set of materials. Architects Handbook of Professional Practice is a useful book for CDS and PPP, as are the Schiff Hardin lectures on AIA contracts. I found myself doing web searches for terms and concepts I wasn’t familiar with, too. There are lots of useful construction websites out there, especially for site, soils, and foundations, and if you’re really stuck on something, there’s always Wikipedia.

  4. Kurt Rodrigo says:

    Hi Jenny,

    I want to say first, like the many others, thank you in advance for this blog. It is very helpful and an inspiration. I am sorry to hear about the results for BS. Its ok-I totally believe failure is a motivator and sure you will pass the 2nd time. I failed SS-but the sickening part was I was totally prepared and passed the multiple choice but failed the stupid vignette. I didnt study enough and thought it was going to be easy-I made some stupid bone head move which costed me big time.

    I am taking SPD mid-end of January. I think I am going to take SPD-CDS-PPP. I had a couple questions.

    1) In your post SPD review you wrote: “I was glad that I had already taken PPP and CDS as there were some familiar issues addressed,, but nothing that wouldn’t have come up if one was studying the “Project & Practice Management” concepts detailed in the NCARB exam guide”

    What review materials did you use to review Project and Practice Management concepts for this portion of SPD?

    2) Ive heard that the SPD covers sustainability aspects. Other than the ballast and kaplan material, what other materials do you recommend to study for this topic?

    3) Other than the kaplan, ballast, and your notes, what else would you highly recommend to go over in preparation for SPD, as well as CDS and PPP (so I dont have to ask you this question again in 2 months)?

    Again thank you for your help and I wish you the best and happy holidays!

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