ARE Exam Divisions

If you’re not familiar with the ARE exam divisions, you’re starting at the right place.

The ARE 4.0 exam is broken down into 7 different divisions, each acting as a separate test and covering a different topic.

Each ARE exam will is formatted in a similar way by breaking it up into 2 parts: a multiple choice part and a graphic vignette part (except for the Schematic Design exam which is strictly a vignette exam)

Within the multiple choice section of the exam, you’ll be expected to answer multiple choice, fill-in-the blank, and select all that apply questions. In addition to these types, some ARE exam divisions will require you to fill in the blanks on questions that require calculations.

Speaking of calculations, you will NOT be allowed to bring you own calculator in to the exam. Instead, you will be provided with an on-screen calculator that takes more time.

The order that you take the ARE exam divisions is completely up to you. There are some people who like to take the easy tests first so they can get a feel for the process. Then there are others who want to dive right in an knock out some of the hard tests. Just remember, if you fail an ARE exam, you have to wait 6 months before you can retake the exam. This will only affect you towards the end, so if you’re going to fail one, make sure it’s earlier on so you’re not waiting to take tests at the end.

Here are the 7 ARE exam divisions:

This is actually the order I took the tests but we’ll cover my personal thoughts on that a little bit later.

Construction Documents and Services (CDS)

This test consists of 100 multiple choice questions and 1 vignette.

The multiple choice section will cover topics including: contract documents, project delivery, project management, construction drawings, etc.

The graphic vignette involved drawing a building section from a given set of drawings.


For more information regarding the Construction Documents Exam, see here.


Programming, Planning and Practice (PPP)

The PPP test contains 85 multiple choice questions and 1 graphic vignette.

You can expect the multiple choice questions to cover issues such as: building programming, site analysis, environmental issues, project management and planning.

The vignette will cover issues such as site zoning and building setbacks.


For more detailed information regarding the Programming Exam, see here.


Building Systems (BS)

The Building Systems exam contains 95 multiple choice questions and again, 1 graphic vignette.

For the multiple choice section, you can expect a wide variety of MEP related questions on topics such as: acoustic control, sustainable practices, mechanical systems, electrical systems, plumbing systems, and energy efficient systems.

The vignette part of this exam will test your knowledge of a proper reflected ceiling plan.


For more detailed information regarding the Building Systems Exam, see here.


Building Design and Construction (BDCS)

The BDCS test is quite complex and consists of 85 multiple choice questions and 3 vignettes.

The multiple choice section covers basically every topic related to architecture so here are just a few of the topics you can expect: masonry, concrete, woodwork, metals, doors, windows, finish materials, site design and much more.

This graphic vignette is also quite complex because you will have a certain amount of time to finish 3 different vignettes that include: roof design, stair design and ramp design.


Since this test might be the hardest of of the 7 ARE exam divisions so I strongly recommend reading more about the BDCS Exam here.


Structural Systems (SS)

The structural systems exam consists of an ARE record 125 multiple choice questions with 1 graphic vignette.

Similar to the BDCS exam, the multiple choice questions in this exam cover a wide variety of structural issues such as: lateral forces, beams, columns, trusses, loads, different construction types and wall construction.

The vignette for this exam will test your knowledge of laying out a structural system over a building plan.


More information regarding the Structual Systems Exam can be found here.


Schematic Design (SD)

This test has NO multiple choice portion and is strictly just a vignette exam containing 2 separate graphic vignette portions.

Unlike the other exams with multiple vignettes, each portion will be timed separately and will test your understanding on interior layouts and building layouts.


More information on the Schematic Design Exam can be found here.


Site Planning and Design (SPD)

This exam contains 65 multiple choice questions with 2 vignettes.

The multiple choice section will test your knowledge on issues such as: site design, site analysis, environmental concerns and programming.

The vignette section of this exam will test your knowledge of solving site grading issues as well as site design concerns.


For more information on the Site Planning Exam, see here.


As you can see, there is a wide variety of topics covered in all 7 ARE exam divisions. For those of you just beginning the test taking process, I’m sure this information is quite overwhelming.

Instead of worrying about the big picture and the 7 tests you need to pass, it’s essential that you focus on one exam at and time and try to block everything else out. You won’t do yourself any good if you’re worrying about the structural systems exam while studying for the site planning exam.

I strongly recommend taking a more detailed look at each of these ARE exam divisions so you can start planning you test taking order. I promise, it won’t be as bad as you think.