Review of the Kaplan ARE 4.0 Study Material

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.

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Not all architect exam study materials are the same.

No definately not.

I have talked about Kaplan’s ARE study materials soo much in the Young Architect ARE Blogposts, I never thought it would be necessary to formally write a review of Kaplan. However, over the past few months, many of you have asked me to write a review of the Kaplan ARE Prep Study materials.

At the bottom of this post I provide links to all the ARE Study Materials on Amazon, who typically has the best prices on ARE Study Materials. You can click here to jump down to those links.

But before I start my review of The Kaplan Architecture Registration Exam Study Materials, we really need to talk about…

The ARE Transition

As of October 23, 2015, there are still many unknowns about the ARE transition. NCARB is essentially going from 7 very specialized exams to 5 or 6 exams, and they are mixing up all the content among the specialized exams. All the details have not really been defined yet, and I have a million questions that NCARB has yet to answer. (And all the other ARE Prep publishers have these same unanswered questions.)

The word Transition is one of my project-management dirty buzzwords. Transitions often aren’t smooth and always involve a lot of risk. It makes me really uncomfortable when “transition implementers” pretend that a transition is no big deal while they holding back the most important information and details.

NCARB ARE Calculator

Here is a link to the NCARB Transition Calculator

So what does that mean to ARE Study Materials?!???

No one really knows just yet. Sometime around the beginning of the year, NCARB will be giving a presentation to all the ARE Study material providers, which will explain how to create study materials for 5.0. But until that happens, we don’t really understand how the study materials will transfer from 4.0 to 5.0.

All of the Ballast, Kaplan, Architect Exam Prep, ARE Advisor and Gang Chen study materials will need to be reorganized. There has never been a better time to take ARE 4.0 than right now, and I think you’re nuts if you’re waiting for 5.0 to start testing.

My ARE 5.0 Predictions

My guess is that very minimal information will be added or taken away from the ARE. I truly think that the ARE won’t be much different in 5.0. It’s just that all the study information will be rearranged from 5 exams into 7.

I also predict that everyone will still be using the old ARE 4.0 study materials to study for ARE 5.0.

Oh, and NCARB will get rid of that silly vignette exercise that doesn’t really test anything. That’s a given.

Kaplan for Each Exam

Generally speaking, I like Kaplan a lot.

I find it much more human to study than its ugly cousin; The Ballast ARE Review Manual feels like you’re reading a dictionary.  In How To Pass The ARE, I go into great detail about how you’re  shooting yourself in the foot if you only study one set of materials. You must study other resources if you want to pass your ARE’s.  Think of it as cross-training.

Generally speaking, I think Kaplan does an excellent job with the CDS, PPP, and SPD exams. It is much more thorough than Ballast, and Kaplan does an excellent job of really helping you understand the Contracts stuff. In contrast, Ballast just cruises through the contracts and basically leaves you on your own to figure it out. Kaplan is much more helpful for the CDS exam the the Ballast book.

Unless you have a good preexisting knowledge of Structures, I wouldn’t recommend using Kaplan to study for the Structural Systems (SS) exam. When I failed the Structures exam in 2009, I had only studied Ballast and Kaplan. I failed because I walked into the exam with a headful of information, but none of it was tied together or made any sense. Use Kaplan after you have studied other resources, and you’re looking to fill in the gaps of your SS knowledge. But it’s not a great resource if you really need to get up-to-speed on Structures.

Kaplan is pretty good for the Building Systems (BS), but you’ll still definitely need to use MEEB and other study sources to effectively prepare.

For Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS), I like Kaplan much better because I think Ballast is much too detailed for the scope of the BDCS exam.

Old Kaplan vs New Kaplan

When you look something up in Architectural Graphic Standards a few times a year, must you only use the 2015 version?!??? Or would a Graphic Standards from 2004 (or even 1994) work?  Sure it would!

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about Kaplan:

Just like Architectural Graphic Standards, every year or two, Kaplan puts a new cover on their books and uses this as a reason to sell a a newer more expensive version. The content is the same. If it changes, it’s only to fix the errors they previously published, which ARE Candidates noticed and pointed out to them while they were studying.

The 2009 Kaplan CDS study guide is the same as the 2013 Kaplan CDS study guide. If you choose to pay more for the most recent version, you’re wasting your money. The ARE isn’t being updated every year or two; there is no reason for Kaplan to sell an updated version, except to correct their mistakes.

Buying old, used versions of Kaplan on Amazon is the most cost-effective way to study for the ARE. At the bottom of this post, I provide links to all those old versions.

A Quick Tip About Buying Used Kaplan Study Guides

Try to get the best price over the latest version. Also take a look and see if you can score a good deal on the Kaplan books for your next exam. Since Amazon is primarily a crowd sourced marketplace, the good deal that is there today may not be in 2 months when you come back and you may be stuck buying the expensive version because you waited.

The Content

The ARE 4.0 Kaplan material is broken up into many pieces, which are usually sold separately. Lets me break this down for you.

Study Guide

The Kaplan Study Guide

This is essentially the “content.” Kaplan takes each exam’s content and divides it up into 10-15 chapters. Unlike Architect Exam Prep; both Kaplan and Ballast do not present the material in the same outline that NCARB gives you in their study guide for each division.

At the end of each chapter, there is a short quiz that tests the information that you just studied. These short quizzes are usually pretty difficult, and the answer they are looking for usually cannot be quickly found in the previous pages. They really force you to think about the answer.

At the end of the content, each Kaplan book discusses how to solve that exam’s vignette. I never really thought that the Kaplan vignette information was very good. Architect Exam Prep, Dorf, and even Ballast offer much better insight.

The last piece of the Study Guide is the glossary. I think the Kaplan glossary is awesome! The definitions are great and easy to use. When I began each exam, the first thing I did was go straight to the glossary and start making my own flashcards for the words that I didn’t already know.

 Kaplan Flashcards Kaplan Questions and Answers

The Kaplan Flashcards

Here is another Kaplan secret: Their flashcards are nothing but the glossary I mentioned above, except printed on flashcards. Rather than using Kaplan’s flashcards, I preferred making my own. By writing my own flashcards, it helped me get the information in my head faster.

Kaplan Questions and Answers

Kaplan Questions and Answers (AKA The Practice Exam) 

Kaplan has excellent practice questions. They ask great questions, and they do a wonderful job of explaining the answer to each question. Studying practice questions are the most effective way to study for the ARE.

And I really like that their multiple choice formats are the same as the formats of the questions on the actual exam.

What do I mean?

The ARE is usually asking for an answer…
What is 2 + 2?
a. 1
b. 6
c. 4
d. 5

Sometimes, it asks you to fill in the blank…
2 + 2 = ____

Other times, it will ask you for the best answer…
Choose the best answer for 2 + 2 =
I. 3 + 2
II. 3 + 4
III. 3 + 1
IV. 6 – 2

A. I and II
B. II and III
C. III and IV
D. II, III and IV

All of the multiple choice questions on the ARE essentially a variation of these question formats.  NCARB will introduce some new question formats in ARE 5.0, but the specifics are still a little bit vague on that.

Kaplan VIgnettes

The Kaplan Practice Vignettes

Their Practice Vignettes are printed on 11 x 17’s.  They give you two different alternates to practice solving the vignette. They want you to hand-draw the solution with hard lines, but I used to just work out the problem on a roll of tracing paper in a coffee shop. My drawing was usually pretty ugly, but it totally worked for solving the vignette.

My opinion of the Kaplan Vignettes is that they are generally just OK. Since they are sold separately, I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to get this product. I think Ballast, Gang Chen, Nalsa, and Architect Exam Prep have practice vignettes that are as good or better, and they come with their other products.

Pros of the Kaplan ARE 4.0 Study Materials

  • The Practice Quiz at the end of each chapter forces you to think about the content you just read.
  • The Practice Exams are solid and are very similar to the questions on the real exam. The answers provide an explanation, which is very helpful for understanding the correct answer.
  • Kaplan’s glossary is really useful for studying vocabulary.
  • CDS, PPP, and SPD are very well-done.
  • Kaplan is significantly more reader-friendly than reading the Ballast book.
  • All products are sold individually and are often very cheap when bought used.
  • Kaplan is much easier to carry around than Ballast, which is like carrying a phone book.

Cons of the Kaplan ARE 4.0 Study Materials

  • The 2009 Structures Study Guide is confusing and riddled with errors. The Kaplan material is a terrible resource if your Structures knowledge isn’t solid, and you have a lot to learn from scratch.
  • The Practice vignettes are only ok. Since they are sold separately, I wouldn’t bother purchasing them. You can get alternate vignettes with many other practice exam materials, including Gang Chen, Ballast, Architect Exam Prep, and Nalsa.

Looking for other ARE Specific Study Guides?

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


Links to all of the Kaplan ARE Study Materials:

Kaplan Construction Documents and Services (CDS)

For CDS Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014

For CDS Kaplan Question and Answers, Click year for corresponding edition 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011,  2012 and 2013

For CDS Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011,  and 2012

For CDS Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

Kaplan Practice Planning and Programming (PPP) 

For PPP Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014

For PPP Kaplan Question and Answers Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013

For PPP Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

For PPP Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

Kaplan Site Planning and Design (SPD)

For SPD Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2004, 2006, 2009,  2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014

For SPD Kaplan Question and Answers, Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013

For SPD Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010 and 2012

For SPD Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

Kaplan Schematic Design (SD)

For SD Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2011, 2012  and 2014

For SD Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2010, 2011 and 2012 

Kaplan Structural Systems (SS)

For SS Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014

For SS Kaplan Question and Answers, Click year for corresponding edition 2008, 2010 and 2012

For SS Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

For SS Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

Kaplan Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS)

For BDCS Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014

For BDCS Kaplan Question and Answers, Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

For BDCS Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 

For BDCS Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

Kaplan Building Systems (BS)

For BS Kaplan Study Guide Click year for corresponding edition  2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014

For BS Kaplan Question and Answers, Click year for corresponding edition 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

For BS Kaplan Practice Vignettes Click year for corresponding edition  2010 and 2012

For BS Kaplan Flash Cards Click year for corresponding edition 2010 and 2012

 

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 - July 28, 2016

    I don’t know. I havent seen the new products yet. I will write a review when I get my hands on them.

      Bryan - January 2, 2017

      Have you formed an opinion on Brightwood?

        Michael Riscica - January 2, 2017

        Brightwood bought Kaplan Architect Exam prep earlier this year. Its the same old Kaplan content with the same spelling mistakes and a new cover. I use a 2009 version of kaplan for the ARE Boot camp.

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