BDCS Exam Review

It’s slightly unnerving to look around a Prometric waiting room and realize that you’re the least anxious of anyone sitting there. Apparently Saturday was a big day for GRE testing and my center was full of grad student hopefuls full of questions like “Why can’t I have a pen?” and “What’s the exact temperature in there…should I wear my sweater?” I know I shouldn’t have found it so amusing, I was a nervous as heck the first exam too, but you can’t help but simile at the absurd things people wonder about unfamiliar environments. At least one of the proctors tried to lighten the mood with the friendly reminder to “make sure you don’t have any Chapstick, tissues or lint in your pockets”.

I signed in and got settled in the back corner of the testing room next to a gal who must have been amused by her exam given the quiet chuckles I heard coming from her station. After my usual routine of flipping the mouse to the left hand side and adjusting the chair so I could actually see what I was doing I took a deep breath and got started. Moments later, a guy outside the building with a table saw started his work too…thankfully it only lasted about 10 minutes.

who has two thumbs and totally understands what’s going on here now?

The multiple choice was less challenging than I expected. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult, and I can see why so many recommend saving BDCS for last. There was a noticeable amount of overlap with the rest of the exams I’ve had to date. I felt that all of the topics I saw were originally presented on the NCARB exam guide and that my notes covered everything sufficiently. Reading Fundamentals of Building Construction turned out to be really helpful. Now if I had only memorized every word I read! I used the entire 1:45, and spent about an hour going through the 85 questions slowly. The rest of the time was dedicated to working through everything I marked (just over half of the problems) which included anything I even slightly hesitated on. At the end I was down to about six questions that I made my best judgement call on. There are always a few problems where, no matter how much you think, more than one answer looks correct.

Now that I’ve sat through the multiple choice portion a few times I’ve found myself wondering a few things about the process:

1. I can’t be the only one that has little habitual quirks when testing. Like for instance I always write notes on the NCARB scratch paper from the back page to the front.
2. Do you think NCARB keeps track of the answers people give for the mandatory use-the-mouse tutorial questions? I’d love to know how many people get those things wrong.
3. Can anyone tell me why the calculator allows every number/symbol to be entered on the keyboard *except* the equals/enter button?! Maybe I’m doing something wrong (wouldn’t be the first time)…I always key in the problem and then click equals. Baffling.

After a mandatory break spent observing the teens in the Sylvan Learning Center, who looked thrilled to be spending their Saturday in class, I was back at my desk watching the clock tick down to the vignettes. I did them in the following order:

Ramp Design: completed in about 45 minutes. I roughed out two complete solutions with sketch rectangles before settling on the better of the two options. My goal was to make as few landings as possible and to get the bottom landings of the ramp and stairs as close as possible. I think my design worked and looked pretty decent to boot.

Roof Design: completed in about 30 minutes. I began drawing the first obvious solution that came to mind and then found myself backpedaling after about 10 minutes when I realized all of the elements didn’t work the way I had intended. After scratching my head for a few, I settled on a new design that I would honestly have a hard time proposing to an actual client, but met all the programmatic requirements. This vignette made me realize that it’s best to think of all the roof components at the same time when designing a scheme.

Stair Design: completed in about 45 minutes. This was the vignette I was most nervous for, and thus allowed the most time for. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the problem wasn’t as tricky as I feared. It was still quite challenging, and I found myself checking and double checking my math to ensure I didn’t screw up any elevation calculations. Practicing with the cut stair tool was a good move before the exam and I’d recommend it.

Overall I found the vignettes to be somewhat more difficult than the NCARB examples and I was glad that I took the the time to do the forum alternates for each. After reviewing all of my solutions, and making sure none of my handrails got bumped out of alignment, I decided to call it good enough. I had 20 minutes left on the clock.

Phew. Huge sigh of relief to have that one done.

Post Prometric Pint #6 – Rise Up Red, hoping my results won’t be DOA

I met up with Nate for lunch and then we picked up a couple bottles for the Post Prometric Pint on the way back to his place. Reason number #342 that it’s awesome to live in the Northwest is that there’s so much good local beer you rarely have to have the same thing twice. We tried Hopworks Urban Brewery’s Rise Up Red, a light, organic, citrusy red ale. A pint at home never tasted so good. We kicked back and watched Timbers get trampled by Real Salt Lake down in Utah. I hope that their loss isn’t a foreshadow of my results.

I think this exam went pretty well and I left feeling about the same as I did after PPP. There’s a lot of material to cover, and I know I gave it my best. I’m not 100% sure about how I did on the multiple choice, and I’m more satisfied with my performance on the vignettes at this point. I’m anxiously awaiting my results already! It’s hard to believe that there’s only one more exam to begin preparing for, and I don’t plan on wasting any time while waiting for my pass/fail. Let’s get this thing done!

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28 thoughts on “BDCS Exam Review

  1. LILIANA CALL says:

    HI Jenny,

    I had 4 test to past.


    Please, in your experience how much time I could schedule for each exam. Right now I am unemployed and had time to study. Can you advise me in what order take these tests?.

    Thanks, very much.


    • jennypdx says:

      Hmm…those are hard questions!! I gave myself about 6 weeks to prepare for each exam. I work full time and would study a few nights after work and a about 8 hours on the weekends. As for the order, I think CDS > PPP > BS > BDCS would make sense. CDS has the least amount of overlap and BDCS has the most, at least in my opinion. I haven’t started studying BS yet, so I can’t really speak to it. Hope that helps!

      • Mike says:

        hi Jenny, I have a question regarding the BDCS stair vignette .
        in case part of the stair (lower landing, stair fly) is not visible from 2nd floor,
        when, I assume, both 1st floor plan and 2nd floor plan should be drawn.
        but , Do we have to draw the cut stair twice (once in 1st floor plan and also in the 2nd floor plan) ?

  2. Takaren says:

    Hi Jenny,

    I am sure you pass the test. Cheers!
    I am just reading your notes, which is really excellent. Thank you so much!
    I have read FBC and Ballast, and did ballast and ncarb sample tests. I have 6 days to study.
    What do you recommend to study? Many thanks,

    • jennypdx says:

      Sounds like you’ve read and studied all the right things already! I would suggest focusing on things in your practice exams that you struggled on. I also found reviewing things that weren’t construction material related right before the exam helpful as well. For example, professional practice (ie: what an architect does in different part of the design process), accessibility and code information. Good luck!!

  3. koki says:

    Jenny, you are truly an inspiration! I take BDCS next week and its a doozie! I already took SD and this is my next one… Through the studying I’ve noticed that the other exams are also in BDCS. My beer post BDCS is a japanese Asahi beer that a friend bought me as a gift…. Wishing you the very best on this exam and your final one! Huggs from Puerto Rico!!!

    • jennypdx says:

      Aww, thanks Koki! Best of luck in your final push to prepare and study. Your celebratory beer sounds awesome, I’ll have to see if I can find it here! Thanks for reading, cheers!

    • Mike says:

      hi guys , I have a question regarding the BDCS stair vignette .
      in case part of the stair (lower landing, stair fly) is not visible from 2nd floor,
      when, I assume, both 1st floor plan and 2nd floor plan should be drawn.
      but , Do we have to draw the cut stair twice (once in 1st floor plan and also in the 2nd floor plan) ?

  4. Jaclyn says:

    Good luck on the results – sounds like you did fine!

    It drives me insane that the equal button needs to be clicked on the calculator with the mouse. Maybe we are both doing something wrong? I wonder if anyone else gets it to work.

    Thanks for the notes… I’ve read ballast, reading fundamentals now, than I’ll read Kaplan and finish up like I always do with your notes! I love them as my review. Thanks again for sharing all your hard work.

    • jennypdx says:

      Glad to help, and really glad to hear I’m not the only one bugged by the calculator. At least we get to use one though, right? Thanks for the kind words and let me know if you have any questions! Good luck!

      • davi says:

        Have you tried using the enter key on the keypad to see if it works like the “equal” function? I’m not sure if it would work on the Prometric machines, but might be worth a try…

  5. Tom says:

    Way to go Jenny…You prepared and did your best. You’ll be just fine. I’m a few weeks away and getting nervous too. So much to cover. I’m glad you feel good about it, thanks for giving me hope.

  6. Jason Miller says:

    Jenny, I wish I would of come across your blog earlier. Your posts are informative and enjoyable to read. I wish you luck on your final exam and congratulate you on your hard work. I also want to say “thank you,” for your kindness in helping the rest of us overcome our fears! I’ve been practicing architecture for 16 years and am just now getting around to studying for the exams. I’ve allowed life to get in the way. No more! I’ve been studying BDCS as my first exam but am now thinking this was a poor choice. I know you’ve answered this question in part (in this very post) but could you recommend again, based on your insight, in what order you would now take the exams? I value your opinion.
    Thank you!!

    • jennypdx says:

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your note and for reading! It’s great to hear that you’re getting the exams underway, like the profession it can be tedious, but the process is truly worth it.

      Exam order is really a personal preference based on how familiar you are with the content areas. Many start with areas they feel they know the most about. With 16 years of experience I imagine you’ve probably been exposed to almost everything! For you it might be more of a strategy in building off content areas so that you aren’t re-studying information that you already covered on previous exams.

      The CDS/SPD/PPP trio are good to take in sequence as CDS and SPD material will be found in PPP. SS and BS both have fairly exam-specific content in and of themselves, but their content will show up in BDCS. In fact, topics from pretty much every exam will be found in BDCS, that’s why so many save it for last. You might be onto something by starting with it though…there will be a lot to cover, but it will set you up for the rest of the exams. SD is a total freebie, it’s the “easy one” with no multiple choice. Some people start with it, others end, I took in it the middle after SS to give my brain a bit of a rest.

      If I had to do it over knowing what I know now, my order would be: CDS/SPD/PPP/SS/SD/BS/BDCS. That groups professional practice/construction together and systems/materials together.

      Hope that gives you some guidance. Feel free to drop me a note if you ever have questions, I’m glad to help as best I can. Hopefully you’ve also found the great folks over at areforum…don’t hesitate to post questions and comments there, they are a fantastic group of people who collectively know more than I could ever dream of knowing. Best of luck and cheers!

      • Jason Miller says:

        Thank you!! That is exactly what I was hoping (and certainly not expecting) to receive (and in such a thorough response). You are awesome! Your employer is lucky to have an articulated, bright women as yourself. Cheers to you!

  7. Valeria says:

    Hi Jenny

    Thank you so much for your input. You are an inspiration for me too!!! I am sure you have done great on this exam.


  8. Kate says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Your blog is a lifesaver and your sense of humor almost makes these tests sound fun (almost…). Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Question: do you think a copy of Fundamentals of Building Construction from 2003 (I think it’s the 3rd edition?) would be okay as a study tool for the tests? Would you imagine the content to be outdated?

    Thanks, and keep on keepin’ on!


    • jennypdx says:

      Thanks for the kind words Kate!! I wish the process was as fun as I try to make it out to be. 🙂 I had a 4th edition copy of FBC that covered everything I needed to know well enough. I did a quick search, and it said the new features to that edition included sections on sustainability for each topic, more pictures, and some website info. If that’s important to you (I didn’t refer to any of it) then you might check it out. Otherwise if you’re looking for the basics on construction and materials my guess is that you’re good to go. Best of luck!!

  9. Mike says:

    hi guys , I have a question regarding the BDCS stair vignette .
    in case part of the stair (lower landing, stair fly) is not visible from 2nd floor,
    when, I assume, both 1st floor plan and 2nd floor plan should be drawn.
    but , Do we have to draw the cut stair twice (once in 1st floor plan and also in the 2nd floor plan) ?

    • jennypdx says:

      Hi Mike, It’s been a while since I’ve worked through the vignettes myself, so I don’t want to point you in the wrong direction. Sounds like this would be a good question for the ARE forum called AREcoach ( You’ll find lots of examples of people working through the vignette, take a look at their solutions to see how they solved it. Also, post your own solutions for feedback! Good luck.

  10. Mike says:

    Also , if you have passed the BDCS Exam, how many History questions would you think there was in it?

  11. ellen says:

    hi jenny! so glad I found your site!
    I have 5 weeks to study for this test and I’m debating reading kaplan vs fundamentals of building construction…or both?
    it would be great to know what you thought was the most productive study material.

    • jennypdx says:

      Hi Ellen, I’m glad you found it too! Personally I found Fundamentals of Building Construction to be much more comprehensive. I had about the same amount of time to prepare as you do, and so I made it priority to go through the whole book over a couple of weeks and then supplement areas I needed more help on using other resources like Kaplan. There are a lot of great sites out there with more info than you could ever want on various construction systems, don’t be afraid to get creative with your study sources! Some of the most helpful resources I found were contractor training videos on youtube (not to mention more entertaining than rereading pages of text). Hope that helps, good luck on your exam!

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