The ARE Building Design and Construction Exam is one of the more difficult exam divisions simply because of the variety of topics that are covered on one exam. Although all 7 ARE exam divisions are treated as separate exams, there can certainly be a common overlap of information between certain tests. If there’s one exam that overlaps the most with other divisions, it would definitely be the building design and construction exam.
Many people consider this exam one of the hardest because of the fact that there is so much information to cover. Since the BDCS covers a lot of issues that are seen on other ARE exams, it’s definitely recommended to take this test towards the end of your exam order. Being familiar with a lot of these topics from previous exams will save you a lot of time. Of course, there will still be quite a bit of new material that you will have to study anyways.
Fortunately for younger ARE test takers, a good portion of the material on the building design exam should be familiar. Depending on the experience that you gain at work and the courses you’ve taken in school, a lot of these issues should not be new to you. A majority of colleges require students to take a few courses in building construction and detailing which is covered frequently on the BDCS test.
In addition to concepts that candidates learned in school, intern architects typically deal with these details and conditions while completing construction documents in the real-world. Issues such as waterproofing, interior detailing, doors, and general construction detailing are all concepts that young architects encounter in their first few years working at a firm. Hopefully you are familiar with some of these topics because having a background with some of these issues can go a long way in your studies.
If most of these topics are new to you, don’t worry, there are still plenty of resources available that can help you get a grasp on this so you can pass the BDCS exam. Either way, the fact that this test covers so many topics should not intimidate you.
Like most of the ARE exams, there are plenty of resources to help you study, it’s just a matter of how you use this information that will determine whether you pass or not.
Let’s take a quick overview of some of the topics covered on the ARE Building Design and Construction Exam.
- Metal Construction
One of the most detailed categories on the BDCS exam is related to metal construction. Metal is such a general term that can be applied to a building in so many different ways and types. Metal construction in a building can be used for elements such as: joists, walls, columns, beams, decking, and even as a finish material both on the interior or exterior.
Since there is such a variety of metal types, knowing the difference between them is very important. Metals such as aluminum, steel, copper, bronze, brass, and iron are all commonly used on a building, yet the relationship that these metals have to one another are commonly overlooked. Each metal has a different set of properties that makes it unique for each building application. Knowing these differences is important to understand for the ARE because questions frequently come up that compare metals to one another.
In addition to knowing the metals themselves, understanding the different applications is just as important. I’d recommend reviewing this section in pretty good detail because so many different questions can appear on the exam that relate to metal building construction.
- Masonry Construction
Masonry may be the most popular building material because there are so many different types that can be used in different ways. The most popular use for masonry construction is a brick and block cavity wall. Most ARE candidates are familiar with this basic type of construction so reviewing some concepts related to masonry should really just be a review.
Masonry construction gets in to concepts related to brick, mortar, coursing, unit masonry, and even stone pieces. Understanding the different properties of each type of masonry is critical because there are some distinct differences you need to be familiar with.
Although masonry construction is the most basic type of building construction, there are quite a few areas that candidates seem to struggle with. Issues such as mortar types and masonry reinforcing are the ones that many people aren’t as familiar with simply because architects typically don’t deal with those issues on a daily basis.
- Wood Construction
Even though wood construction seems so basic in theory, questions can show up on the building construction exam in a variety of ways. Since wood comes in many shapes and sizes, it can be used throughout a building in almost any way.
Wood may be used in the following ways on a building: structural framing of roofs and walls, heavy timber construction, exterior moisture prevention, stairs, casework, millwork, doors, windows, and many more uses.
Since wood for both structural and decorative purposes, there are a number of different types and properties that candidates should be familiar with. You should understand the different wood types, species and sizes and how each of them can be used in a building. You’ll soon learn that there are specific types of wood that is preferred in each situation.
Some ARE candidates are not that familiar with wood construction, especially if their firm does larger buildings that doesn’t use wood as the primary structural element. Reviewing wood as both an interior and exterior material is essential for passing this ARE exam.
- Concrete Construction
The use of concrete as a building material is an important issue on the building design exam. Concrete is used in a variety of ways from cast-in-place to precast members. Concrete construction has been around since the Roman Empire and can be used for a number of elements in a building including: columns, beams, walls, floors, and foundations.
The ARE exam may also get in to some of the specifics of concrete such as concrete properties, admixtures, and required tests. Although the ARE does not typically ask too many historical questions, it’s usually a good idea to have a decent understanding regarding the history of the material. Typically you’ll see 2-4 history related questions per ARE exam.
- Interior Finishes
Even though architects are not interior designers, they often work with them when designing a building so it’s important for you to have a good knowledge of some of the issues that come in to play. You should study common materials for every application in an interior space including floors, walls and ceilings. With so many different material types available for these different applications, it can certainly get confusing so it’s important to review interior finishes carefully.
In addition to common finishes inside a building, candidates should have an understanding of how other elements of the interior are put together. Doors and hardware are common issues that architects deal with as well as casework and millwork construction. Although you may review some of these elements with wood construction, they’re certainly an important part of the building construction exam.
- Exterior Elements
Even though this ARE exam emphasizes the construction of a building, exterior site elements are important to review for this exam as well. You will see a lot of this information on other ARE exam divisions such as the site planning and design exam, but this is a common area of overlap between exams.
Issues such as soils, site grading, and excavation are all very important and directly related to the construction of a building so they can certainly show up on this exam. You should know the different types and properties of soils and how that affects the construction of a building. It may even be a good idea to review your notes from other exams to study for this section of the ARE.
- Building Specialties
Some common elements that are commonly overlooked on the ARE related to specialties in a building that architects need to be familiar with. Elements such as elevators, escalators, and stair systems commonly show up on ARE questions so it’s important to know some things about these elements.
Although these specialties are not used in every building, architects need to understand the basic information regarding these elements. Understanding how stairs work will also be important on the building design and construction vignette that I talk about below.
- Moisture Prevention
One of the most important issues in building construction is keeping water out of the building. Water can cause a variety of issues including mold growth and the deterioration of materials. Integrating different methods of preventing and removing water is important to every building so various techniques are used such as flashing, dampproofing and waterproofing, These areas are certainly important for the ARE test because a variety of questions can be asked relating to waterproofing a building.
In addition to keeping water out of a building, protecting the building thermally is also an important issue. Insulation types and typical details should be reviewed along with various roofing types. With so many different roofing materials available, this section of review for the ARE can get quite tricky and complex.
- Building Design and Construction Vignettes
For this exam, candidates are required to complete 3 different vignettes related to building design. You will have 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete all 3 graphic vignettes in any order that you prefer. Being able to switch back and forth between vignettes is nice because if you get stuck, you can move on and come back to it later. Time management does become important in this vignette section because you need to be able to budget your time so you can complete all 3 solutions on time. Some candidates waste too much time on one vignette and are forced to rush through the other ones.
The BDCS vignettes include designing a new ramp/designing a new stair/and designing a roof plan. All 3 vignettes will give you an existing floor plan and a given set of program and code requirements. It’s your job to design and create the most efficient solution that satisfies all requirements.
For a more detailed description of the ARE building design and construction vignettes, including a breakdown of what to include as well as common strategies for completing the vignettes, see here!
As far as study materials go for the ARE Building Design and Construction Exam, there are plenty of resources available. Like most ARE exams, I would recommend starting with PPI or Kaplan because they have study guides that review each exam. Both Kaplan and PPI both offer practice exams in addition to the study guides. I would definitely give the edge to PPI for both study guides and practice tests just based on my own experience taking the ARE.
In addition to these study guides, there are plenty of other supplemental books you can use to help you understand some of the concepts. “Building Construction Illustrated” by Francis Ching is a great resource because it provides hundreds of illustrations without too much text. This definitely helps you understand some of the building construction issues that you may see on the ARE. The Ching book is actually organized in a similar way to the PPI study guide so you could actually use those 2 resources together.
If you read through the ARE Forum, you will find people that recommend a variety of other resources that can help you. When I was studying for the BDCS test, I found it overwhelming to try and read every resources that someone would recommend. I decided that I was going to just use the PPI study guide as my primary resource and just use the Ching book when I needed help. This was just my personal opinion and if you feel better reading as much information as you can, then definitely check out the supplemental readings on the ARE Forum.
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The building design and construction exam is definitely one of the most intimidating ARE exams simply because of the content that it covers. This exam touches on topics from all 7 of the ARE exam divisions, which makes it even more important that you take your time while studying for this exam.
Like I mentioned above, it might not be a bad idea to wait and take the BDCS exam until the end because of the simple fact that you will review a lot of the information earlier when studying for the other exams. With that said, this test has the worst passing rate out of all of the ARE exams so failing your last exam is not something you want to do either.
I definitely recommend spending a good chunk of time studying for this exam even if you think you are familiar with the material.
Good luck to all!