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ARE Series: Project Development & Documentation | PPD

Updated: Mar 10

Let's break down the ARE (Architecture Registration Exam)! In my ARE Series I am taking you through each exam, how I studied, what I found useful, and how to pass. The last in the series is all about Project Development & Documentation.

If this is your first post, I recommend starting with some of my other videos first. How to Get Through the ARE is a great starting point. I give you a rough idea of the entire exam process, what order to take the exams in, and most importantly what to do if (when) you fail. Start here and then come back when you're ready for PDD! You can also listen to the audio version of today's blog on the podcast.

Watch my Practice Management video here.

Watch my Project Management video here.

Watch my Construction Evaluation video here.

Watch my Programming & Analysis video here.

Watch my Project Planning & Design video here.

Now let's talk about Project Development & Documentation


Join the Mind Over ARE waitlist now to get first access to my next group coaching.

ARE 5 Review Manual

Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice

The Architect's Studio Companion - NOT the student version!

ARE Handbook


Ballast practice exams

The Details

Congratulations! It takes a LOT of work to get to a point where you are ready to take PDD. Maybe it's your last exam or close to your last one. Either way, you're so close! If this is your first time reading my posts about the exams, I recommend going back and reading some of my other mindset and exam tips I mentioned in previous posts (specifically PPD). Those will all be relevant for PDD as well.

If you're taking PDD as your final exam or at least you've attempted all the other exams, you're in a really good position. Everything you have studied up to this point will help you succeed in PDD. This is why I recommend taking it last because it incorporates a little of everything, so all your studying builds up to get to this point.

Let's dive into the specific sections and then at the end I'll give you a few extra tips and items you should make sure to study.

sections of the exam

SECTION 1: Integration of Building Materials & Systems (31-37%)

  • Know what a one-line diagram is and understand how to read it

  • Remember Historic Buildings from previous divisions? Well, keep those standards in mind for PDD as well. This isn't your first rodeo with historic buildings, so dive a little deeper if possible when studying. You might have questions come up that ask if a certain detail is allowed on a historic building. With that said, you might not get ANY questions about historic buildings, so don't stress about spending too much time on this.

  • Have a clear understanding of vapor barriers and where they should be located in a building. This changes depending on climate, so you'll need to know what the climate is and how this affects the wall detail. You can use the rule of thumb: warm side of insulation in the wintertime. But make sure you watch some videos or look at details to understand WHY this is.

  • Understanding items like temperature and water are essential for this exam. You have to know how both of these (and other elements like wind, fire, etc.) move through a building and the building elements.

  • How does the temperature change from the exterior wall to the interior wall for example?

  • How do temperatures balance each other?

  • How does temperature/air move?

  • What is a thermal break and where is it located?

  • What is dew point? How is this affected by moisture and air? Think of a cold glass on a hot summer day!

  • Condensation is a huge issue for buildings because it's sneaky and can lead to damage and health issues. We have to know how to properly detail to prevent condensation or to address it when needed. This is where details like air gaps, weep holes, and flashing comes into play. Build Construction Illustrated is a great book for looking at these details and understanding why we draw what we draw.

  • Know sprinklered versus not sprinklered and how this can affect your design. It will affect construction types, separation wall types, travel distances, etc.

  • Always be thinking of health and safety: fire, water, wind, chemicals, etc.

  • Fire: know when fire/smoke detectors are needed, what the different types are, what the wall separations are, and when they are needed for different occupancies, emergency exit requirements (egress), panic doors (locked vs unlocked and what type of latches are required), fire lanes,

  • Understand how different materials and systems are connected to each other (anchor bolts, welds, curtain wall connections)

  • Where is insulation required and why?

  • Understand the properties of materials for example:

  • Concrete and masonry are good in compression NOT tension

  • Wood shrinks

  • Steel is ductile

  • Understand what materials are elastic, and which are brittle.

  • What happens when too much water is added to concrete? What about not enough?

  • Understand how to calculate the r-value of an assembly and have a general understanding of which materials have higher or lower R-values

  • Ex: metal has a low r-value

  • concrete is slightly better

  • wood is slightly better still

  • actual insulation is even better

SECTION 2: Construction Documentation 32-38%

  • You'll want to have a clear understanding of how a set of construction documents is put together. This means you want to be able to quickly know where information is typically found in a drawing set and this will help you during your case studies.

  • If there is a change from the client or contractor, you will need to know how this affects the condocs. As the architect, you should be able to point anyone (client, contractor, etc) to the information in a set of documents. So, where is a wall detail shown? Where can the contractor find info on which wall is going to be demoed? These are really basic examples.

  • We've gone through ADA before, but you'll need to have a good understanding of it for PDD too. You really just need to know the basics: circulation clearances, reaching clearances, ramp requirements, etc.

  • There will be a lot of questions about details: vapor barrier locations, air gaps, connections, flashing, material properties, curtain walls, R-Values, U-Factors, and K-Factors. A lot of questions about wall assemblies for fire separation and sound separation.

  • Word on the street is there are fewer calculations now that the exam has shifted to whiteboard. BUT I would still be prepared to understand a few basics. Use practice questions from resources like Designer Hacks to have a basic idea of the type of calc questions.

  • Know how to calculate moment and shear for uniform/concentrated loads

  • Overturning Moment may also be called Restoring Moment or Stabilizing Moment. This is a Dead Load safety factor, usually 1.5:1. So in a question where the dead load moment is 50lb-ft your structural system would be sized for 75ft-lbs (50 X 1.5).

  • How do certain forces act upon a building?

  • Know the coefficient of expansion and how to use it. It's a formula that helps you figure out how much a material will expand given a specific temperature. This is important because you need to account for this expansion in your details. α = (Change in Length / Original Length) / Change in Temperature

SECTION 3: Project Manual & Specifications 12-18%

  • Specs are a difficult one to study for because there isn't a whole lot out there. Ballast has the best breakdown I found on the subject, so it's worth checking that out. The ARE Manual has a chapter on it.

  • Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice also is great for PDD and you already have it from your other exams. Chapter 3 specifically!

  • I also recommend just looking at Master Spec to familiarize yourself with how the numbering system works.

  • This is an area of the exam where I do recommend some memorization. I don't recommend memorization for much of the exam, but with this unfortunately you might get silly questions that literally want the exact number. BUT you don't have to memorize the entire master spec, just focus on the key ones. Create some sort of technique to help you remember them.

  • How is the project manual is laid out and who is in charge of what. What does the project manual actually have in it?

SECTION 4: Codes & Regulations 8-14%

  • Understand basic codes - think of minimum and max requirements for safety and health (bedroom requirements, egress, circulation, fall protection, etc.)

SECTION 5: Construction Cost Estimates 2-8%

  • You'll need to know how to compare the cost of different materials or construction items in order to determine what is best to use. For example, compare # amount of material A to # amount of material B according to cost.

  • What happens if the client wants to switch out one material for another?

  • How can I best save money if these are the chosen materials, but the client needs to save X amount of money?

  • Can I substitute one material for another to save money, but still accomplish the client's general goals?

  • As mentioned in previous exams: watch out for units, i.e. question given in ft, answers in yards, etc

Extra Tips you need to Know

  • IBC 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 10, 11, 29: Learn them. Live them. Love them.


  • Make sure you read through FEMA earthquake manual ch 4,5. Download my resource guide for these links and recommendations.

  • Sprinkler vs non-sprinklered

  • Historical buildings - how they should be treated, reused, adapted etc, for both historic structures complying with the NPS standards and just older buildings being adapted to new uses.

  • Know ADA basics

  • Remember: 1 psi = raise 2.3’ or 0.433 loss per ft elevation

Important to Remember

  1. Understand the concept BEHIND the question. When you are studying, it's important to understand why the answer or solution is the way it is. Memorization is not an effective study method for these exams. When you are taking a practice test, go through all the ones you did not answer correctly and try to really understand why the answer is what it is.

  2. Not every exam is the same. This is why it's important to study a little bit of everything, but if you get a wildcard exam (AKA an exam from hell) try not to stress about it. If you don't pass the first time you'll get it the next time!

  3. The most important thing as an architect is that we design healthy buildings. As you can remember from the first 3 exams, say it with me: we need to make sure we protect the HEATH, SAFETY, + WELFARE of the general public. So, when thinking about the site and programming, you need to think of how the different elements will keep the occupants safe and comfortable.

Study Tips

  1. ARE Handbook - Look over the handbook and see what they want you to study. Go back often to reference the handbook to make sure you are studying for each section.

  2. Resource Guide - Download my resource guide to show you what resources are best for this exam. Below are a few important areas to review in these resources.

  3. IBC - egress distances, clearances, door widths, occupancy classifications, and separations

  4. ADA - clearances, ch 4 accessible routes

  5. Heating, Cooling, Lighting - read about heat movement, thermal resistance, mechanical systems, passive strategies, and lighting

  6. Arch graphic standards ch 5, 7, 8

  7. The Architect's Studio Companion (ASC) - This is critical for this exam and PDD. Read it cover to cover - seriously. Pay attention to pg 39 - lateral structural systems and pg 74: systems, specifically look at the diagrams shown.

  8. ARE 5 Review Manual - This manual was key for my studying for each exam. The book breaks down each section of the exam with study material, it's so incredibly helpful!

  9. Building Construction Illustrated - This is needed for understanding construction details. You want to pay extra attention to Chapter 10. This is will critical for PDD, but worth looking into now.

  10. Sun, Wind, & Light - This book is critical for this exam! Don't skip it. It's also a great book for your studio, so it's worth the investment. I have heard the 2nd edition is better than the 3rd, but I have the 3rd and it is great.

  11. Practice Practice Practice - Ballast practice exams, Designer Hacks, Archizam, Hyperfine

  12. Cornell Notes You may have not used these since high school (do they even still teach these in school??), but there is value in notes! Take notes while you're studying.

  13. Filler Words Read the questions of the exam VERY carefully. They will try to add extra information or filler words in the questions just to add noise to your head. Cross out any information that isn't relevant to what they are actually asking. Don't get bogged down by unnecessary information.

  14. Hold Yourself Accountable! Schedule it, create an incentive for yourself, join a study anything to hold yourself accountable. It's so easy to put off taking the exam, so design a way to make it harder for yourself to push it aside.

Now, what really helped me pass the second time around (other than taking it and studying really hard the first 2 times) was completely shifting my perspective on the exams! I transformed the way I studied and took the exams, which I teach in Mind Over ARE. I also incorporated Amber Book and Hyperfine which really helped! Amber Book really helped solidify all the concepts in my brain. I could visualize the answers when taking the test, so for me, the videos really helped me grasp the information. As always, I go into a lot more detail in my video/podcast episode, so make sure to check it out! Hyperfine's questions were laid out in a very similar way to the exams which was amazingly helpful. Working through the example exam helped better prepare me for the questions.


Now before you go, here's a little homework for you right before you take your exam:

  1. Where is the fire protection required? PPI pg 314

  2. Where is the fire barrier required? PPI pg 315

  3. Answer the questions in PPI pg 335

  4. Name chapters 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 of IBC

  5. Write down the different occupancy groups and 3 examples of types that would fall under those.

  6. Cost examples in handbook: 46, 70, 83, 100, 130, 138, 146, case studies.

Good luck! Please reach out with any questions as you move through your studies and please let me know if this has been helpful!


Download my free list of resources here

ARE Handbook

Ballast practice exams

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