Read This Before You Start Studying for BDCS! Seriously!?!!!


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.

In the spring of 2015, I gave a presentation at AIA Portland for their ARE Lecture Series about the Building Design and Construction System (BDCS) Exam. Most of the topics mentioned in that presentation (and in this blogpost) about BDCS were previously covered in my book, How To Pass The Architecture Registration Exam.

I Took BDCS Twice.

It’s true. I failed BDCS because I screwed up the rescheduling deadline and decided to take the exam anyway, with only about 10 hours of studying. What happened?

I passed the multiple choice but failed the vignettes.

The second time I took BDCS, I studied like a maniac and passed the exam. Both times I took BDCS, I walked out thinking the multiple choice was easy, but the vignettes were complicated and brutal.

The BDCS Exam consists of 85 questions and 3 vignettes. The stair vignette may be one of the trickiest vignettes of all 7 exams.

What does NCARB Have to Say about the BDCS Questions?

Our friends at NCARB recently wrote a blogpost about BDCS, which stated:

Almost half the questions on this division cover building materials: How they’re used and how they coordinate with other materials. But don’t forget about another big section—Principles. Be sure you understand the types of decisions that are made during the schematic design and design development phases of the project, the various factors to be considered, and the many implications of such decisions.

Hmmm… That’s interesting. The part about Principles sounds a lot like the Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP) Exam.

Get very familiar with the Content Areas from Day 1

Regardless of what NCARB says on their blog, I would really pay more attention to the content areas. The NCARB study guide for each exam contains: the content areas, a practice test, and vignette information. Compared to the other 6 exams, BDCS has the largest amount of scope under the content areas. NCARB lists a ton of information to study.

I recommend constantly reviewing the content areas of BDCS and marking them off as you study. Print them out, and keep them in your books.

Making sure you cover and touch upon all of these contents areas is more important than becoming an expert on any single part of them. It will take you years to become an expert in the vast amount of knowledge NCARB has told you to study for this exam.

How do BDCS questions and vignettes compare to the other exams?

NCARB tries to balance out how many multiple choice questions they give you with how difficult their vignettes are to solve.

BDCS has 85 questions and 3 vignettes (1 hard vignette and 2 easy vignettes).

Site Planning and Design (SPD) exam has 65 questions and 2 really hard vignettes.

Structural Systems (SS) has 125 really hard questions and 1 really easy vignette.

Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP) has 85 questions and 1 easy vignette.

Construction Documents and Services (CDS) has 100 questions and 1 easy vignette.

Schematic Design (SD) has zero questions and 2 really hard vignettes.

Building Systems (BS) has 95 questions and 1 easy vignette.

Ballast, Kaplan, Architect Exam Prep, and Mr. Gang Chen

As I mentioned earlier, the content areas covered on BDCS are the largest of the 7 exams. Therefore, all the publishers of ARE study materials had a field day when creating content for you to study.

After the test was over, I wondered why I studied all of that stuff.

Kaplan does the same thing, but Ballast is the worst.

I haven’t reviewed the Architect Exam Prep BDCS material, but I’ll bet they are right on the money. Unlike other publishers, Architect Exam Prep uses the NCARB Content Areas to format their study guides.

I still recommend studying Ballast and Kaplan for studying, but just keep in mind that they both get a little bit overly detailed for the scope of testing the vast content areas.

I purchased and used Gang Chen’s BDCS ARE Mock exam when I was studying. It was good, as are all his ARE’s book that I have seen. They have been worth their expense.

Just like all the other exams, use multiple resources, practice exams, and publishers. But don’t take any one of them too seriously. Click here to get a list of all possible BDCS studying resources.

Use the Practice Exams to study, rather than practicing.

Practice Exams are gold when studying for the architect exam. I know I say this for every exam, but BDCS they are the most valuable. There is just too much (sometimes boring) text to read.

Sitting down, taking an 85-question practice exam, and then looking at the percentage of questions you got right is useless for BDCS. The scope of the exam and content areas is too huge.

Do 3 questions at a time, and pay attention to the questions you get wrong—and how they relate to the content areas. Use the practice exams to study, rather than beating yourself up because you only got 65% correct on the practice exam.

BDCS is the perfect exam for using flashcards to study.

BDCS is a big vocabulary exam. Make your own flashcards, and put all vocabulary and small bits of knowledge that you don’t know on them.

Check out the blogpost about creating your own flashcards to study for the ARE.

Let’s talk about vignettes.

The roof vignette is a walk in the park.  The ramp vignette is a little tricky, and the stair vignette is one of the hardest vignettes.

The best way to nail the stair vignette is to have a step-by-step process that you have tried and tested many times. Study what ARE Advisor, JennyPDX, and Gang Chen list as their step-by-step process is for solving the stair vignette.

I think it’s safe to say that you should spend 50% of your studying time for MC and the other 50% on the vignettes.

Also check out Young Architects tips for solving the vignettes.

BDCS isn’t a hard exam.

If you have other exams under your belt, there is no reason for you to get stuck on BDCS.

  1. Pay attention to the content areas NCARB has pointed out as needing to be studied. Making sure you cover—and touch upon—all of these contents areas is more important than becoming an expert on any single part of them.
  2. Watch out for the plethora of study material. Realize that getting too caught up in the details is a common BDCS studying trap.
  3. Use practice exams, over reading massive amounts of textbooks.
  4. Take the vignettes seriously. Anyone can solve that stair vignette, it just takes practice and understanding it inside and out.

Good luck with your BDCS Exam.

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.

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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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