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ARE Series: Programming & Analysis | PA

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

ANNOUNCEMENT: TONIGHT on 2/5/22 @ 4pmPT/7pmET Elif Bayram and I will be going LIVE on my Youtube channel to discuss all things ARE. Check out Elif's incredible practice exams at and join us here on the channel!

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 forth in the series is all about Programming & Analysis (PA).

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 PA!

Watch my Practice Management video here.

Watch my Project Management video here.

Watch my Construction Evaluation video here.

Now let's talk about Programming & Analysis


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Programming & Analysis

Alright everyone, we're here, we're officially on the first real design exam. I mean, each exam up until this point is a design exam, but they have been more focused on business, liability, risks, contracts - you know, the boring stuff. Now we get a chance to dive into the design topics that encouraged a lot of us to become architects.

First off, well done for getting this far! If you're starting with PA and haven't taken PcM, PjM, and CE that's not my recommendation but you do you. If you've taken some of those exams and haven't passed and want to move forward with something new then that totally works too. Either way, this post will give you a little more insight into this exam and what to expect. The PA exam is more or less at the "macro level" of design. You're just starting to design the building footprint and starting to make the major code decisions of the building. So, let's take a look.

sections of the exam

SECTION 1: Environmental & Contextual Conditions 14-21%

  • The first section in PA is all about how the environmental conditions of the site is going to affect our design. What sort of restraints are there - topography, site elements, creeks, trees, hazardous materials, just to name a few examples.

  • How can we take advantage of the existing site elements to design the healthiest building? Always remember, the HEALTH, SAFETY, and WELFARE of the general public is our #1 concern. So, how do certain site elements affect this?

SECTION 2: Codes and Regulations 16-22%

  • In this exam we're really going to start going into codes and understanding what we can design. We have to have an understanding of all the relevant building codes, ADA, and energy requirements. Again, keep in mind the health and safety of the occupants.

  • We must have an understanding of the codes that affect what and where we can build. Not just what the building layout is, but where on a site we can build, what the size can be, and what the local zoning codes allow. If you design a beautiful building that doesn't adhere to the zoning requirements, it won't be built. So, reviewing what is permitted before you even start is ideal. It's funny how much of a building is shaped based on codes and regulations before design even starts.

  • If you've never worked on a site plan before or analyzed code professionally, it doesn't mean you'll fail this exam. You could look up your local zoning code to get an understanding of how it's laid out and to familiarize yourself with terms used.

SECTION 3: Site Analysis & Programming 21-27%

  • More analysis of the site to determine what can be built. In addition to environmental and contextual conditions, we have to understand access, utilities, and is the project even feasible?

  • In this exam you will need to understand plans and what the site plans are telling you. Where is the access? What constraints are shown on the plans? What does a survey look like and what important items is it telling you?

SECTION 4: Building Analysis & Programming 37-43%

  • The bulk of the exam is in Section 4

  • How does the building relate to the site - the views, sun, wind, etc. Where is the optimal placement of a building on a specific site?

  • Determine whether existing buildings can be altered and in what way - understand mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, structure, and historical properties.

  • You'll need to know ADA/ANSI for this exam. You'll also continue to be tested on details, such as waterproofing, which you studied for CE.

Extra Tips you need to Know

  • IBC 3,5,6,10: Spend some time with IBC Chapter 5, really understanding how you define the construction type of the building (Table 503). Learn how to use that table, learn about sprinkler and frontage increases. Even if Table 503 is provided to you in the exam, you don't want this to be your first time seeing it. You REALLY need to understand it.

  • Net area to gross area

  • You'll need to understand parking requirements - how many spaces are needed, sizes, what's required for circulation, walkways, etc.

  • Allowable building footprint / area

  • Location of buildings on site

  • Occupant loads

  • Frontage increases and how this affects what can be built

  • 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.

  • Hazardous conditions, how to deal with them - asbestos, radon, dioxide, etc.

  • Know common path of travel and dead end corridors

  • Soils; which are best to build on, drainage, liquefaction etc.

  • Adjacencies: know how these diagrams/floor plan layouts work. NOTE: If you are given an adjacency plan where you need to move the pieces, don't forget you can rotate them! There are definite right and wrong directions, even if they are in the right place.

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 effect 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 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

  3. 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!

  4. Building Construction Illustrated - This is needed for understanding construction details. You want to pay extra attention to Chapter 10

  5. 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.

  6. Practice Practice Practice - Ballast practice exams, Designer Hacks, and Archizam

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

At this point you have a good feeling of what to expect when taking the exams. You now know it really can go either way - pass or fail. So, feel confident in the fact that you've continued on the journey, that's the most important thing!

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

AHPP Chapters to Study

The document can be found in my Resource List

*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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