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ARE Series: Programming & Analysis | PA

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 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


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

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 technical exams go from macro to micro. With PA being at the macro level and PDD going down into the micro details. In PA, you're starting to analyze the site and building layout and determine the best overall design from the big picture. These decisions are made based on items like location, sustainability, code, budget, programming, and more.

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 are going to affect your design. What sort of restraints are there? Topography, site elements, creeks, trees, and hazardous materials are just 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, you're really going to start going into codes and understanding what you can design. You have to understand all the relevant building codes, ADA, and energy requirements. Again, keep in mind the health and safety of the occupants.

  • You must understand the codes that affect what and where you can build. Not just the building layout 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 critical. 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. Look up your local zoning code to get an understanding of how it's organized. Start studying it to familiarize yourself with terms, concepts, and more. 

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, you have to understand access, utilities, and whether the project is even feasible.

  • You need to understand plans (condocs) and what those plans mean. What is the site plan telling you? Where is the access? What constraints are shown on the plans? What does a survey look like, and what important elements are included that dictate what you can/can't build?

SECTION 4: Building Analysis & Programming 37-43%

  • The bulk of the exam is in Section 4

  • How does the building relate to the site: 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.

  • Know ADA/ANSI

  • You'll also continue to be tested on details, such as waterproofing, which is also covered in CE (which is why I recommend taking CE before PA).

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).

  • 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

  • Soils

  • Adjacencies

    • 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 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 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 three exams, say it with me: "Make sure to protect the HEATH, SAFETY, AND WELFARE of the general public." So, when thinking about the site and programming, you need to consider how the different elements will keep the occupants safe and comfortable.

Make sure to protect the HEATH, SAFETY, AND WELFARE of the general public.

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 studying for each exam. The book breaks down each section of the exam with study material, it's 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: The ABC Club, Ballast practice exams, and Designer Hacks.

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

  8. 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.

  9. Hold Yourself Accountable! Schedule it, create an incentive for yourself, join a study group (Mind Over ARE) 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 know what to expect when taking the exams. You now know they 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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