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ARE Series: Project Development & Documentation | PDD

Updated: Apr 1

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.

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

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%)

  • Understand all the systems and how you need to start integrating them into your building (electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc.)

  • Remember Historic Buildings from previous divisions? Keep those standards in mind for PDD as well. This isn't your first rodeo with historic buildings, so dive a little deeper when studying.

  • Questions might 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.

  • Understand vapor barriers and where they should be located in a building. Like really understand this.

  • This changes depending on climate, so you'll need to know what the climate is and how this affects the wall detail.

  • Rule of thumb: warm side of insulation in the wintertime. Make sure you understand WHY this is.

  • Understanding temperature and water is essential for this exam.

  • Know sprinklered versus not sprinklered and how this can affect your design.

  • It will affect construction types, separation wall types, travel distances, etc.

  • Know how elements (including wind, fire, etc.) move through a building and how this affects the design. Always consider health and safety: fire, water, wind, chemicals, etc.

  • Fire: how it affects building type, walls, and the science of fire.

  • Water: How does water move through a building? How does this affect the details in our walls, foundations, roofs, etc.

  • Wind: How should you design for wind? How does this affect your roof?

  • Chemicals: How do you handle hazardous materials and other chemicals?

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

  • Understand the properties of materials:

  • Knowing which materials are elastic and which are brittle.

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

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

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, 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?

  • You've gone through ADA in previous exams, but you'll need to have a good understanding of it for PDD too. You really just need to know the basics.

  • There will be a lot of detail questions, make sure you practice, practice, practice! Join The ABC Club to get practice problems.

    • A few examples: vapor barrier locations, air gaps, connections, flashing, material properties, curtain walls, R-Values, U-Factors, and K-Factors.

  • Know all 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 (if any at all). But I would still be prepared to understand a few basics. Use practice questions to get a basic understanding.

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

  • Overturning Moment may also be called Restoring Moment or Stabilizing Moment

  • 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. This is why we developed multiple practice problems/activity sheets inside the ABC Club to help you pass this section. Get access here.

  • Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice has some information on the project manual and specs that will help you out.

  • I recommend 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

SECTION 5: Construction Cost Estimates 2-8%

  • Know how to compare the cost of different materials or construction items in order to determine what is best to use.

  • Example: compare # amount of material A to # amount of material B according to cost 

  • As mentioned in previous exams: watch out for units

  • Example: question given in ft, answers in yards, etc

Extra TipS

  • 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

  • Get more tips and a study checklist in The Ultimate Study Plan (USP).

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.

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

    2. ADA

    3. Heating, Cooling, Lighting

    4. Arch graphic standards

  3. The Architect's Studio Companion (ASC) - This is critical for this exam and PDD.

  4. ARE 5 Review Manual - This manual breaks down each section of the exam with study material.

  5. Building Construction Illustrated - This is needed for understanding construction details.

  6. 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.

  7. Practice Practice Practice: The ABC Club, Ballast practice exams, Designer Hacks. Hyperfine

  8. Cornell Notes: You may not have 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.

  9. Filler Words: Read the exam questions 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.

  10. 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.

As always, I go into a lot more detail in my video/podcast episode, so make sure to check it out!


As a special thank you, we're giving you ARE® 5.0 practice problems from our Activity Book for Architects... completely FREE! Download your ARE® homework here to take your studying to the next level.


Download my free list of resources here

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

*Note: Some of the reference links are affiliate links. This means if you purchase through the links it will help my small business. You won't pay a penny more, but we'll get a small commission. Every recommendation is there because I have personally used, tested, and highly recommend it. You will never find a recommendation solely for monetary purposes. Thank you for your support!



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