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

After almost 9 months of studying, I finally passed PPD on 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 these exams are just NOT ENOUGH! , The ARE 5.0 Handbook doesn’t have enough information about what they are precisely 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 exams 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 carefully analyze all of the inputs, such as client goals, program requirements, budget, esthetic, codes, etc.… and make sure that nothing conflicts. You have to create harmony! All minor details that will be dealt with within the next phases, Construction Documentation and Construction Administration (PDD), should also be thought of meticulously during SD and DD phases. So it is not a linear process. You zoom in and out of the same problem back and forth many times to find the perfect medium. This is why, like SD and DD phases, the PPD exam is also broad, complicated, and painful.
  • There is a misconception and bad advice 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 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. In one or two weeks, you cannot rewire your brain between these two scales. For example, on PPD, you are supposed to know which mechanical system works best under the given conditions. And on PDD, you will 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 shortcuts. I admit it. It is hard to study for 2-3 years to pass these six exams, so we look for shortcuts and easy recipes. We want to be that person who posted on the 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 percent, not 40 percent. 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 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: Do not listen if someone tells you otherwise. Bite the bullet and read this book! Especially if you have taken this exam more than once. In my experience, this book is one of the three-four books for PPD that you must read and review carefully. Please pay attention to all of the diagrams and graphics in the book and read them. It also comes with excellent online quiz access, where you can take online quizzes per chapter. 
  • Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Sustainable Design Methods for Architects: I think this book is also the key to passing 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 the Mechanical & Electrical Equipment for Buildings book and is great to solidify the knowledge.
  • International Building Code 2015: PPD has a lot of questions that expect 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 the code can take a lot of time if you are not familiar with it. 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 two or three steps of 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 mentioning are:

study method

  • Give yourself enough time. In my opinion, if you can study 20-25 hours a week, you need a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks for PPD. Do not rush yourself.
  • Follow all the methods that I outlined here in this post. 
  • Study regularly, every day, and a minimum of 20 hours per week. Review your notes from the same day or same week and take a 20 question practice quiz every day. 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 to it 🙂 Keep yourself accountable.
  • The last two weeks before your exam, only take practice questions. But I want to be specific about how you do this: Start taking 200 questions 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. Do this even if it means repeatedly taking the same practice exams/questions! It is like training your body to run with extra weights tied up to your ankle. You are building endurance. If the last 2 weeks before your exam, you take 500 questions a day (every day), you will fly on the exam. Especially, non-native speakers should follow this method to close the language gap. Also, this is an excellent solution for people with the time issue. Once you see you are scoring consistently 80-85% and over at the practice questions you keep taking, you can feel very confident about the exam.

practice questions

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

  • My questions 🙂
  • ARE 4.0 Handbook questions for BDCS, SS, BS, PPP, and SPD (Free)
  • ARE 3.1 Handbook questions for GENERAL STRUCTURES, LATERAL FORCES, MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS and BUILDING DESIGN / MATERIALS & METHODS (Free)
  • Ballast 5.0 PPD and PA questions
  • Hyperfine assignments
  • Mechanical & Electrical Equipment for Buildings Online Free Quizzes 
  • Designer Hacks
  • Ballast 4.0 BDCS, SS, BS, PPP, and SPD questions
  • Kaplan 4.0 BDCS, SS, BS, PPP, and SPD questions
  • 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 use these myself, but I heard good things about them:

  • tryWEARE and PPI questions, so you can try them too. As I said, the more, the merrier.