how did I finally pass PPD, the loose cannon…?

After almost 9 months of studying in total, I finally passed PPD at my second try. As you know, the pass rates are the lowest for this exam, which makes it objectively the hardest of all 6 exams. So, I want to start with:

why the PPD is the hardest?

  • The guidelines that are provided for this exams are just NOT ENOUGH! Simply, The ARE 5.0 Handbook doesn’t have enough information about what they are exactly testing for PPD. 
  • It has the broadest content of all six exams. Scale wise, PPD is somewhere between the PA and the PDD.  If we matched the contents of these three exam to the architectural project phases, PA would be the Programming and Site Planning Phase.  For PPD, the phases would be Schematic Design and Design Documentation Phases, which are also the hardest phases of a design and construction process in my opinion. At these phases, the options are limitless and the criteria are complicated. As an advanced computer, you have to analyze all of the inputs carefully, such as: client goals, program requirements, budget, esthetic, codes, etc… and make sure that nothing conflicts. You have to create the harmony! All minor details that will be dealt within the next phases; Construction Documentation and in Construction Administration (PDD) should also be thought meticulously during SD and DD phases. So it is not a linear process, you zoom in and out of the same problem back and fort many times to find the perfect medium. This is why, as SD and DD phases, PPD exam is also broad, complicated and painful.
  • There is a misconception and a lot of bad advices about PPD on online study forums. First and foremost is: “Study PPD and PDD together and take them one after another in a week or two weeks”. This is wrong. PPD and PDD are not similar exams, therefore they should NOT be taken closely. There should be at least 4 to 6 weeks in between these two exams. Yes they share some content but their scales are wildly different. As I explained above, they look at things on different scales. You cannot rewire your brain between this two scales in one or two weeks. For example, on PPD, you are supposed to know which mechanical system works best under the given conditions. And on PDD you are going to be asked, to review the RCP of a room to make sure that the supply and return outlets of that mechanical system are not in conflict with the other systems or structural components.So, no! These are not the same exams. You need to give your brain some time to change gears between these two scales.
  • People look for short-cuts. I admit it, it is so hard to study for 2-3 years long to pass these six exams so we tend to look for short-cuts and easy recipes. We want to be that person who posted on NCARB forum that he passed PPD and PDD in 4 weeks by just reading one book. But the pass rates tell us another story, the truth! That one guy can not be the norm and he is not. He is an exception or in my honest opinion either a cheater or lier :)) If it was that easy, we all would pass like him and the pass rates would be around 80 percents, not 40 percents. So don’t look for the easy recipes, do the work.

books, books and more books

I read almost everything in the ARE 5.0 Handbook Reference Matrix and even some more. I felt dumb! I asked the question you are asking now: Why do I have to read so much? The answer is: These exams are very hard and there is not enough information in the Handbook so you need to flip every stone and make sure you covered everything before going to the exam. Here is what I read and what was my take on each book:

  • Mechanical & Electrical Equipment for Buildings Walter T. Grondzik and Alison G. Kwok John Wiley & Sons, 12th edition, 2015: Do not listen who tells you otherwise, bite the bullet and read this book! Especially if you have taken this exam before, or more than once. This book is one of the three, four books for PPD that you must read and review carefully. Pay attention to all of the diagrams and graphics in the book and read them. It also comes with a great online quiz access, where you can take online quizzes per each chapter. 
  • Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Sustainable Design Methods for Architects, Norbert Lechner John Wiley & Sons, 4th edition, 2015: I think this book is also the key to pass PPD. I read this book twice to pass. I created so many questions depending on the stuff that I learned here, you will see it in my question feedback if you get my PPD questions. It has a lot of overlapping information with Mechanical & Electrical Equipment for Buildings book and great to solidify the knowledge.
  • International Building Code 2015: PPD has a lot of questions that expects you to analyze code, almost all of the case study questions are like this. As you know case study questions are time consuming and navigating in the code -if you are not familiar with it – can take a lot of time. So, even though I hate to say this, try to memorize some basic code knowledge to save your time. For example, memorize the occupancy types which will save you from a 30 second trip to Chapter-3 before you can go to Chapter-5 and check out the allowable height table. Then do a lot of exercises where you can test yourself if you can find a two or three steps information in code. I have a lot of questions like this in my PPD exams. Try to understand the chapter order in the International Building Code and memorize the locations of common tables. Time yourself to see if you can find any information in code within a minute. Definitely spend some time on the code while studying. Passing PPD = Knowing the International Building Code 2015.
  • Other important books that I read and in my opinion worth to mention are:

study method

  • Give yourself enough time, in my opinion if you can study 20-25 hours a week, you need minimum 8 to 10 weeks for PPD. Do not rush yourself.
  • Follow all the methods that I outlined here in this post. 
  • Study regularly, everyday and minimum 20 hours per week. Everyday review your notes from the same day or same week and take a 20 question practice quiz.. Write down your hours and share your study goals with some study partners or someone that is around you and loves you enough to listen it 🙂 Keep yourself accountable.
  • Last two weeks prior to you exam only take practice questions. But I want  to be specific about how you do this: Start taking 200 question at one sit and build your way up to taking 500 to 600 questions a day, without taking no bathroom breaks, cellphone checks, posting on facebook, eating, drinking or snacking. Absolutely similar to the test but with way more questions. You cannot take 5 questions here, 10 questions there. Turn-off the phone, put the kids in bed, tell your spouse not to bother you for the next 4 hours. Try to get faster and faster. Even it means taking the same practice exams/questions over and over again, do this! It is like training your body to run with extra weights tied up to your ankle. You are building endurance. If last 2 weeks prior to your exam, you take 500 questions a day (everyday), you will fly on the exam. Especially, non-native speakers should follow this method to close the language gap. Also this is a great solution for people with time issue. Once you see you are scoring consistently 80-85% and over at the practice questions that you keep taking over and over, you can feel very confident about the exam.

practice questions

Here is a list of practice questions that I benefited the most:

  • My own questions, obviously:)
  • ARE 4.0 Handbook questions for BDCS, SS, BS, PPP and SPD
  • ARE 3.1 Handbook questions for GENERAL STRUCTURES, LATERAL FORCES, MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS and BUILDING DESIGN / MATERIALS & METHODS
  • Designer Hacks
  • Ballast 4.0 BDCS, SS, BS, PPP and SPD questions
  • Kaplan 4.0 BDCS, SS, BS, PPP and SPD questions
  • Ballast 5.0 PPD and PA questions
  • Hyperfine assignments
  • Mechanical & Electrical Equipment for Buildings Online Free Quizzes
  • Following monographs and their quizzes:
  • Architectural Acoustics Illustrated
  • Mold Moisture Prevention
  • Seismic Mitigation
  • Why Buildings Fail
  • Wind Forces
  • Fire Safety In Buildings

I did not take these myself but I heard good things about: tryWEARE and PPI questions, so you can try them too. Like I said, the more the merrier.