Apr 17

ARE – Ramp/Accessibility Vignette

The ARE ramp/accessibility vignette is one of three vignettes that make up the BDCS exam. Combined with a fairly extensive multiple-choice section, many people believe that this ARE exam division is the most difficult because it covers such a broad range of topics.

Once the multiple-choice section is finished, candidates will have 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete all 3 BDCS vignettes. You can complete these vignettes in any order and you’re also able to move on to other vignettes even if you haven’t completed the first one. The only thing candidates can’t do is go back to the multiple-choice section.

As you’ll notice, each of the 3 building design vignettes are different and address different issues relating to the design of a building. It’s important to understand the difference between these 3 vignettes so it’s not too overwhelming on the actual exam.


For the ramp vignette, you will be asked to design an accessible ramp (and possibly a stair) that meets all programmatic and code requirements. This vignette will require candidates to follow strict requirements as well as come up with the most efficient solution given these rules.

Even though this vignette has a design element involved with it, it’s more important for candidates to come up with efficient solutions that meet all requirements rather than a unique “design” solution. This can be hard for some candidates to understand but is essential when it comes to passing this ARE exam division.


The following information will most likely be provided to you for the accessibility vignette:

– Existing floor plan at multiple levels
– Floor heights of both levels
– Program requirements
– Code requirements (different from the program requirements)

The most important piece of information that is provided to you is probably the code requirements. Regardless of which code you are used to working with in your real-life practice, you MUST follow the GIVEN program or else it may result in a failed exam score.

NCARB has tried its best to make their code as close to the ADA version as possible, but it’s essential for candidates not to fight the code with what they know from their own experience. Everything that is given in the NCARB code is all you need to solve this vignette.

Elements To Include:

On the ARE Ramp/Accessibility Vignette, there are a number of unique elements that you will need to include in order to receive a passing score on this exam. Some of these elements will be used on other BDCS vignettes while some are specific to the ramp vignette.

Some of these elements include:

– Ramp that meets all code requirements
– Stair connecting the 2 levels
– Handrails/Guardrails that meet all requirements
– Door that meets exiting requirements
– Wall for the new door

It will be essential for you to practice using these tools because they can be quite tricky if you’re not familiar with them. Some of these tools are very hard to modify once they are placed so this will require more planning on your part before placing them in the software.

I recommend using your scratch paper as best as you can to plan out your solution before drawing it on the computer. Of course, you will always have to modify elements in the software but the more you design on paper first, the better off you will be.


In order to complete this accessibility vignette in a timely manner, it will be important to understand some of the strategies that can help save you time. By practicing some of these strategies in the NCARB software, you should be more familiar with how to place and modify each element.

In addition to practicing the software, implementing some of these strategies can also help you avoid critical and fatal errors on the exam. There are so many more opportunities for failed exam scores simply due to the fact that so many code requirements are given in the instructions. It seems that violating code restrictions are much worse than violating other requirements so taking your time to understand the code will be essential.

  • Determine how many vertical feet your ramp must travel in order to determine how many horizontal feet you will need. Use the minimum slope requirement found in the code in order to have the most efficient solution.
  • NEVER decrease the width of the ramp in the direction of travel. This is a common mistake made by a lot of candidates. It is best to stick with the same ramp width throughout every turn of the ramp to avoid this mistake.
  • Make sure you include handrails at all ramp locations and even landings that are at open edges. You don’t want to put in handrails where you don’t need to but missing them could be fatal.
  • Make sure you have a 5′ x 5′ dimension at the top and bottom of your ramps. If your railings are attached to the wall at the top or bottom, it can intrude on this dimension but if not, your 5′ x 5′ dimension must be CLEAR of the handrails.
  • Make sure that your stair rise is within the program requirements. Even though this is not the stair design vignette, you still need to follow all code requirements for stairs that is given to you.
  • Verify that your door swings IN the direction of travel. Again, this is a common mistake that should be easy to remember.
  • Pay attention to the clearances at and around doors. Sometimes door swings get close to the top landing and various handrail conditions. Be sure you are clear here.
  • Be sure to include the elevation of each end of the ramp as well as the landings. This is the only way the NCARB software can tell what your ramp slope is. You will need to enter in an elevation for each end of the ramp and landings. Forgetting to do this will cause the program to read the ramp as flat on the ground, thus resulting in a failed score.
  • Minimize the number of landings that you have. This is important for 2 reasons. It will be a more efficient solution if you can minimize the landings. It will also make your life a lot easier because the more landings you have, the trickier the ramp will be.

Since this vignette is only one of the three ARE Building Design and Construction Vignettes, it will be important to manage your time wisely so you have proper time to complete all 3 vignettes. The other vignettes, the stair design and roof plan, both take around the same amount of effort to complete. Unlike the SPD vignettes, the 3 BDCS vignettes all will require about the same amount of time to complete. There isn’t one vignette that will take significantly more time so by practicing these vignettes you can figure out which ones take you longer to complete. Depending on how familiar you are with the material, it may take you longer to complete a section over another.

Stair Design
The stair design vignette requires you to design and draw a new stair that connects to multiple levels of an existing building. The building floor plan will be given to you and the new stair must be designed to meet various code and program requirements such as headroom clearances/stair widths/handrails/etc.
For a similar breakdown of the ARE Stair Design Vignette, see here.

Roof Plan
The roof plan vignette will test your knowledge of how to design a roof that can properly shed water as well as incorporate a variety of roof elements. You will be given an existing floor plan and asked to design a roof that meets a variety of programmatic criteria including roof equipment/light access and water removal.
For a similar breakdown of the ARE Roof Plan Vignette, see here.

Additional Tips & Practice Exams

For a full breakdown of the ARE Ramp/Accessibility Vignette, please see the ARE Advisor eBook Series – BDCS 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.