Structural Systems Exam Review

…and deep breath out.

Boy am I glad to have that one over with (at least for now).  It’s like a uniform load of 3,000 kips/inch has been lifted off my shoulders…and I’m not even going to begin to try and find the reactions for that.  Overall I think the exam went OK.  I’m not sure  that I passed, and I can’t be certain I failed.  At this point all I can do is wait it out.

I arrived at Prometric at 8.30, and as I walked away from my car I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Jenny!  I know why you’re here!”

It was Kyle, a classmate from grad school that I haven’t seen in quite some time.  He was there for Site Planning and, while I didn’t tell him, would have traded him exams in a heartbeat.  We chatted and checked in, and before I could even begin to recite equations to myself, I was called in to get started.  After the usual pleasantries from the familiar friendly ladies I found myself in the middle of room at a station I’ve now deemed my favorite.  Perfect temperature, low foot traffic, nice light… and the best part? I figured out that the chairs adjust!  Days of sitting on my knees and shifting every 5 minutes are over…oh happy day!

During the mandatory introduction tutorial on how to use a mouse/keyboard/etc I jotted down all of the equations and guidelines I could remember. I wondered if this would be the exam that I used all of the scratch paper they provided.  I got close, but still had a few blank pages at the end.

I didn’t run across my first challenging question until about 10 problems in, which is a good sign I hope.  After that, it was downhill for a while with plenty of math problems (maybe 20 or so) and the usual tricky wording that NCARB throws our way. I didn’t come across any content that I neglected to study, however I found that my struggles were on topics that I didn’t study enough. That, to me, was more frustrating than had I not known it at all.  Reading IBC Chapter 16 was a good move, as was FEMA and Buildings at Risk for the conceptual questions.  My school notes on trusses and beams were helpful, too.  I can say, in hindsight, that studying the Kaplan Q&A was probably the best thing I did.  It truly helped me think about structural concepts more pointedly.  I wish I would have dedicated more time to it.

Admittedly I had a slight freak out about 1.5 hours in…not quite to the point of silent tears, but close.  “Oh God,” I thought “I don’t know how to do any of this!!”  After I calmed down and knocked out a few more problems that I felt more confident about, I was done with entire set.  Cue the first small sigh of relief.  I had made it through all of the question in just over two hours, which gave me nearly an hour and a half to review. I marked about 50% of the problems on my first go around (typical for yours truly) included any that I hesitated on.  I diligently worked through those, giving the calculations the best attempt I could.  When time was up I had about 10 still checked, predominately WTF questions that I simply guessed on.

Took my mandatory break in the lobby and read the same study tip articles posted on the bulletin boards that were there at my last exam.  12 minutes and a fruit snack later I was back at my station getting ready to draw.

I prepared for the vignette by reading dwg’s step by step instructions and practicing about 5-10 times.  The exam was just as straightforward… cue the second small sigh of relief.  It was the same difficulty level as the practice problem, and I was happy with my solution after about 15 minutes of work.   I reread the program (always reread the program!!) and made a few tweaks to my column and beam locations.  With 20 minutes left on the clock I decided there was nothing else I could possible do or review, and clicked finish.  Phew.  All done.

If you ever come visit Portland, eat/drink/be merry here. (You don’t even have to take an exam first!)

After the exam Nate and I met up in Central Eastside Industrial District, a rough and gritty neighborhood full of working warehouses, hidden gems, and local favorites (see:  Burnside skatepark, City Liquidators, and OMSI) We wandered around there for a bit and then ran up to Hawthorne Avenue to check out our usual go-to shops.  Did a little window shopping for mid century modern furniture, and wondered if it would be appropriate to put any of it in the craftsman style houses we’ve been eying in the neighborhood.  It truly was the nicest way to wind down the day.

The Post Prometric Pint was an Epic Hop Syndrome poured by the guys at Produce Row Cafe.  Light and hoppy, it’s a perfect summer beverage. I’ll definitely  be back for another.  I also tried potato skins for the first time (crazy, I know.) and seriously considered changing the the name of my post exam ritual to the Post Prometric Pint plus Potatoes.  They were that good.

Overall I’m at peace with how the day went.  Whatever my results turn out to be, I know that I tried, and given the breadth of material there was to study, did as best I could.  If I have to take it again I’m at least grateful to know what to focus my efforts on next time.  For the next few weeks I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and trying to get my  mind off the process.  It shouldn’t be too hard…I’m pretty excited to let it go!   That being said, while the exam was scary, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I had feared.

Now to go convince Nate that we need more potato skins and mid century European credenzas in our life.   I fear he’s created a monster.

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4 thoughts on “Structural Systems Exam Review

  1. ingamak says:

    Hey Jenny, I love your blog and all the information you’ve been so kind to compile. I use the PPI ARE Review Manual by Kenneth Ballast. Do you suggest using Kaplan instead? I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks!

    • jennypdx says:

      Thanks for reading ingamak! 🙂 I think it comes down to a personal preference, really. From what I’ve heard Kaplan tends to offer a general overview while Ballast’s is more in depth. I use Kaplan as a supplement to all of the arefourm FTP material, the Architects Handbook of Professional Practice, and other suggested resources. For me, a general guide is good enough. There’s been a lot of talk on arefoum about the pro and cons of each resource, check those out if you’re looking for more opinions. Good luck in your studies! Cheers!

  2. Dena says:

    hey jenny, i just stumbled on your blog yesterday and i am currently taking my exams. i have SS coming up on Tuesday. I am not that nervous about it and i am not sure if it is cause i have taken and passed this before so i am a little cocky, or if i am feeling relaxed about this cause all my studying when i passed this the first time helps and it is just more review for me…(hope i am not jinx’ing myself here)… i just downloaded your structural notes for a quick review. As i have been using Ballast books for Study, my past study material on this exam (hoping it has good vibes since i had a pass last time), as well as the ARE Forum FTP site and Coach’s new site. i am about to crack open the Kaplan Q&A for my review the day before the exam. i also need to make sure i am good with the vignette tomorrow. i also need to read the FEMA document (although i did not read it the first time and passed, but it sounds like it helped you.). Well, thanks for your posts, i have thought of starting a blog for this exact reason…the Endurance and determination it takes to get through these exams!! we are either Crazy, Glutten for punishment, or really enjoy torture… 🙂

    Also, on another note i am from near Portland. (Boring, Oregon – on the way up to Mt. Hood.) i grew up in Oregon. but i moved to Florida back in the 90’s to follow my dream…Well and a guy! 🙂 he he.

    So here i am, several years later after finishing all, having to retake 4 of the 7 (it was 9 exams when i started).

    Just wanted to say thanks for your blog, thanks for your study notes and tell you i am from PDX. 🙂

    Have a great day!

    • jennypdx says:

      Hey Dena, fellow PDXer, thanks for dropping a note! Sounds like you have a level head and well rounded understanding of the exam and that you’ll knock it out of the park tomorrow. I suppose it helps that you’ve taken it before, too…although I wouldn’t wish having to redo the exams on anyone. Hopefully you find the Kaplan Q&A useful in your preparation tonight. It was the best thing I did during my final review to get that final boost of confidence I needed going in.

      I know Boring, although haven’t spent much time there myself. My mom and an aunt and uncle taught at Boring Elementary in the 70s/80s. Small world!

      Best of luck tomorrow, if you think about it let me know how it goes! Cheers!

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