The ARE Schematic Design Exam is rare because it’s the only ARE exam that does not contain a multiple-choice exam. Instead, this exam division simply consists of 2 graphic vignettes that are treated as separate sections of the test. Many candidates fall into the trap and think that they don’t need to study for the SD exam because there is no multiple-choice questions. This would be a big mistake because the 2 ARE vignettes are quite difficult and require a lot of preparation in order to pass them.
Unlike most vignette sections where you get a certain amount of time to complete multiple vignettes, the schematic design exam breaks up each vignette into its own timed section. You will get 1 hour to complete the interior layout vignette and then 4 hours to complete the building layout vignette. Time certainly becomes a factor in both vignettes so the more you can prepare ahead of time, the less stressed you will be on test day.
Let’s take a quick look at what each vignette requires you to know on the SD exam.
- Interior Layout Vignette
This vignette is a short, 1 hour drawing that will give you an existing interior space and a given program. You will have to lay out 3-4 rooms according to the program requirements as well as place about 30 pieces of furniture that meet both program and code requirements. This may sound like a walk in the park, but the time flies by on this vignette and many candidates simply run out of time before completing the solution.
You won’t have to memorize any code requirements for this vignette as they will all be provided in the program, but you should be familiar with the general requirements for door push and pull clearances as well as maneuvering clearances in a room.
- Building Layout Vignette
The building layout vignette is definitely the more involved section of the SD exam and that’s why you will have 4 hours to complete this. 4 hours sounds like a lot of time, but the time does fly by when you have to keep tweaking your solution. For this vignette, you will be given 15-20 rooms and you will have to design a 2 story building that meets all requirements. Each of these rooms will have different program and adjacency requirements so a lot of planning will be required on your part before you even start drawing your solution. Since the NCARB program is quite tricky to navigate, it will be important that you sketch out some options before starting in the program.
Besides just placing the rooms in the drawing, you will also have to account for circulation space, exiting requirements, doors and windows. This vignette certainly has a lot of different requirements and will force you to modify your solution a few times. It’s important to stay calm and work efficiently so that you’re not going back and forth too many times.
For a more detailed description of both ARE schematic design vignettes, including a breakdown of what to include as well as common strategies for completing the vignettes, see here!
Since the ARE schematic design exam does not contain any multiple-choice sections, there isn’t as much “reading” that you need to do for this test. That certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t resources available to help you prepare for this ARE division. Like the other ARE exams, both Kaplan and PPI offer study guides for the SD exam. The only difference with the SD study guides is that they only contain vignette examples and practice problems. I tend to give the edge to PPI because they have some decent explanations of the vignettes to go along with images.
Another resource worth checking out is a book called “Solutions” by Norman Dorf. This book strictly focuses on the graphic vignettes of all 7 exams. It includes frequently asked questions as well as practice problems and solutions for the vignettes. This is definitely something to review especially for the schematic design exam since it is strictly a test made up of vignettes.
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Out of all 7 ARE exam divisions, the schematic design exam will certainly require the least amount of reading, but that does not mean that you don’t have to prepare for this exam. If you’re going to use the practice NCARB software for any ARE test, I would certainly recommend using it on this one. Using the practice software can give you a good feel for how long it takes to complete each vignette as well as what tools and elements you will have to place in your solution.
I certainly recommend reading through as many practice problems and answers as you can find online. The more variations of the problems that you see, the more comfortable you’ll be on test day.
Good luck on this one!