4.0 Average: To MEEB or Not To MEEB…?

The latest in a semi-regular series on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.

Some interns look at their office’s “ARE Library” — which more than likely consists of a haphazard pile of Kaplan guides, old flash cards, hand-written notes, and maybe a dog-eared copy of Norman Dorf’s Solutions — and find themselves daunted. Add in a varied list of online resources, plus your own textbooks and class notes from college (you *did* keep all of those, right…??) and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. How would anyone be expected to take a professional exam — on top of a 40-hour workweek — that requires this much reading?

An excellent example is MEEB, one of the more ubiquitous references in our industry, and also one of the most dense. MEEB (industry shorthand for Stein and Reynolds’ Mechanical and Electrical Engineering for Buildings) is a hefty tome; Amazon.com lists the 2009 edition as containing 1,792 pages, weighing in at a whopping 6.2 pounds. My copy, which I’ve held into since college, contains an entire chapter on the psychrometric chart alone. If you’re looking for some detailed information on a specific topic for the Building Systems exam, you’ll probably find it here. Reading it cover to cover, in a manner that would see you retaining even a fraction of the information, would take weeks.

derek_jacobi_bbc500x400So, to MEEB or not to MEEB…? That is the question.

In my honest opinion (and since this is my blog, that’s what you should expect), the answer is… Sort of. The book is an excellent reference, but it should be used as just that — a reference. Exam candidates would be better off relying on more concise study materials, like the Architects Studio Companion or even MEEB’s Student Companion site, in order to gain an overview of the varied content; MEEB can be used as a reference guide for any concepts that are proving themselves to be more difficult.

Personally, I rely on my copy of MEEB almost daily… as a door stop. Don’t let it keep you from moving forward.

Toward a 4.0 Average

It occurred to me that in the eleven months or so of managing this blog, I really haven’t spent much time focusing on the exam. To that end, we’ll be adding a new semi-regular series here at InDepth called 4.0 Average, where we’ll offer some suggestions, comments, and advice on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.

Think about about the typical architectural job postings probably seen on LinkedIn or maybe your local components website. The first sentence probably says something along the lines of “postgraduate architect with 1 to 3 years of experience, on the exam track.” Another popular one is “registered architect with 3 to 5 years of experience.” In both cases, the exam becomes a measuring stick, determining exactly where you are in your professional career, and where you see yourself going. It indicates a level of committment to both the job and the profession. I haven’t seen many job postings that start off with the words “Postgraduate degree in architecture, 5 to 10 years of experience, but just hasn’t gotten around to taking the test yet”. (Actually I would like to see that… I think I’d find it amusing.)

The exam is an equalizer, a baseline. Our careers might take wildly different paths — yours might be more involved in design and planning, mine might be more involved in construction administration and detailing — while we each practice in jurisdictions as far away from each other as physically possible. However the fact that we both are Registered Architects means that there is some sense of equivalency between us. It’s the common denominator.

The exam is certainly not without its flaws, particularly when it comes to the graphic vignettes (which seem to exist in an antiseptic alternate reality). It’s an imperfect system for an imperfect profession. But for now, anyway, it’s the only system we’ve got.

Over the course of the next several months, we’ll look a little more closely at those seven divisions of the test, and offer some suggestions, tips, and advice on how to go about preparing for them. There’s plenty more to come. Look for posts tagged 4.0 Average , and be sure to leave comments based on your own experience.

4.0 Average: Where to Begin…?

The shift from ARE 3.1 to ARE 4.0 was implemented by NCARB to create an exam that was more reflective of the profession.  The seven divisions of the exam are now more integrated with each other, rather than parceled out into neat little packages.  The graphic vignettes have been combined with the multiple choice sections of the test, as well, in keeping with the idea (rightfully so) that architects need to have a wealth of knowledge while representing themselves in visual form.

The exam format gives you the flexibility to tailor the experience to your own strengths and weaknesses (my thoughts on this, if you’re interested, will be offered in another post)… but it comes at a small price:  one of the biggest questions about the exam is what order one should attempt to take these seven divisions.  Every opinion is slightly different… from fellow bloggers The Artichoke’s Guide and AREndurance, to a neverending stream of posts on AREForum.

AIA-Pittsburgh’s YAF is kicking off our 2012-2013 series of formal ARE Review sessions this week.  With the disclaimer that every exam candidate is different, and you really need to do some homework to figure out what’s going to work best for you, we’ve decided to endorse the following sequence:

Construction Documents and Services (CDS)
Programming Planning and Practice (PPP)
Site Planning and Design (SPD)
Structural Systems (SS)
Building Systems (BS)
Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)
Schematic Design (SD)*

In the interests of streamlining the study process, this sequence seems to work out well by building upon prior knowledge.  CDS has a (relatively) narrow focus, making it somewhat easier to study the material.  There’s a lot of overlap in content between CDS and PPP, and again between PPP and SPD, making these three tests ideally suited to be taken together.  BDCS, by contrast, is extremely broad in scope; a lot of the content will come from related subjects in the SS and BS divisions, so studying for them will help build your knowledge base (and comfort level) for BDCS.

* – The only “wild card” is Schematic Design — as the only division of the exam with no multiple choice component, it is an entirely different animal.  It could conceivably come anywhere in the sequence — some candidates use it as a “break” from the hardcore studying for the other divisions.

The first exam you take will be the hardest, mostly for psychological reasons. It doesn’t matter which division you decide to start with. It has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown – getting to the testing center, finding the actual space itself, waiting to be given a computer terminal, watching that clock count down your time remaining and knowing that it’s FOR REAL this time. That feeling will pass – somewhat – when you take exam #2.

Lastly, to any exam candidates reading this, let me ask for a small favor — If you’ve found an exam sequence that works for you, or if you think I’m insane for suggesting such a thing, please leave me a comment!  I’d love to hear how you’ve decided to tackle this thing.