The Amber Book ARE 5.0 Product Review

***If you are looking to sign up for Amber Book, Click here to learn more about the Young Architect Amber Book Discount. This is the biggest discount offered and will be $20/month cheaper than if you organized your own group discount.

Review of the Amber Book, video tour, Amber Book vs Black Spectacles

In recent years, The Amber Book has made a profound impact on how people study for the ARE 5.0 and has been a very big player in creating many Licensed Architects. 

What differentiates Amber Book from all other architect exam prep providers is how they have mastered the art of using graphics and animations to help you study for the ARE. 

Since 2015 I’ve coached thousands of Candidates for the architect exam and I’ve seen every ARE 5.0 resource, product, book or study guide.  I truly believe Amber Book has taken studying to the next level. 

If you learn best by seeing how things are done and/or consider yourself a “Visual Learner”, then I know you’ll really appreciate Amber Book. 

This blog post will break down and summarize all the parts of Amber Book. I also have special permission from Amber Book, to give you a video tour. 

This Review Will Provide Answers to the Following Questions:

What is Amber Book?

Before we get started, it's important to note that the Amber Book isn't just A BOOK, anymore.

In 2022, The Amber Book is really a series of VIDEOS and a lot of other supplemental ARE study materials.

The reason this product is called “Amber Book” is because it began as an ARE practice exam/workbook focused on building systems called: The Amber Book which was published in 2011 by Michael Ermann. Amber was the color of the book cover, so it was easy to find on the bookshelf. 

Since publishing the original Amber Book, it has exploded and morphed into a powerful ARE 5.0 study material; it has become something so much greater than a softcover building systems practice exam book found on Amazon.

In my opinion, when it comes to helping people study to pass their architect registration exams, Amber Book is one of the best educational videos courses and it just keeps getting better.

This review of Amber Book will be focusing on the videos, which are sold on a subscription basis and NOT the softcover book that was published in 2011 and for sale on Amazon.

Original Amber Book on Amazon
This is the original Amber Book published in 2011. It's good, but the online content is even better!

Amber Book was founded by Licensed Architect Michael Ermann, who has been a professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design since 2001. Michael teaches design studio, environmental building systems, materials & methods of construction, and architectural acoustics.

I always tell people

“Michael Ermann is the architecture school professor you always wish you had, except now he’s your #1 Architect Exam Professor.”

Michael Ermann from the Amber Book

I’ve always found Michael to be cool, friendly and approachable. He is an active member of The ARE Facebook Group and participates regularly in the conversations. 

If you'd like to learn more about Michael Ermann, check out his first episode on The Young Architect Podcast


What's Included When you Sign up?

When I first signed up and got inside, it was a ton of information. Luckily, Amber Book provides a bunch of resources that will show you how to use the product, which kept me from feeling overwhelmed.

Below is a summary of what is included as well as some additional thoughts on all the pieces that are included in the Amber Book subscription:


Amber Book Study priority The Amber Book ARE 5.0 Product Review Architect Exam

The Study Priority Matrix

Unlike other ARE Prep Products, Amber Book does not organize its video content by each exam. Instead, the information is organized by topics.

This is a forward-thinking approach, which is more aligned with how ARE 5.0 is organized vs the previous generations of the ARE (4.0 and earlier).

Amber Book Study Priority Matrix basically means…

…to study for one of the exams on the left, you need to focus your studying around checked off topics on the top. 

The topics of each 5.0 test are NOT isolated to 1 exam, therefore you can not effectively study for 1 ARE 5.0 exam without studying for several ARE 5.0 exams.

By focusing on the topics FIRST, it helps candidates understand the bigger picture. 

After the video portion of Amber Book has been studied, they provide practice exams, flashcards and other content to help Candidates zoom into the details of what makes each exam, which is the natural next step.

This is a similar ARE 5.0 study strategy that I have been promoting for years throughout Young Architect's content and is the underlying strategy used in both ARE Boot Camps. 

Focus on seeing the bigger picture FIRST before getting into the details of each ARE Exam. 

Unlike some other professional exams, the scope of the ARE isn’t black or white; it’s 1 million variations of gray. 

The biggest mistake I see people making while studying for ARE 5.0 is spending too much time on the details without properly understanding how the bigger picture works. 

I applaud Amber Book for organizing their product by topic. It also forces ARE Candidates to understand how the scope of each exam is broken down. 

It’s also important to note that Amber Book also utilizes many other tools (like practice exams and flashcards) to help with honing in on the details and scope of each exam division to make sure you are ready to take the test. 


Screenshot of the Amber Book Videos

Amber Book Videos

At the time of writing this article Amber Book video series contains over 50 hours of high quality animated content. The videos make up the bulk of the content.

Michael Ermann understands that ARE Candidates are graphic learners, so his teaching style leans heavily on using graphics, diagrams, and animations to teach the content of the ARE.  

I really appreciate how extremely engaging the videos are with lots of

“…hit pause on this video, while you solve this problem. Hit play when you’ve got an answer”

Make sure you watch the video tour posted below, to get a sample of the videos and other content. 

It's important to acknowledge I also think Amber Book is really funny. 

Michael Ermann has a very goofy sense of humor and I really appreciate all the “dad jokes” sprinkled throughout the entire program. 


Amber Workbook
Molly Riscica with her workbook in 2019.

The Workbook – A.R.E Practice Exam

The ARE isn’t testing how many hours of videos you watched, it’s testing your ability to recall information in a moment's notice. 

When you join Amber Book it comes with a workbook, that is meant to be used in conjunction with the videos to help with recalling information. There are many short form questions and fill in the blank style questions. At the back of the book, answers and explanations are provided to all questions inside the workbook. 

Click here to see a sample of how the workbook is meant to be used.  

Amber Book will also send you a hardcopy of the workbook in the mail and there is a PDF for you to use until it arrives. 

It is a powerful tool because it helps you stay focused and engaged while going through the Amber Book video series. 


Amber Book practice exams screenshot

Amber Book Practice Exams

Amber Book provides practice exams for each test division. After reviewing about 50 different questions from each exam, I am very impressed.

I think these questions are a fantastic representation of the types of questions you will see on your exam. The explanations for each question were also very thorough and well written. 

What I really like is how the practice exams almost serve as a final exam for all the educational content before them. They even have a timer in the top right corner just like the actual NCARB exam interface. 

In early 2022, Amber Book also started to include the practice exams Walking The ARE for PA and PcM as part of the Amber Book subscription. These practice exams were not created by Amber Book, but they are also extremely helpful. 


Amber Book Flashcard screenshot

Amber Book Flash Cards

Amber Book provides some pretty awesome flash cards for each exam, which I would describe as short form memorization information to help facilitate learning the details of each exam. 

  • PcM – 162 flashcards
  • PjM – 162 flashcards
  • PA – 167 flashcards
  • PPD – 178 flashcards
  • PDD – 164 flashcards
  • CE – 101 flashcards


Screenshot of the Amber Book Panic notes

Panic Notes

Amber Book also provides “panic notes” which are short form notes (cliff's notes) listing the last-minute vocabulary and reminders you’ll want to be exposed to one last time right before an exam.They recommend using these the night before the exam. 

While the panic notes are only 16 pages, the font is very small and it's jam packed with information. I think the panic notes are an awesome tool after you’ve been studying for awhile and are getting closer to taking the exam. 

Therefore, I’d recommend giving the panic notes more attention and studying them for a few days before you take the exam.

Amber Book Review Video Tour – YouTube

The list above summarizes nicely what is included in the Amber Book, but I also think it's important so SHOW you what the Amber Book looks like and how it works in this video.


Amber Book Cost and Registration Process

Due to the high production quality of creating the Amber Book content, it is one of the more expensive ARE 5.0 study materials. 

There are multiple ways to sign up for Amber Book that all take you to the same destination. Here are your options:

If you sign up for Amber Book by YOURSELF it will be $390/month.

If you sign up with a GROUP OF SIX (you and five friends) Amber Book Customer Service will give you a discount code and it will be $240/month.

If you sign up for Amber Book with the Young Architect Discount it will be $220/month. Since we are constantly enrolling people from the ARE Boot Camp, ARE Facebook Group and the YA Community, Young Architect has the biggest Amber Book discount available. We’ll organize the group of six for you.


Amber Book Firm Licenses 

Amber Book has a Firm License Program which helps facilitate Architecture firms providing Amber Book to their employees. 

A few years ago ,they also started offering FREE Amber Book to architecture firms who are already signed up with a Black Spectacles subscription. This is what their website says

“We’ll give your firm free Amber Book access until your Black Spectacles subscription runs out. Let’s say you have 9 months to go before your other license renews. Tell us so and sign up for an Amber Book annual subscription. We’ll get you your Amber Book access now, but your first “year’s” subscription will be 21 months long instead of 12. You’ll get the first 9 months free.”


The ARE Boot Camp vs Amber Book

The ARE Boot Camp and Amber Book have very little in common. They are very different products that both help ARE Candidates in different ways. You can’t really compare them side by side. Here’s the difference: 

Amber Book provides a college-type course through videos, practice exams, and online resources.

The ARE Boot Camp is a 10 week ARE Coaching program and curriculum that focuses on helping people with either: getting started or finishing their exams. 

Since it's a Coaching program, there is a big element of accountability, lots of face to face conversations and meetings (on zoom). 

It also has a huge community element to it where students are studying with each other every single day.  

The ARE Boot Camp is perfect for people who are looking for more guidance and structure with the AREs. It is social and collaborative, similar to how a design studio works in architecture school.

Amber Book is frequently used (but is not included) in the ARE Boot Camp program. The powerful combination of both ARE Boot Camp and Amber Book has been used by many to successfully pass ARE 5.0. 


Black Spectacles vs Amber Book

Black Spectacles is probably Amber Book's biggest competitor. Both products are priced similarly and offer a bundle of information. 

Before I share my opinion on Black Spectacles, I’d like to encourage you to do your own research on this. Ask around and find people who have used both Amber Book and Black Spectacles to study for ARE 5.0. 

When you find these people, find out if they personally paid it themselves or if their firms covered the cost. Ask them what they would recommend if they were using their own hard earned money. 

In my personal opinion, I stopped recommending Black Spectacles many years ago because I find it to be outrageously overpriced for the quality of products that are provided. 

Most products that Black Spectacles offers, another prep provider offers a similar product, but at a cheaper price point and (in my opinion) at a much higher quality then Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 study materials.  

Lots of people give Black Spectacles a lot of credit because they created a practice exam software that matches all the same fonts and colors of the actual NCARB exam. 

I think this is silly, because if you need to practice looking at the fonts and colors of the actual exam, NCARB gives you the same thing for FREE (log into your MyNCARB account, click on the demonstration exam in the right sidebar) and, like I said earlier, if you're looking for great practice exam questions, there are many places to get cheaper and better quality practice questions. 

Aside from being overpriced, I’ve also found Black Spectacles video content to be verbose, tough to get through and lacking the much needed visuals and enthusiasm that Amber Book offers. 

While both Amber Book and Black Spectacles are sold as an expensive monthly membership, in my opinion, I’ve consistently found Amber Book to be a far superior ARE 5.0 product across all categories. Amber Book also costs less  than Black Spectacles. 


The Pros and Cons of The Amber Book

Here is a quick summary of Pros and Cons:

The Positives

  • High quality and very well produced ARE 5.0 study materials (videos, practice questions, flashcards, panic notes, etc) from a brilliant, enthusiastic and funny Professor.
  • Video content and workbook is organized by TOPICS and everything else (practice exams, flashcards, panic notes) is organized by EACH EXAM. This is more aligned with how ARE 5.0 works and a smarter way to approach studying. 
  • Firm License Program – Excellent program for firms to support their staff with Amber Book Member. They also offer a discount for firms who currently subscribe to Black Spectacles.


The Negatives

  • It's Expensive. Even with the Young Architect’s discount, it still comes to $220/month. I see the cost being Amber Book’s biggest negative. However, the quality of Amber Book far outweighs their competitors who have similar products and price points.
  • The name is confusing. I wish they would just change the name to Amber Videos or just “Amber”. It’s been a very long time since Amber Book was an orange softcover building systems book and this confuses a lot of new people. 
  • I Disagree with His Exam Taking Strategy…

At the beginning of the Amber Book Videos, Michael Ermann encourages people to use the same strategy he personally used to pass his exams. Which is…

Study for all six exams, at the same time and then take all six exams within a couple of days of each other. 

In my opinion, this is not a realistic strategy for most people, mainly due to the information overload of studying too many different topics all at the same time. 

Michael Ermann is one of the smartest people I know. When he did this, he had already been teaching many of the topics on ARE 5.0 at one of the top architecture schools in America. 

While Amber Book promotes this all-at-once studying strategy, most Amber Book enrollees take one exam at a time, and Amber Book supports this approach as well.


The Bottom Line – Is The Amber Book Worth It?

I think Amber Book has created a fantastic well rounded study guide to help you pass ARE 5.0. I truly believe that they have mastered the art of using graphics, animations and humor more than any other ARE Prep Company. 

I’ve seen firsthand the results (Newly Licensed Architects) and rave reviews Amber Book has from the people who have made the investment in themselves. 

I can confidently and comfortably recommend using Amber Book to not only help you pass your ARE 5.0 exams, but more importantly, help you move towards becoming a more successful and knowledgeable Practicing Architect. 


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

Hi I’m Michael Riscica.

My goal is to help as many people as I can PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

This is accomplished with the following offerings:

Free FB group that is 12k+ members strong
Low-cost, high-value upcoming webinar
Affordable and Quality ARE Study materials
Professional Development and Powerful Networking
Premium 10-week ARE study program