Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock 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.

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam

At the bottom of this blog post I provide links to all of Gang Chen’s books. You can click right here to jump down to that section.


How did I learn about Gang Chen?

After I took my 2-year break from the Architecture Registration Exam and decided I needed to finish, I started hanging out on the (now defunct) ARE Forum again. At that time, Gang Chen was a very active member, and several people had positive things to say about his ARE Mock Exam products. I became intrigued.

I purchased his books for my remaining BS and BDCS exams, and I was really impressed with both products. I can honestly say that Gang Chen really helped me understand the calculations on both exams, which I’d struggled with significantly when using Ballast and Kaplan. This proved to be helpful with claiming my victory at the end of my 7 exams.

However, I wouldn’t peg him as the calculation guy. He’s really more like the ARE Mock Exam Guy.

People ask me about Gang Chen all the time, and I always say, “He’s good.” But I feel like I only got to see a small glimpse of his products.  A few weeks ago, I decided maybe I should just write a thorough review of Gang Chen, so I hopped on Amazon and purchased copies of his CDS, PPP, and SPD Mock Exam books.

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam

Who is Gang Chen?

I’ve never actually met Gang Chen, but I learned on the internet that:

  • He studied architecture at both South China University of Technology and University of Southern California.
  • He is a LEED AP and Licensed Architect in the State of California.
  • He has also put out several mock exam books for the LEED Exams.
  • He is a lover of Karaoke and a YouTube sensation.
  • He tried out for the TV show X Factor.

It looks like his first published book was the LEED exam guide back in 2009.  But he has since written ARE Mock Exam books for every ARE division and he has also published many other books about LEED exam, Landscape Design and the profession of architecture.

What is inside the ARE Mock Exam books?

It is no secret that I am a big fan of using ARE Practice questions as a primary source of studying and not just practicing. I truly think it is the fastest quickest way to get ARE study material into your head, while also exercising your ability to recall information you already know.

My biggest struggle with purchasing books off the internet is that you cannot pick them up, hold them, and flip through them. All of these things help me form a logical purchasing decision. Since I purchased these books and have them right in front of me, here are my thoughts.

The layout of Gang Chen books have essentially has the same exact layout and format for the 3 books that I have in front of me.

The Cover

On the cover of each ARE Book, he uses the same strange picture of an American suburban strip mall. It reminds me of Long Island.  I’m guessing this may be a project Gang Chen worked on. With no disrespect, I personally think it’s a really weird image to have on all 7 ARE Mock Exam books. I was actually confused when I first saw this cover, but just like my mom said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Chapter 1 – Overview of the Exam.

This chapter discusses a lot of boilerplate ARE information. Much of this information is the same stuff from the NCARB website or NCARB study guides. There is a chapter about IDP, an overview of the 7 exams, Gang Chen's take on which exam to take first, and some pretty good study tips.

This is good stuff, especially if it’s your first exam. If your in the thick of it, you probably already know all this stuff.

Chapter 2 – Exam Content

This first part breaks down the scope of each exam. It outlines all the different topics and the percentage of questions that fall into that category. All of this information was originally created in the NCARB study guides.

I was glad to see this information in Gang Chen’s book because it is important to keep reviewing the content areas of the exam while you study for it. My big criticism about Ballast and Kaplan is that they do not really embrace this very valuable information provided from NCARB.

Kudos to Gang Chen for publishing this list. I think it’s worth its weight in gold because it allows you to get very familiar with the Exam Content outlines written by NCARB in the study guides.

This chapter then goes on to discuss additional study material. Among the three books I read, I think generally his recommended list of ARE study materials is a little bit weak. I know of many other, and often better, books or places to find study information.

In the last part of Chapter 2, Gang Chen takes the NCARB practice exam and provides step-by-step instructions to arriving at the solution. This is really well done, and I found this incredibly helpful when I was trying to understand the stair vignette on the BDCS Exam.

My only criticism is that his well written instructions and corresponding images are not in the same location. So you essentially have to flip back and forth between pages with the images and the written instructions. This is slightly annoying.

Chapter 3 (ARE Mock Exam) and Chapter 4 (Answers and Explanations)

These are the multiple choice practice questions and practice vignette section (AKA the meat and potatoes).

The multiple choice mock exam has the same amount of questions as the actual exam for whatever division you are studying for. After reviewing a lot of practice questions, I think Gang Chen does a really good job of using great questions. He often provides URL’s of places to find more information on topics, which is cool.

I also like that Gang Chen doesn’t publish his own ARE study guides. The Ballast, Kaplan, and Architect Exam Prep practice questions are often tailored to their own study material. His practice questions are a great reality check from an independent ARE practice question inspector.

The second part of Chapter 3 is all about vignettes. He provides an alternate vignettes to load into the NCARB practice softwareand gives well-written, step-by-step instructions to help you understand how to load the alternate vignettes. This is really good, especially if you have never loaded an alternate vignette; it is not a straightforward process. Many people do not do a good job explaining how to use the alternate vignettes, including myself.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe the multiple choice questions and the vignette explanations make up the value of the ARE Mock Exam books.


At the end of each book, Gang Chen adds a lot of additional (and almost unnecessary) info.

He republishes the list of recommended reading from NCARB, which I think is a terrible list. It has many books that I personally wouldn’t bother picking up while studying for the ARE. For instance, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (1170 pages) and Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture are on this list (1700 pages).  Don’t get me wrong, those are both incredible books about architecture and I own them both, but I just don’t think they offer much value in studying for the ARE.

After the recommended reading list, there are 2 short articles.

The first is an article about the profession of architecture, breaking down what an architect does, how to become an architect, and what the nature of the profession is.

The second is a short article written for people considering pursuing a career in architecture. I’m not sure why this article is published in his books. If you’re reading the back of the ARE Mock Exam book, haven’t you already passed the point of no return?

The last few pages are a self-promotion for the other books that Gang Chen wrote about the LEED Exam.

The Cost

The ARE Mock Exam Books are all about $50 apiece.

Compared to the Ballast study guides, Chen is very competitively priced and usually much cheaper than Ballast. As I write this, I don’t have a Ballast practice exam book in front of me. But from memory, I think the Ballast practice exams provide 2 practice exams, and Gang Chen has 1.

If you compare Gang Chen to what the Architect Exam Prep packages offer for $100, I think Gang Chen is a little expensive.

But if you’re going to compare Gang Chen and Ballast against Architect Exam Prep, the one major advantage they both have on Architect Exam Prep is that you can resell the books on the Amazon Marketplace after you have passed. You cannot resell Architect Exam Prep because it is a single-user download. You can’t even give it to your friend without putting yourself in jeopardy of having bad karma on test day. (Those are my words, not theirs.)


Generally speaking, I think Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam Products are a good investment. They definately played a part in helping me pass my last 2 exams.  I feel good recommending them on Young Architect and to everyone studying for the ARE.

The Good…

I think he does an excellent job on the mock exam. The questions and vignette explanations are well-written, and Gang Chen frequently tries to trick you and get you to make common mistakes, just like NCARB on the real exam.

Gang Chen does not publish his own study material as well, and I consider this a benefit. By studying Ballast, Kaplan, or Architect Exam Prep, their study material typically prepares you for their practice exams.  Gang Chen will quickly help you learn where the gaps in your knowledge are.

You can sell it after you pass, and if you don’t price it too high, it will go quickly.

He provides step-by-step instructions with images to install alternate vignettes. This same exact process will work with other alternates found elsewhere on the internet.

The Bad…

I personally think the cover is weird.

The images for the vignettes are not on the same pages as the explanation that references them, requiring the reader to flip pages back and forth.

There are some bad recommendations on study materials, but NCARB wrote that, not Gang Chen.

The book has some fluff to it, like the Architecture essays and boilerplate ARE stuff, but I wouldn’t see it necessarily as a bad thing. They just add little or no value.

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.


The ARE Mock Exam and LEED Exam Books

As promised here are links to all of Gang Chen’s books:

Construction Documents and Service (CDS) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Programming, Planning & Practice (SPD) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Site Planning & Design (SPD) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Schematic Design (SD) ARE Mock Exam 

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Structural Systems (SS) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Building Systems (BS) ARE Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Mock California Supplemental Exam (CSE)

LEED And Other Books

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED v4 Green Associate Exam Guide (LEED GA)

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED BD&C Exam Guide


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED v4 BD&C Mock Exam


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED ID&C Exam Guide & Mock Exam

Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED AP Exam Guide


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
LEED O&M Mock Exam


Review of Gang Chen’s ARE Mock Exam
Building Construction: Project Management, Construction Administration, Drawings, Specs, Detailing Tips, Schedules, Checklists, and Secrets Others Don’t Tell You: Architectural Practice Simplified


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.

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