Tag Archives: Exam day

BS Take 2: Exam Review

we've got your stack vents and vent stacks right here, folks.

we’ve got your stack vents and vent stacks right here, folks.

I walked into my friendly Prometric testing center on Saturday morning expecting little to have changed in the six months I was away.  For the most part my expectations were correct, except for all the kids (no, not GRE candidates, actual tiny humans) wandering about, bemoaning the fact that they were there on a weekend for tutoring in the Sylvan Learning Center portion of the suite.  (I felt their pain).  As I signed in and waited my turn in the morning rush my eye caught a row of vertical silver pipes in the corner.  Wasn’t there a wall there before? And why does that sign next to it say “Toilets WORK sinks DON’T”?  Before I could start pointing out stack vents and waste pipes and wondering if I could see what was wrong, my name was called.  Investigation would have to wait until break time.

A new gal got me checked in and I found myself seated at a spot right by the door into the testing room.  I hoped that it wouldn’t be too distracting of a spot and fortunately it wasn’t.  The familiar hum of the air filter/white noise machine in the corner hushed my thoughts and my focus turned to the task at hand: facing my BS nemesis for a rematch. 

It’s always comforting when the first multiple choice question is one that you know the answer to.  Having a pretty good idea on the second one is nice as well.  Same with the third.  As I worked through my first pass through the 95 questions, which took me about an hour and 15 minutes to do, I felt that things were going much better than last time.  I knew how to solve the calculations and most of the vocabulary and concepts were familiar.  That being said, I marked over half the questions as I found myself constantly hesitating on the answer.  On my second pass I made the conscious effort to trust my gut on as many answers as possible, knocking the number of marked problems to about 25.  In the last half hour I worked through them as many times as I could, and when time was up I had about six left that I just made a wild guess on.  

Overall, I felt that I prepared the best that I could have, and that the problems I truly struggled on were those WTF questions that I would have never thought to have studied.  You know the ones, they always appear when you’re on a bit of  a roll.  “I know that, and I know that, and….” suddenly your eyes get wide  “… I…I don’t know the answer to that!”  It never fails.  

I took my break and fiddled with the faucet in the bathroom which actually worked, making a liar out of the sign posted outside.  I munched on a granola bar and flipped through the newspaper…how many people actually feel inclined to read when waiting for an exam?  Probably not many given the crisp edges of the front page.  With a few minutes left I headed back to my desk and got prepared for the vignette.  Almost done. 

The drawing portion wasn’t much more challenging than the NCARB example.  It was a little tricky to figure out the most appropriate lighting layout in a few rooms, but once I finally got the right combination of fixtures and orientation  I recognized that there really wasn’t a better solution.  Ducts and diffusers fell into place quickly, and before I knew it I had a pretty solid answer.  I spent the last half hour of my time checking dimensions and wondering if I should nudge ceiling grids and lights to get foot candle levels adjusted even further.  Like many of the multiple choice questions, I felt it was best to go with my gut on my design, and i justified my decision by thinking “well if I was doing this for work, this would probably be what they want to see.”   With five minutes left on the clock I called it good enough.  

My announcement of completion was met with a smile and friendly “Woot!” from the exam proctor.  Would this be the last time that I signed my name in the binder and walked out the door?  I’m still not too sure.   

hopefully the last Post Prometric Pint ever purchased.

hopefully the last Post Prometric Pint ever purchased.

I met up with Nate in Northwest Portland and we headed out in search of beer. I shot down the suggestion of a semi-new BBQ place, as that’s the meal we had after I took BS the first time (apparently I’m a bit superstitious). We continued our walk on the newly reopened Lompoc Tavern and instantly slid into a booth with a good view of the remaining few minutes of the Champions League Final.  I love my Timbers, but European soccer is such a delight to watch.  The Post Prometric Pint was a Kick Axe Pale Ale, light and hoppy.  It might be my favorite of all the pints I’ve celebrated with. We spend the rest of the day kicked back at Nate’s relaxing (aka: I fell asleep on the couch almost instantly) and enjoyed watching the Timbers defeat DC United followed by Chinese takeout and Globe Trekker on PBS.  It really wasn’t anything special, but after 2+ weeks of hitting the books hard in almost total isolation, Nate said it best: “I’m just glad to have my Jenny back.”

Now that I’ve had a couple of days to rest up, and enjoy time with family and friends, I’m feeling ok about the exam.  While I don’t know if my performance was good enough for a pass, I do feel confident that I did a much better job preparing this time around.  The BS exam is an incredibly challenging exam, and I feel that one has to truly dedicate some time to understating all of the different content areas.  The more you know walking into this exam, the better off you will be.  It’s not the division to gloss over and wing…unless maybe all you do is engineering coordination for your day job.  I’m still frustrated that I had to retake this exam, but I also feel like I’ve leaned a lot more about Building Systems then I ever thought I would know.  That alone is almost as important as the pass letter I’m waiting on.  I just hope it arrives sooner than later….not sure how I feel about BS Round 3. 

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BS Exam Review

Well, that was something.

I’ve been putting off writing my exam review primarily for the reason that every time I think about it I get sick to my stomach. Yeah…it wasn’t my best ARE experience. (Tell me again why I didn’t save SD for last?)

Now that I’ve had time to get some rest I think I’m able to assess how I did a little better. Overall, I think it was an incredibly challenging and detail focused exam. I felt that all of the overarching concepts I covered per the exam guide and Kaplan served me well in understand what the questions were asking, as well as narrowing the options down to a few good choices, but ultimately I struggled with confidently deciding on an answer. I found myself making a lot of educated guesses, and it’s my most gut-wrenching hope that they were right.

Prometric was fairly quiet on Sunday morning and it seemed like everyone who was testing had been there before…except for the middle aged guy next to me. I have no idea what exam he was taking or what resources he got to use, but it sounded like he was flipping through a phone book rapid fire looking for answers. His heavy sighs indicated that he wasn’t finding them. I kind of felt bad for him.

I used the full two hours for multiple choice. It took me about an hour and ten minutes to get through the 95 questions, and I marked about 3/4 of them (including anything i even slightly hesitated on) to review on my second time around. By the 45 minute mark I was cycling through depressed, panicked, and aggressive emotions, thinking “ohhh why didn’t I study that…crap! shit! crap! crap!….damnit Jenny, calm down and focus.” I finally calmed down about 10 minutes later. On my second round through I was able to think through many of the marked questions and settle on answers that I thought were best. When I didn’t know, I went with my gut. At the end I had about 5 or 6 WTF/no clue questions marked, which is pretty consistent with what I’ve found on other exams.

The leftover Halloween Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup I had during my break tasted extra bittersweet.

The vignette was on par with the NCARB example and I didn’t find it much more difficult than the practice problem. I worked through a few alternative vignettes the day before and they helped with designing around different floor plan layouts, but I don’t think I would have been in too much trouble if I had skipped them. I spent about 40 minutes laying out my solution and reviewed for 15 more. My biggest concern was if my supply and return ducts were spaced far enough from each other. I think they were alright.

Post Prometric Pint #7 – bring on the BBQ

It was kind of surreal exiting out of the exam…could this really be it? Would I ever see these Prometric ladies again? Would I ever hear the low whirr of the white noise generator in the corner of the room? I guess only time will tell.

After the exam and a brief venting to Mom, Nate suggested that I could probably use some serious comfort food (he was right). We met up at Russell Street BBQ, one of the best little spots in Portland to grab a drink and a bite. I arrived first and had the Post Prometric Pint in front of me before he even walked in the door! It was a czech pilsner from Southern Oregon Brewing called Na Zdravi and it was absolutely perfect as far as cold, crisp beers go. I’ve got to see if I can find it in bottles to share. After lunch we ran around to a few of our favorite antique shops in the city and scoffed at all of the Christmas decorations out already. Poor decorative turkeys and pilgrims, they don’t even stand a chance.

So I guess my exam is what it is and I know there’s nothing I can do now but wait for my results. Once I find out my fate I can decide what the next step will be. I’ve already promised Nate that if I fail I won’t spend the next six months studying…I think that would probably kill both of us. At this point I’m at least finding some comfort in the fact that I know I still have a good six months of IDP hours to get through, so even if I do fail, it’s not the only thing holding me up from my license. Still, a little (ok a big) part of me wants to be able to say that I’ve passed all seven exams in one shot. I’m trying to stay humble and not get my hopes up, but you can be darn sure I’m also keeping my fingers crossed pretty tight when no one is looking.

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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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world, the time has come to…

Obviously this is the most appropriate “get psyched” track to listen to this morning.

BDCS. Let’s do this.

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SD Exam Review

“You’ve done these before, right?” the Prometric lady asked as she checked me in on Sunday.

“Yeah…once or five times”  I replied with a small laugh.  No wonder this process is starting to feel routine, it seems like every few weekends I’m back in East Portland settling in for the day.  I even caught myself thinking “sweet, my parking spot is here” as I drove into the lot.   That’s a whole new level of Prometric intimacy that I wasn’t expecting.

I’m having a hard time putting into words how I feel about this exam.  It went okay, there was nothing spectacular, no major WTFs, and it was absolutely on par with what I expected.  I suppose that’s a nice change from the freak outs of exams past. Overall I’m satisfied with how I did.  My solutions at least appeared to be decent and I finished both with time to spare.   Like always, I think I did alright, but when it comes to NCARB you can never be too sure.

I arrived at Prometric about 25 minutes before my exam time, signed in, chatted with the girl in the chair next to me about the breadth of exams people were there to take, and relaxed.  As this is the only ARE division where last minute note cramming is impossible, it was nice to have a moment to clear my head.  After getting checked in  I found myself at the same station where I took CDS as well as the LEED exam.  Here’s hoping my success rate at that spot continues.

The Interior Layout was first and I found it to be a tad more difficult than the NCARB example, but not nearly as hard as some of the forum alternatives. (I’m looking at you, scheme-with-multiple-tables-for-four).  I finished my design in just about 35 minutes and used the rest of the time to check, double check, and triple check my solution.  On the last round of verification I noticed that one of the dimensions of my clear floor area in front of a door was two inches short and, when drawn correctly, would overlap a piece of furniture by an inch or so.  Probably not a fatal mistake, but it just goes to show that even if a solution looks good it never hurts to take a minute and check the pesky details.

During the break as I reread the bulletin board postings I heard a faint “woohoo!” from the other side of the room.  The girl who I had talked to before was grinning with her pass letter, and asked me how mine went.  “Fine,” I said, “…but I still have four hours to go.”   She blinked. “Really? Wow.”   Yeah,  my sentiments exactly.

After the break I checked back into my desk in the now majorly empty testing room.  The Building Layout portion was definitely more tricky than the NCARB example.  I was so grateful to have done the alternative vignettes the day before…working through those helped me quickly come up with solutions to a few otherwise strange things in the actual exam.   The program chart on scratch paper is a lifesaver, and I spent a good half hour filling it out and checking it over.  The layout was straight forward, and the only thing I found myself worrying about was if a few of my rooms were too rectangular in terms of their length/width proportion.  Given the overall layout of the building I ultimately decided to stick with them, rather than try and create terrible L-shaped rooms.   Knowing my luck that would have only made them worse.

Overall with taking my time on the chart, initial layout, verification with the program, and adding detail and adjusting as required, the whole process took just under three hours.  For my final step I flipped between the actual program on the screen and my solution…it sounded like I was sending morse code via spacebar.  With an hour left I called it good enough, and checked out.

After the exam I ran  a few errands (hello new favorite art supply shop) and then headed over to my aunt and uncle’s place for a toddler-rific birthday party for my second cousin.   Anything with a Cars and Spiderman theme is pretty cool in my book…even cooler when it involves ice cream.

this stuff practically comes out of home faucets in pdx

Of course I couldn’t neglect my favorite exam tradition, so my sister Amanda graciously and awesomely showed up with beer… I kicked back with the Post Prometric Pint, a Bridgeport IPA, and didn’t even bother with a glass.   It’s kind of a go-to beer around these parts.  Everyone knows it, you can get it basically anywhere, and it’s pretty decent on tap or via bottle.

I’m already anxiously awaiting my results, but I know that I prepared well and submitted pretty darn good solutions.  When I began this examination process I was worried that I’d never figure out and finish the vignettes in the time allotted, but with plenty of practice I was able to get over that quickly.   I’m glad to have this exam attempted, and I’m looking forward to enjoying summer for a few weeks before I gear up for the final two divisions.


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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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the exam day she’s been dreading

For years now I’ve kept this little picture on my desk…75% for a laugh and 25% for days like today.

Not gonna lie, I’m scared.  But I’m also excited to give this exam a shot and (even more so) to get it over with.  At this point I’ve officially done all I can, beside looking over equations in the parking lot before I walk in to Prometric.   The worst that can happen is that I take it again in January, and really, that’s not so bad (it’s always good to have something lined up for the post holidays slump anyway, right?)

I spent the last few nights rereading notes and going over practice problems in the Kaplan Q&A.  I didn’t get through the whole book as I had hoped. I did a set of 150 problems on Wednesday night and ended up getting most of them wrong (hello panic attack, followed by anger). So I spent Thursday night going through all of my incorrect answers and correcting my mistakes.  I think it helped.  Last night I reviewed my notes, read IBC Chapter 16 again, did a few more practice problems, and memorized equations like crazy. I know I broke the cardinal rule of taking time off before the exam to calm down and relax, but I didn’t feel like I could this time around.  Hopefully that doesn’t bite me in ass today.

My mind is still feeling a bit jumbled, but I bet part of that is due to nerves.  I’m ready to give it my all and hopefully knock this one out of the park.  I’ve a had tons of support from family and friends, and lots of well wishes as I prepared…including some from you, thank you!…I guess to be honest, I’d hate to let everyone down.   With that in mind, the best thing to do is stay optimistic that I won’t!

Alright*deep breath* Let’s go get this over with, shall we?

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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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ppp exam review

Note: I don’t know why I sit on writing/publishing these exam reviews for so long…it probably has something to do with burn out, or perhaps I just don’t give a damn after I sit at Prometric for an afternoon. Either way, here’s my two ppp cents…

I’m beginning to realize that taking these exams is like going to the dentist. It doesn’t matter if you prepare or lie that you did…because during that appointment you’re at the mercy of the professionals. They’ll do the easy stuff, then maybe a nudge here and a poke there, and then hit you with the serious jabs that you never see coming. When it’s all over they nod and smile and let you go. You’re numb (and maybe drooling). But they know you’ll be back in 6 months, you do too…you just hope it’s not for the same problems.

I elected to take the exam in the afternoon again, and it was full of a handful of examinees who all appeared well into their tests by the time I got there. I’m well acquainted with the Prometric center and check-in procedure now, so I was able to get going about 15 minutes ahead of my scheduled exam time. I sat on the opposite side of the testing room, a nice change from the usual corner spot by the vent that I seem to get. It still feels like sitting in a drab telemarketer call center, though. Here’s an ARE Schematic Design Vignette prompt idea: design a testing center that isn’t depressing as hell. Fortunately the ladies that run the place on the weekend are awesome, otherwise I think I’d check out other centers.

The multiple choice was much better than CDS. But then again, I studied like hell for this exam, and I think it paid off. During my first run through the questions I marked any that I hesitated over (about 45%) and spent the rest of the time going through those and thinking of them as if they were problems I might run across at work. By the end of the time (I used the whole two hours), there were about 4 WTF questions that I took a wild guess on. Everything else I felt comfortable with, or chose to trust my gut on. We’ll see how that pays off.

The mandatory break period was fine. I really have no idea what to do with those few minutes besides read the motivational posters and study tips for the Sylvan Learning Center kids that are plastered everywhere. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears, otherwise my options are dwindling down to old copies of Highlights and Where’s Waldo?. I sat at my exam station for a few minutes before the vignette portion started and made a table to fill in setbacks and requirements.

The vignette is everything one would expect if they’ve been practicing the software. Pro-tip: read through the program three times, twice at the beginning and once after you do a run through. It’s not difficult, but NCARB definitely throws a couple curveballs in there to make sure you’re paying attention. Well played NCARB, you almost got me. The process took me about 30 minutes, reviewed for another 15 and then decided there was nothing else I could do. I closed it feeling very confident.

the best part of exam day

After the exam I went downtown with Nate, did some people watching at Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portlanders will hacky sack any day/time of the year, I’m convinced of it), and then hit Paddy’s for the Post Prometric Pint. We talked about the exam for a bit, and Nate reminded me that pass or fail, he still knew that I did my best. Even though deep down inside I agreed, it was so comforting to hear it from a loved one. I don’t feel like I failed, but then again, I’m not sure if I passed…I hate to be optimistic, but I don’t have reason not to be. We wandered around Portland late into the evening, grabbed dinner at Montage, perused Powells and had dessert at Papa Haydn (thank God we walked everywhere…otherwise the next stop would have been the gym). It was a wonderful way to wrap up what I hope will be the last day I have to deal with PPP.

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Day 61: 370 days to 27th birthday

Note: This post has been sitting in my draft box for a few days now. Every time I thought about the exam my stomach would get knotted up, and I’d convince myself there were better things to do than finish this. Sorry. Will try not to let my emotions/laziness get the best of me next time. -j

the test is thataway

Ah Prometric, we meet again. I can’t say that I was looking forward to spending another sweaty palmed Saturday at this testing facility, but it was incredibly comforting to walk into a center I had been to before. Earlier in the summer I passed the LEED Green Associate exam here, and so being familiar with the process and atmosphere helped me feel more comfortable walking in for the CDS exam. The staff remembered me from my previous visit, which caught me off guard, but was very cool. I took the exam at 1pm… strange for me because I’m typically a morning person. There was hardly anyone checking in for the afternoon when I got there, so it felt like I had the center to myself. It almost seemed more relaxed and friendly than when I took the LEED exam on a busy weekend morning. The check-in process was speedy, taking about 15 minutes to from walking in to starting my test. I haven’t quite figured out the best thing to wear to this center yet, but light layers seem to be the way to go. This time I had Portland Timbers match tickets right after the exam, so I ended up wearing my obnoxiously green/gold gear partially hidden under a black sweater. It worked. I felt pumped. I elected not to take my No Pity Scarf in, as much as I wanted to flash it at the NCARB logo on the screen like my fellow Timbers Army members do to the opposing team on the pitch.

So after getting situated, and given the same station that I took the previous exam at (I wonder if it’s the designated ARE/USGBC computer, or if I’m just forever destined to be stuck in the corner of the room by the main path of travel.) I closed my eyes, said a quick prayer, took a deep breath and got started.

I used the whole two hours for the 100 multiple choice questions. It took an hour to get through the set of questions once, marking about 35-40 that I hesitated on (yikes). Then just went back through the marked questions as many times as I could, thinking and working through them, and removing the marks on the ones I had convinced myself I make the right guess on. Within the last five minuets, I know I was down to about 5 marked questions that were still giving me trouble. Not bad out of 100. I finished this portion feeling confident with 50% of my answers, ok with 25%, and hoping I guessed correctly on the last 25%. It’s not exactly the percentage I was hoping for, but I’ll take what I can get.

I think the Schiff Hardin lectures really helped in conjunction with the AIA commentary on the A201/B101 documents. Having 2+ years of full time experience in a firm was also a huge help. When I struggled on a question, I tried thinking about it in terms of how our office might deal with the situation. That strategy worked really well as I worked through my marked questions. I didn’t use the Kaplan books very much, besides working through the questions & answers a few times until I was getting over 90% on the practice tests. I liked both the Kaplan and ArchiFlash cards, and I’ll continue using those for the next exam. I felt prepared walking into the exam, based on my study technique and materials. Next time, I think I’ll spend a bit more time glossing over the Kaplan book so more concepts will be apparent in the next go-around.

The mandatory 15 minute break is alright…though I really didn’t know what to do with myself. Next exam I know I’ve got to bring a water bottle, and maybe a granola bar depending on how long the second half is. Snacking appears to be the popular thing to do. There’s no checking your phone, or going outside, or doing much of anything really, so I sat in the waiting area and flipped through the latest IKEA catalog and watched the clock. Signed back in a few minutes early and sat at my station waiting for the second part to begin.

The Vignette was incredibly straightforward. I found that about five practice runs with the software was enough to feel comfortable during the exam. “Solutions” by Dorf was a useful book to read and practice with. Reviewing other intern’s vignettes on areforum was helpful, and I really appreciated this post outlining the vignette steps by user Anjana. I finished the section in 35 minutes, and spent 20 more reviewing, re-reviewing, and clicking around on my solution. I knew it was correct, but didn’t feel right leaving so early.

The Post Prometric Pint – Cheers!

The key with the vignette portion seems to be coming up with a methodical approach to calculating, drawing and checking the solution. Unless I somehow fail, I don’t see myself changing how I prepare for this portion of the exam.

So I left feeling pretty comfortable with the whole experience. At this point, I know that I did as best as I could for my first try, and I’ve learned a lot about how to prepare for the the next test. I think I’ll give myself a few days to take a break and regroup at this point before I decide which exam to take next. I talked to my mom on the way to the Timbers match from Prometric, and she reminded me “It is what it is.” Having a rowdy soccer match was a terrific way to let go of all the post exam jitters. We sang, we chanted, we cheered, and we watched as our boys in green tied Toronto FC 2-2. Oh, and I continued a tradition I started after taking the LEED Exam: The Post Prometric Pint. This time with Jeld-Wen Field was a backdrop, which was a perfect reminder that creating spaces where people come to laugh, play, and enjoy life together is truly why I want to be an architect and go through this whole examination process in the first place.

So until the next exam… cheers!

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