Review of The Ballast ARE Review Manual

  Ballast Architect Registration Exam Review Manual

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.

***EDIT 2017 Update: PPI (The Ballast Book Publisher) gives a 15% discount to all Young Architect Readers. Use the discount code YARCH on all 4.0 and 5.0 itemsClick here for a link to their website. 

All 7 Divisions of the ARE under One Long Span Roof (…I mean in one book)

The Ballast book was one of the most important books for me when I took the Architect Registration Exam. I bought this book when I was halfway finished studying for my first test CDS. I then literally used this book for every single test of the architecture registration exam. I always tend to recommend that ARE Candidates get their hands on this book sooner than later. It’s kind of expensive, but definitely an investment in the process. If you’re serious about becoming a licensed architect it is just one small drop in the bucket.

I looked on the internet and there really isn’t any decent review of this book aside from the small blurbs in Amazon reviews. Since I tend to overthink everything and love reviewing stuff, here is my official review of the David Kent Ballast FAIA – Architect Registration Exam Review Manual.

In Part 1 of my ultimate list of study materials I give a brief overview of both Ballast and Kaplan and their practice tests. In Part 2 of the Study Materials List I shared all the chapters in the Ballast book that I used for each division of the exams. In Part 3 of the Study Materials List, I wrote about using Ballast for all the graphic exams.  Make sure you check those out

How I used the Ballast ARE Review

When I studied for the exam I always began with the vocabulary. Vocab seemed like the easiest thing to tackle first. I started with making flashcards of all the Ballast and Kaplan words.

Later when I dove deep into the content of each division, I literally marked up everything I read. Marking up what I read became a game of how to study. I would read each paragraph looking for the key information. The Ballast book is an extremely dry text book. If you open it, it looks like a bible with a few architecture pictures scattered around. Marking up this book and making it visual became the method I needed to extract the key information from this book. If you look and thoroughly read each page, only a small portion of the information on the page is really the meat and potatoes.

Study guides like JennyPDX’s are 100% meat and potatoes. But for me JennyPDX’s guides weren’t much help, until I learned the information in context and then they become a very powerful refresher/study guide.

Everyone Wants a Magic Pill

Ballast also offer supplemental practice tests and vignette practice examples for each divisions. This information is really good, but the one thing to consider is that all the answers for these practice tests are literally written from the Ballast book. If you memorize the Ballast book like a robot you’ll do great on their practice test and probably just ok on the Kaplan tests. YOU HAVE TO CROSS REFERENCE THIS STUDY MATERIAL. The Ballast book is great, but if you want to pass these tests you need to use other books.

Sure, the Ballast supplemental books are really good, but they are also really expensive. I sold all of mine on Amazon as soon as I got my pass letter. The practice tests are solid and the vignette practice samples are great I always solved them on tracing paper to a schematic level and then looked at the answer. Sure my sketch wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to see if I was on the right track.

An Investment

I have literally used this book three dozen times over the past few years to look things up while at work. Often I come across a problem of something I remember learning for the exam and (since architecture is a reference profession) in 30 seconds Ballast has my answer.  The index for this book is awesome since it has the entire exam; finding something that may overlap across multiple divisions (CDS, PPP & SPD) is super simple. Good luck doing the same with Kaplan, which treated each exam as its own book and used separate authors for each division.

I honestly can say that I can see myself keeping this book throughout my entire career. I put in a lot of time reading it, I know what useful information it contains and finding it is super easy.

The ARE Review Manual has been 100 times more helpful to me then even Architectural Graphic Standards ever has. In fact I’m not sure why Graphic Standards is as popular as it is. If you really spend time with it, (unfortunately I have) I feel like 75% of it is useless and I could find the other 25% in 2 seconds from the internet without picking up a heavy book.

The Practice Exams (sold seperately)

Ballast publishes practice exams separate from the ARE Review manual. All the content for the practice exams is taken directly from the ARE Review Manual. Each practice exam book also includes vignette sample problems to that you can work out on paper.

The ballast practice exam books are really good and I highly recommend using them. Check out my blogpost about how I used practice exams more as a study tool, rather then a practice exam.

Below are links to all the Ballast Practice Exam books. I noticed on amazon there were several listings for the same book at different price points so I just listed them all, that way you can find the best price.

Construction Documents & Services: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam  – Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4, Version 5, Version 6

Programming, Planning & Practice: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam– Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4, Version 5

Site Planning and Design: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam – Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4,Structural Systems: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam – Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4, Version 5, Version 6

Building Design & Construction Systems: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam  – Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4

Building Systems: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4, Version 5

Ballast's publisher PPI also now offers a 5% discount if you use the coupon code YARCH, as long as they aren't running another promotion.  Click here for a link to PPI, the Ballast Publisher. 

Ballast Really Sucks Sometimes

Reading Ballast is boring. Really boring. Luckily it’s really easy to make fun of it. My Ballast book is littered with sarcastic and bitter jokes making fun of it.

There has also been no other ARE Resource which has had me memorizing lots of random data the way Ballast did. In my opinion BDCS may have been the worst. But then again, having all that random knowledge in my head during test day may not have been a bad thing, you really don’t know what’s going to be on that test. Although I took BDCS twice (failed the vignette) and definitely over studied for the MC both times thanks to Ballast.

The first time I took structures and Building systems (SS and BS) I pretty much exclusively studied Kaplan and Ballast. This approach may have been ok for some people, but definitely not me. I did not have a good foundation in the topics. I feel like both Kaplan and Ballast assume that you do. If you struggled with structures in college, like I did, I would recommend supplementing these topics with easier to read info and then looking at Ballast and Kaplan after you have spent some time with Mark.

Pros of the Ballast ARE Review Manual

  • Awesome index, finding stuff is super easy.
  • Awesome Vocabulary list.
  • Ballast is a perfect resource for making your own flashcards.
  • Not many errors unlike Kaplan which has a ton of errors on all divisions.
  • You will use this for all divisions.
  • Can be more technical then other ARE study material which is GOOD!
  • The drawings are good and professional. But there could be more of them.
  • Provides all metric information for our friends in Canada.

Cons of the Ballast ARE Review Manual

  • Reading this book can be dry and boring. It can feel like you’re reading a dictionary, which is why I had to draw all over it.
  • Sometimes it’s too technical (AHEM BDCS)
  • Vignette stuff in the ARE Review Manual is OK. The really good vignette stuff is in the supplemental books.
  • I had a hard time understanding and learning from how Ballast does calculations, Gang Chen seemed to be the most helpful to me with understanding how to do the calculations.
  • The Ballast book weighs 4 lbs. A standard 8-inch by 2 1/4-inch by 4-inch red clay brick weighs about 5 pounds. So yeah, it’s like carrying around a brick.

Ballast Architect Registration Exam Review Manual


So anyways…

The Ballast book is worth the $250+/- it costs. I definitely got my value from it and will continue in the future. I know a lot of people are always skeptical of this book but I personally feel like it’s a great investment.

I think it’s important to also realize this book is awesome but you will need to supplement the study material with other information that was not written by David Kent Ballast. He’s great but if you really want to pass the test check out some other stuff as well.

Here is a link to the Ballast book on Amazon  and here is a  here for a link to PPI, the Ballast Publisher. Make sure you use the coupon code YARCH, for a 15% discount if your purchase the book from PPI

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.


Michael Riscica

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

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