Review of Architect Exam Prep CDS Enchilada

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Architect Exam Prep CDS Review

This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architecture Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architecture Registration Exam Series.

Architect Exam Prep CDS Enchilada

Architect Exam Prep is relatively new to the ARE Exam Prep scene. They started putting study material out in 2013 and also they put out a podcast and blog which I highly recommend checking out.

In order to write this review, I personally purchased the CDS Architect Exam Prep, even though I passed the CDS test in 2009. I chose to do write a review of CDS for several reasons.

  1. The CDS is an exam that is often taken first in sequence. To new ARE Candidates, this exam is manageable and a good place to start.
  2. As a practicing Architect this CDS exam prep offers me the opportunity to brush up on a lot of the contract stuff. This is an area that I frequently find myself in my professional life.
  3. Lastly, this was one of my favorite exams. CDS helped my expand my knowledge of working in an architecture office, even though I had about 5 years’ experience working for architects when I began studying. Studying for CDS thoroughly taught me how the business of architecture works more than any other exam, office or mentor I have ever had.

My Opinion

Architect Exam Prep has a great product. It’s very thorough, well written and most importantly a great value for the amount of hours you will get out of it. However, concerning all ARE study materials I still recommend cross referencing the content with Ballast, Kaplan or other resources. No one source will ever truly be 100% complete and everybody learns in different methods.

Some General Comments on the Architect Exam Prep CDS Enchilada

Downloading the information was easy
Architect Exam prep offers a very simple registration and payment process. Payment is accepted via PayPal or by credit card. The program download includes 10 separate, large file downloads. I encountered issues with one of my download files was not working, but had a new link 5 minutes after emailing them about the issue.

The Limited, Non-transferrable, License.
All of the PDF’s and program content are locked with passwords. The package is only good for the use of 1 person, to be printed once and is not allowed to be shared. They make this very clear and I don’t blame them. A lot of hard work went into creating this content which I hope you respect. They worked really hard creating this content.  I (personally) would also go as far as saying if you’re studying material that you personally didn’t pay for you are probably going to fail.

Print It
I printed everything. I’m old school and prefer reading on paper. I am not a fan of reading PDF’s and being chained to a desk or a tablet. I also like to markup everything I read. And, finding the right passwords each time I tried to open the PDFS quickly became annoying. Below, I will break down each piece of the AEP CDS test.

The Study Guide

The study guide is central to the CDS exam prep. It is the meat and potatoes of the process. The flashcards, practice tests, and all other components are testing on the study guide. Read it and learn it. Fortunately the study guide is very well written and formatted with a lot of lists. It has some good graphics, but I think it could definitely use some more.

The study guide is outlined in the same format as the NCARB study guide using the same criteria that NCARB uses to grade the test. If you fail the practice exam AEP will point you to where you need to spend more time studying. AEP is the only major study material guide to provide the content in this format. I really appreciate how they organized everything. It seems more realistic then how the Kaplan and Ballast books are organized.

The code section is very basic and well done. It took me a little while to wrap my head around this content originally. I would add Professor Frank Ching IBC Illustrated to the list if you feel like you need more around codes.

The ADA chapter jumped out at me at being too light. ADA is really important so I would definitely not rely only on AEP CDS exam prep for this section. Add more ADA to your studying, especially if CDS is your first test.

Architect Exam Prep CDS Review

AEP does a great job emphasizing the relationship between Owner, Contractor, and Architect. A big component of the CDS exam is having a clear understanding of how these three parties work together and what the relationship is between them.

They also good job walking through the AIA contracts, but I would still recommend reading the A201 and B101 with commentary that was done by the AIA.  AEP breaks down each contract and provides an outline of each.  However the AIA commentary breaks down each contract line by line. A better study plan would be to read the AIA material first and then use the AEP as a refresher.

Keep in mind the commentary was written for the 2007 documents and has not been updated to the most recent. I would recommend checking out the difference with the 2007 and current AIA documents. Here is the link for the commentary and the comparisons and

Audio Companion

The AEP CDS audio is AWESOME! Everyone wants to know what it is? Well, basically it is David Doucette reading the study guide to you. He is a great audio reader and when listening, you may think you are listening to a pod cast. He does add a little bit more information than what is written in the workbook. I was really impressed.

I listened to chapters I read in the study guide and vice versa. I found the audio significantly easier to follow when I had reviewed it in the study guide prior.

This kind of audio would have been really helpful when I was studying for my exams; it allows you to take in information when you’re out and about. I could have listened when I was running or walking the dog thus accelerating my studying time.

AIA Contracts

The AIA provides these contracts for free. AEP also provides them. It’s worth taking a look at all of if you are unfamiliar with AIA contracts.


AEP provides you with four PDF files to print out and cut up with a total of 309 flashcards. The flashcards contain practice test questions and some are very lengthy requiring some thinking.  I was really impressed with the quality of the flashcards. They even include questions about the vignette.

Architect Exam Prep CDS Review

When I took the exam I ended up making most of my own flashcards which was a process. It’s nice to have these cards ready to go.

Vignette Guide

In my opinion, the CDS Building Section vignette is the easiest. Although, I recommend starting right away if this is your first vignette. It will take you some time to get comfortable using the terrible NCARB cad software that will likely remind you of a 1987 version of AutoCAD.

The AEP provides some solid vignette advice. They introduce a great chart which is helpful. I tried to use charts as much as possible on the vignettes as they are a fool proof way to solve the problem without making sloppy mistakes. Charts also give you the opportunity to very easily and quickly double check your work.

They do a great job of introducing the software and each tool for people who have not yet used it.

DIY Workbook and Cad Files

The DIY workbook has several passing and failing solutions to work out with pencil and trace. They recommend sketching them with tracing paper to practice getting the floor to floor heights correct.

I did open the cad files and they look good for practicing on the computer if you feel compelled.

Online Video Program

AEP walks you through several vignettes through video breaking it down piece by piece. The videos seem to correspond and work nicely with the DIY practice workbook and the vignette guide they have provided.

The quality of the videos I thought was very professional and they seemed to remind me of the content quality that Professor Dorf offers in his vignette videos.  These videos will be gold if this is your first exam.  

Online Multiple Choice Exam Simulator or OMCES

This is really cool. AEP has created software online that uses an almost identical format to the real NCARB exam to administer its 300 practice exams. It literally feels like your actually taking the exam. What’s cool about this is they give you the option to have the answer be given to you right after you finish the question.

There are 3 different practice exams each with 100 questions. The software doesn’t track the time, but they recommend racing against the clock to get those 100 questions answered. Architect Exam Prep CDS Review Architect Exam Prep CDS Review Architect Exam Prep CDS Review

Negatives of Architect Exam Prep CDS

  • Study more ADA and read the AIA commentary to fill in the holes around those topics.
  • The online content is expires after 30 days but can be renewed for $29.95
  • There is no resale value of this product, once you buy it, it’s yours forever.
  • If you study material you personally haven’t paid for you’ll probably fail.

Hope this sheds some light on Architect Exam Prep CDS Enchilada. If anyone has any questions or comments please leave a comment below.

Looking for other ARE Specific Study Guides?

Check out the reviews that I wrote about the other ARE Publishers:

Read the full series
This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architect Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architect Registration Exam Series.

About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

    Michael Riscica - November 30, 2014

    Great question and thanks for asking…

    A few things and this is my opinion.

    I have several times leant out my kaplan books and ARE Review manual to other people to study and they have not used them or not appreciated it, partly because they got them for free and made no sacrifices to acquire them.. I paid for college education with student loans, so i made sure i milked all the value out of it. Had i gone for free, I probobly wouldnt have worked so hard. When I make a sacrifice for something, I always get more value out of it. Especially educational stuff.

    I agree with you it is all the same content, however it is rearranged and organized in their way, they’ve made mp3’s, videos, a practice exam simulation software and unique vignette alternates. It was alot of work. It’s a great product at a very competitive price. They also go to great lengths asking you not to share it, which should be respected.

    By not respecting that I believe it will come back one way or another. I dont think thats a scare tactic, it’s the law of attraction. If i was studying for the ARE right now i would be doing whatever I could to earn good energy with anything around those exams. You have already made a huge financial investment to get to this point. Whats 100 bucks, for information thats going to help you pass?? During the exams your time is actually more valuable then the money.

    If your really that tight on cash buy and sell all your other books on amazon, use the library, ask a 1000 questions on the forum and find more creative ways to study. You can also email me directly if you would like to chat.

    Thanks again for the comment.

      ball666 - December 1, 2014

      I was asking for the sake of others, as I’ve both borrowed and have ultimately paid for Kaplan, Chan, Arch Exam Prep material, and Dorf videos all on my own. Although I do agree with your conclusion that if one is to steal and pirate material, then he or she is more than likely not of moral stature and will not invest in oneself. I just didn’t find the written statement to represent that idea as it reads a bit more as a cause-and-effect. All n all, great discussion and I appreciate your contribution to the community.

nate - January 24, 2016

Nalsa publishing has good material and people there to answer questions!

Liz - April 9, 2016

Is the online content available to download within the 30 day access window? (More specifically for the online videos and practice exam)

Is there a limit to the number of renewals/skip-a-month?

Emily - July 14, 2016

How would you compare the AEP material vs. Designer Hacks? I’m not sure if I want to invest in both for CDS…I feel pretty confident about the vignette. So, for multiple choice portion of the exam, would you recommend AEP or Designer Hacks?

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