Mar 21

ARE – Construction Documents Vignette

Passing the ARE Construction Documents Vignette is commonly underestimated by many test takes because it almost seems to easy. Granted, the CDS vignette is one of the “easier” vignettes of the group, it is still necessary to prepare for this portion of the exam.

Any major error that you make on the graphic vignette section could cause you to fail the entire exam, no matter how well you do in the multiple choice section. It’s essential that you take your time to study the rules and guidelines so you can pass the Construction Documents Vignette.


For the CDS vignette, you will have 1 hour to draw a schematic building section from a given set of floor plans. In theory, this sounds easy but there are a lot of rules and tricks that NCARB throws at you to test your understanding of how a building is put together and coordinated.


For the ARE Construction Documents Vignette, you will be provided with the following information:

– 2 floor plans (assuming a 2 story building)
– Structural Framing
– Mechanical Layout
– Section Cut Line

Elements To Include:

To complete the CDS vignette correctly, you will be asked to at least include the following items:

– Footings
– Exterior Walls
– Floor Slab
– Interior Partitions
– Ceilings
– Mechanical Ducts
– Structural Systems/Roof
– Roof Parapet

* Remember, these items may vary depending on the actual test you are given. It’s essential that you read the exam directions carefully before proceeding.


The following are different strategies to help you pass the ARE Construction Documents Vignette. It will always be important to read the directions given to you the day of the test but these guidelines should help you remember what you need to include in your final vignette drawing.

  • Start working from the ground up by figuring out the minimum ceiling heights and clearances as given by the program. *Clearances for structure, ducts, and lights will all be provided and must be accounted for in your solution.
  • Determine the largest “duct/joist” depth to include in your plenum space. Figuring out the proper plenum space dimension is critical in solving this vignette. *This may not occur where the section line is cut from so make sure that you look at the entire floor plan to find the largest combination.
  • Show the proper joist sizes and directions as shown on the given floor plans
  • Make sure all interior walls are drawn in the correct place and to the correct height. *Fire rated walls will need to go up to the floor above while non-rated partitions only need to extend past the ceiling. Refer to the program for this information
  • Size the parapet walls according to the program requirements

Additional Tips & Practice Exams

For a full breakdown of the ARE Construction Documents Vignette, please see the ARE Advisor eBook Series – CDS Vignette that I’ve created to help you out. This ebook consists of step-by-step instructions, practice programs, and personal thoughts and advice to passing this section of the ARE.

Personally, I believe that many people fail exam divisions because they don’t spend enough time studying the ARE graphic vignettes. Granted, the multiple choice is just as difficult and time needs to be spent preparing for that section as well, but many people leave studying for the vignette until the last minute. These ebooks have been created to help better prepare you for the graphic vignette sections of the ARE.