July 15, 2019

ARE PPP Exam Tips (Programming Planning and Practice Exam)

ARE PPP exam tips

Updated July 15, 2019, originally published in 2015

By Michael Chavez, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow

The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.

Programming Planning and Practice (PPP) was the third exam I took and passed out of the ARE 4.0 exam series.

My overall experience with studying and taking this exam is that it seems to cover the widest range of information out of all the exams. While I've obviously not taken all of them yet, I've heard similar feedback from my peers.

It might be best to take toward the end of the series as a "summary test." 

I saw questions from SPD, SS, CDS and SD on the exam. The questions themselves were not difficult but the range of information you will find is quite wide so save this one for the middle or end of your test-taking experience because it will feel more like a review than trying to study all of them at the same time.

Once you decide to take it, here are a few ARE PPP exam tips to keep in mind while studying: 

1. Start With the PPP Readings

With all three ARE exams that I've taken so far, I always start with the readings. It helps put my mind into study mode. Plus, I can do it anywhere, so it's easy to begin grappling with the information, especially for this exam which covers such a wide range of material.

Here are the readings I did for the ARE 4.0 PPP exam:

  • Kaplan's PPP 300-page beast by Paul Speiregan and Lester Wertheimer: Although I mentioned reading is something you can do anywhere, you'll definitely have to break this one up into chapters if you're planning on looking through this thick book outside your home. However, it does a pretty good job covering all the different things that is tested on the exam, and I saw a couple chapters that were almost copy/pasted from SPD and CDS.
  • Ballast chapters for PPP, SPD, SD and CDs: Aside from PPP, the two most important chapters would be SPD and CDs if you're in a time crunch.
  • Peter Katz' New Urbanism: The majority of this book has case studies of good New Urbanism examples and there were a number of questions about New Urbanism influences on design throughout the exam. Know the key cities, architects/designers, theorists, and others who had an influence on New Urbanism and how it influenced overall zoning. You can also find these key people/places in Jenny's Notes.
65 E. Cottage Site Plan, courtesy Davis Square Architects
65 E. Cottage Site Plan, courtesy Davis Square Architects 

2. Complete Lots of ARE PPP Practice Exams

Do as many ARE PPP practice exams as you can. But more importantly, study the explanations of each answer whether you get them right or wrong. I know a lot of people who get a question right on a practice exam and don't go back to read the explanation.

That's a big mistake.

Although you may get it right while studying at home, that same question worded differently at the test center might look completely different and throw you off.

Don't just shoot for correct answers while studying. Work to understand why it's correct or incorrect.

Kaplan and Ballast were my go-to practice exams. They covered most of what I saw on the exam, and their explanations in the answer section made sense. If you have time, it might be good to take a couple practice exams from SPD and CDS as well, especially CDS.

There were a lot of questions on the PPP exam referencing AIA documents and architect/contractor liability which is not covered well in the PPP practice exams, so be sure you become familiar with those. 

3. How to Study for the ARE PPP Exam On-the-Go

I was very busy at work during the time I was trying to study for this exam, so I made it as easy as possible to study while on trains, buses, lunch breaks, etc.

Here's what helped me most:

  • Make note cards for key vocabulary and concepts in the readings to flip through them whenever you need to.
  • Print out Jenny's Notes and break them up into sections based on subject material. Her notes for this exam are pretty extensive, so you could spend a few days studying one subject (i.e. New Urbanism) and then switch to a different subject at a different time.
  • Downloaded all the Schiff Hardin Lectures and listen to them while commuting. They cover a range of material related to AIA documents, so if you need a refresher on professional practice, those lectures come in handy. 

4. ARE PPP Vignette Tips

Vignette Practice

To pass the vignette on this exam, you need to switch from being an architect to an engineer. By that I mean this vignette has absolutely no room for design flexibility. Your final outcome is either right or wrong.

You need to follow directions and follow closely, especially at the beginning of the vignette. If you don't, you'll set off a domino effect of mistakes and could make or break whether you pass the exam.

Ben Rudgers' Site Zoning Study Guide gives some very specific things to consider while practicing your vignette with an added bit of humor.

Here are a couple other tips:

  • Pay close attention to details. At the beginning of the vignette I spent the first 10 minutes writing down the program details (setback distances, maximum heights and building angles, etc) so I wouldn't have to switch between screens. Practice doing this before the exam, however, because it can take you longer to write things down than you think and you want to ensure you write the RIGHT things down so you don't mess yourself up later.
  • On this exam, the snap function of the software is not your friend. Sometimes you want to end a line but the snap function tries to place that line/shape in an area that you're not supposed to overlap or causes you to extend past a required boundary. If you encounter this, err on the conservative side and snap on the "safe side" of whatever you're drawing so you're not going beyond maximum building footprints or envelopes.
  • Pay extremely close attention to the distances given when working on the building envelope section of the exam along with where the section cut line is drawn. The wording can be a little tricky and if you don't get it right, it can screw up your whole building envelope. Practice using the software as much as possible so you get used to it, a simple mistake can make a big difference here. Remember, you're drawing the section cut and NOT an elevation.
  • Post your practice vignettes (and any other questions you have) on public forums like the ARE 4.0 Community and the PPP section of ARE Coach. You'll always get pretty quick feedback from people about where to make adjustments (typically within 24 hours, especially at ARE 4.0 Community) and other useful test-taking tips.
  • If you want extra practice, I've heard NALSA has a pretty good vignette package. I personally didn't use it but if you're not feeling strongly about the vignette, this extra practice could come in handy.

In conclusion:

  1. Thoroughly practice the vignettes, 
  2. Study hard on vocabulary and definitions.
  3. Spend a good amount of time on AIA docs in the CDS exam guides.

I probably felt the least confident on the multiple choice section of the exam but confident that I had done everything correctly in the vignette, so study hard on both. There is a lot of material to cover and like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might be worth holding off on this exam until the end because it covers so much material from other exams.As always, cheers and good luck!


About the Author: As an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow, Michael worked with the Fairmount/Indigo Line CDC Collaborative to spearhead a sustainable, smart growth agenda along the 9-mile Fairmount commuter rail line in Boston. The line runs through some of the city's most impoverished and predominantly minority neighborhoods in Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park. Michael works to increase the Collaborative's capacity to engage its constituent neighborhoods in the design process for the transit-oriented development and helps to demonstrate the positive impacts of holistic design on low-income neighborhoods to funders and policy-makers.

Posted in:
Opp360 logo

For full access to our tools and resources, please provide the information below.

We use this data to better understand our users; we do not sell or share this data. By providing this information, you can expect to receive newsletters and other updates from Opportunity360.