ARE 4.0: Structural Systems – PASS

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Yesterday, February 19th. D-Day. I was the most worried about this exam and studied my ass off for almost 7 full weeks. At first I gave myself 6 weeks to study, but my first scheduled date was cancelled due to weather. I was able to re-schedule for the following week and I took advantage of that week to study. The day before the test I did a general refresher of all the material – Lateral Forces, beam diagrams, properties of steel, concrete, wood, systems and Seismic. I felt as if I had enough of a handle on the concepts that, given the reference material provided, I could reasonably get to the correct answers. The reality of this exam was much different.

First, my study materials. The usual suspects:

Kaplan Study Guide and Q&A.
Ballast Q&A
Kaplan flash cards (iPhone App)
Jenni’s Notes
Mike’s Notes (for the Vignette)
FEMA 454 Chapters 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9
Buildings at Risk – Seismic and Wind (know this)
ARE Coach Forums
NCARB Study Guide and Vignette

The test itself is two sections – 125 Multiple Choice questions and 1 Graphic Vignette. The test is broken into two time blocks – 210 minutes for the MC and 60 minutes for the GV. We all know that the time limit for the GV is always way more than enough. Just too bad you can’t roll that extra time back in to the MC section for this test. 125 questions at 210 minutes gives you an average of 1.68 minutes for each question. BUT there are anywhere between 6 and 30 calculation questions on this exam (depending on which version of the exam you get), and those equations all take time. Sometimes a lot of time, so make sure you go through a process of eliminating the WRONG answers first and only concentrate on what you’re left with as possible RIGHT answers. And, as is common with NCARB, the “right” answer is not always actually correct. It’s just the least incorrect out of the choices. Welcome to the psychological warfare that is the NCARB experience.

So, what do you need to pass this exam? Frankly I have no idea. I haven’t gotten my scores yet. But I highly recommend you read, learn and completely digest everything I listed above as a minimum. My exam was nothing like those described in the forums. I had questions that were so far afield that I don’t even know where to go now that I’ve taken it in order to find the answers I may need for the retake. Halfway through the MC section I just wanted to walk out. It was that bad. The “reference” material was useless. I couldn’t use it for a single calculation. Contrary to what is constantly said on the forums, YOU DO need to memorize formulas. Know the entire cheat sheet by heart. Be able to manipulate those formulas in your sleep. Write them down and draw little hearts around them in the margins of your paper during staff meetings. I’m not even kidding. Also, there are no standard beam calculations. But there are lots of very UNstandard beam calculations. You’ve never seen them before. They are not in the books or reference materials or study guides or sample questions. After taking this exam I feel certain I need to go back to school, become a structural engineer and THEN retake the exam and HOPE that I pass.

The graphic vignette was simple and straightforward. This is not to say it was easy. There are some small tricks they throw at you. PAY ATTENTION to the program. I almost hit the SUBMIT button without carefully looking at my solution and found a critical error that would have been an automatic fail. PAY ATTENTION and read the program CAREFULLY. My best advice here is to copy down the action items and rules of the program. Make a list on your scratch paper and once you’ve drafted your solution go back and physically cross off the list items one by one making sure that you’ve satisfied everything. Then, with your remaining time, go back and re-read the program and check your solution one last time. TIP: Your solution must be “structurally sound, economical and efficient”. Take these words to heart. This about what they mean and not just in terms of cost.

This exam is no joke. It’s a beast. The material to study and understand is a juggernaut and is not easy to wrap your brain around. This is not stuff we deal with on a daily basis. Hell, this isn’t stuff we deal with EVER, but it’s part of the ARE so figure out how to get through it and pass. I’ll update once I get my results, but I think you can glean from this post that I am less than hopeful. Good luck to all about to embark on this one. My prayers go out to you. :-\

Update: 2014.02.27 Results are in and I PASSED!!! BOOYAH Baby! 🙂

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