Review of The ARE Advisor Vignette Series

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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.

The Survey Says…

In anticipation of releasing my book How to Pass the Architecture Registration Exam, I hosted an ARE Study Material giveaway in the weeks leading up the release. I gave away several copies of my own book, as well as three Gang Chen books that I bought so I could write a review about Gang Chen’s Mock ARE Exam.

The giveaway ended up getting an enormous response, significantly bigger than I ever imagined.  To be eligible for the giveaway, I required everyone to answer some survey questions, basically asking all about their Young Architect challenges and what they really think of this blog/website.

I learned a lot.

One of the biggest things I learned from the survey was that my ARE Candidate audience really appreciates the reviews I have written and my insights on the ARE study material. I had no idea. Ironically, I really like analyzing things and then writing all about them.

So since you guys asked for it, without further ado, I present you:


Young Architect’s Review of ARE Advisor Vignette Series

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

ARE Advisor is a blogger who puts out a product to help Candidates get a clearer understanding of the ARE 4.0 graphic vignettes.

I became aware of the ARE Advisor from his guest posts on the NCARB Blog. And over the past several months, we have exchanged several friendly emails, as we are both on a very similar mission of trying to help Young Architects.

Shortly before I published my book, I decided to purchase the ARE Advisor Vignette series to see if it was something that would be worth mentioning in my study materials section.

And it was.

So I wrote a little blurb about it in my book, and a few weeks later, I used it to help me with my BDCS lecture at the Portland AIA.

However, I still wanted to go through it thoroughly and give it a fair review.


Who is the ARE Advisor?

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

The ARE Advisor is a Chicagoland Young Architect named Michael Porto.

He graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago and became a licensed architect in 2011. Michael completed the ARE process in 11 months, and after it was over, he decided to start blogging. He then created a product to help future ARE Candidates understand the counterintuitive vignettes.

Like a true Entrepreneur Michael self-published his product and sells it through his website ARE Advisor.

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

What is this product?

Before I talk about ARE Advisor’s Vignette Series, let me start with the NCARB ARE Study Guides.

For each division of the ARE, NCARB puts out their own ARE Study Guide. CDS, PPP, SPD, SD, BDCS, SS, BS, and ARE3.1. Each guide provides a small glimpse into the content of each exam. These study guides provide the following:

  • Lists of the content areas of each exam
  • Some multiple choice questions and answers
  • The program for the vignettes
  • 1 passing vignette solution and 1 failing solution
  • A recommended reading list (…wait for my blogpost on NCARB’s recommended reading list)

NCARBS guides are handy for studying and definitely shouldn’t be ignored. However, NCARB purposely leaves out all the meat and potatoes from their study guides.

With the multiple choice questions, they give you the answers, but no explanation on why that MC answer is correct.

On the vignettes, they provide zero insight on how to arrive at a passing solution with the goofy software that NCARB invented. They only provide very short highlights of what does or doesn’t work with passing and failing solutions.

This is where the ARE Advisor comes in.  He saw an opportunity to create a really well-made study ­guide to walk ARE Candidates step-by-step through the NCARB Practice vignettes and arrive at NCARB’s passing solution.

This product takes all the guesswork out of trying to figure out how to arrive at the passing NCARB solution.

He doesn’t disclose any information from the actual exams, it is just solving the given examples from NCARB.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t embrace the MC questions, but I don’t blame him; that’s a big ugly can of technical content. This product is all about the vignettes.

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

Who is this product for?

If you are just starting a division of the ARE and you want to get up to speed very quickly, I would recommend starting here. When I took the ARE and started working on the vignettes, I always started by looking at the solution and tried to figure out how to get there.

If the vignettes are something you are scared of or have given you a really hard time, then this product is for you.

If you have a “my time is more valuable than my money” attitude, then I would recommend purchasing this product.

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

Who isn’t this product for?

I wouldn’t recommend buying ARE Advisor if you have already been working on the vignettes, kind of have an idea of arriving at the solution and how to use all tools, and really just need to learn how to do it faster and more efficiently. I would recommend hanging out in the NCARB Google + group and continuing to practice and judge other people’s vignettes.

If you enjoy the challenge of figuring out the vignettes and putting that puzzle together, then this product isn’t for you.



ARE Advisor sells the vignette series as a complete package of all 7 ARE 4.0 divisions for $99. He also sells each vignette guide individually, which sell between $15-30, depending upon each division.

So the complete package will save you $30, as opposed to purchasing them all individually.


Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

How does the ARE Advisor Vignette Series compare to Professor Dorf’s ARE Solutions?

When I reviewed this product, I must admit it reminded me a lot of Professor Dorf’s book ARE Solutions. To be fair, I decided to compare them side by side and spent 20 minutes digging out Professors Dorf ARE Solutions book from the bottom of my closet. Here’re the big differences:

  • Professor Dorf’s book is a hard copy, and ARE Advisor is a digital download that you can print out.
  • Professor Dorf’s book points out information about passing and failing solutions and calls out common mistakes and pitfalls. The ARE Advisor literally walks you through each step, including how to get through it with the NCARB software. Dorf doesn’t really walk you through the software step-by-step. ARE Advisor doesn’t really highlight common mistakes.
  • Dorf’s book reads like a set of construction documents. It’s written in all caps, and he writes it like a like a construction specification: it answers the question and gives you the information—no more and no less. At times, it feels very cold.  The ARE Advisor vignette guide is written in a more conversational tone and is significantly friendlier to read than Dorf.
  • Professor Dorf has additional alternate vignettes to practice and frequently asks questions about each vignette. ARE Advisor offers no additional vignettes and addresses all the same FAQ stuff inside of his content.

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

Pros and Cons of the ARE Advisor Vignette Series

I think the ARE Advisor has several pros and cons. Lets break them down and start with the negatives first:


  • A single-serving friend. This product is really valuable for the moment in time when you’re trying to learn and understand the vignette for the test you are studying for. After that, it is not something you will revisit until you are ready for the next vignette.
  • It only gets you up to speed; after that, you’re on your own. You still have a ton more work to do practicing the vignettes, finding alternates, and commenting on other people’s.
  • No alternates. I was disappointed to not see an alternate vignette to practice on. However, there are also more than enough alternate vignettes floating around. Ballast, Architect Exam Prep, Kaplan, Dorf, Gang Chen, and the FTP Site all have alternate vignettes to practice on.
  • It could highlight common mistakes of the vignettes more. I mostly reviewed the SD and BDCS vignettes to write this review and thought he could create a summary of the common mistakes in the vignettes. He does mention them throughout, but I think the should be highlighted more. This was one thing I like about the Dorf book


  • A shortcut to quickly understanding the NCARB solution. A definite time saver at getting up to speed with the vignettes. It’s a perfect example of throwing money at the problem.
  • It’s inexpensive. It’s cheaper than Dorf, who has a similar product.
  • Not forced into buying the whole package I appreciate that you can purchase each exam separately and your not forced into a larger investment
  • It’s very well-made. Good layout, graphics, and a pleasure to read. I appreciated the zoomed in screenshots.
  • Instant access. Pay with Paypal, download and print it out if you choose to.


ARE Advisor

Review of ARE Advisor NCARB Vignette Series

Click here to jump over to ARE Advisor's website.

As I mentioned earlier I don’t think this product is for every single ARE Candidate, however I believe this product has a lot to offer the vast majority who are struggling with wrapping their heads around NCARB's vignettes.

So there you have it.

When I was studying for the ARE I liked to have as many tools in my toolbox as possible. I certainly didn’t resonate with every study book on every exam. I think ARE Advisor offers a very helpful product to go along your Kaplan’s, Ballasts, Architect Exam Prep and Gang Chen’s of the ARE world.

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, and the creator of Young Architect, an online platform and community dedicated to helping the next generation of Architects become the most successful generation of Architects. 
Connect: Linkedin / Facebook / Instagram

Hi there!

I’m Michael Riscica, the guy behind Young Architect. I write to help Architecture Students, ARE Candidates and Young Architecture Professionals be more successful at school, work and life!


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