This entry is a revisited version of my account of studying for and passing the former section D. I have now passed all five sections under the previous format. I began constructing my study regiment by looking for scraps of advice. I was just as interested in collecting exam approaches as I was in collecting the raw data. The plan was to compare myself to the writer and determine suitability. I didn’t find much on individual approaches so I decided to detail my experience upon successful completion. The exam format has changed but I believe the techniques remains valid.
In keeping with the point of this entry I should give up a little something about myself. I do not have a degree in landscape architecture. I was fortunate enough to pass each section on the first round. I include this fact because I thought it might lend credence to the method. Perhaps I might assuage the appearance of arrogance by revealing that I did not take the exams within back to back windows thereby knocking them out in 3 months. I did not take a multi-day proprietary LARE preparation course although I know people that have and they reported positive results. I did take two single-day graphic preparation courses (site planning, grading, drainage and stormwater management). I do not believe these were helpful. The instructors were more interested in timing the participants on the execution of half measures than they were helping them develop full measures. I never took an online course or multiple choice practice exam. I did use practice vignettes to prepare for the graphic sections.
I didn’t begin faithful study until about three weeks prior the exam. I took about two weeks prior to that to leisurely assemble information. I do not recommend procrastinating as I did. This time frame may seem a bit short for some, about right for others, and too long for a few but if you expect to become comfortable with the information while seeing to life’s other obligations you will need more time. During the work week I studied for a couple of hours in the early morning and three to four hours in the evening. During the weekends I put in about four to six hours each day. There were days that I was not able to study due to other obligations. I rarely studied past midnight. I recommend giving yourself at least three months prior to an exam window. This amount of time will allow you to keep up with other obligations but still consistently dedicate a few hours out of each day. Use a portion of that time to establish a strategy and gather resources.
I came across two bits of wisdom which provided me with both motivation and relief. The first bit was that I would be relying on intuition for much of the exam. I would be able to answer many questions without reading the options but there would also be questions that required seasoned intuition. This makes sense when you think about how many potential questions are possible in such a massive pool of data. Accepting this set the structure for my approach. A condensed, bulleted, strict outline approach to studying wouldn’t cut it. Additionally, there’s a reason you work under a licensed landscape architect before sitting. This period will be critical for applying all that you have read up to that point. You must ingest all of the books suggested by CLARB as well any others with related subject matter. Some will be quite interesting whereas others will bore you to the point of numbness. It is this process that gives you the required intuition. The second bit was that I would walk out of the exam not precisely sure if I passed or failed. Although I had an apprehensively ok feeling this was true for me.
Misery loves company and those who tend to freak out over exams will gladly share their sentiments with you. Avoid these people. Do not allow negativity to creep in. Do not go in with the attitude “I’m just going see what the test is like – I don’t care if I fail it”. Go in fully prepared and convinced you will receive a passing grade. Thoughts become things.
I began the approach by identifying the available sources that reveal what would be covered on the exam. The first of these sources was CLARB’s list of major topics organized by section. The second of these sources were the practice exams (CLARB, PPI, etc). I didn’t take these exams. Instead I extracted the topics being discussed and added those topics to the list. With this list I created an index of which books / resources covered those topics and where those topics are found inside the resources.
Because I didn’t want to generate an outline (thereby condensing the information) I took things a step further by making recordings. I purchased a small digital recorder and captured the passages I was reading. I found that I was recording the entire resource in some cases and just a few paragraphs in others depending on the sections I was taking. This was not as taxing (or awkward) as I originally thought. I was already reading the material so I may as well capture it for all time.
During this process I made the mistake of reading too fast. Start early. If you choose to make recordings you will ingest it much easier if you are able to listen to it at normal speed with natural inflection. Recording these passages allowed me to listen to them in the car, on the ipod, on a phone, or on a computer because the recorder came with MP3 conversion software. The software that came with my Sony ICD-PX720 also allowed me to speed up the recording if I was listening on a computer. This may seem contrary to my previous advice but you may find yourself having to listen to a 20 minute recording in 10 minutes. You will take-in a lot of information while making the recording and you will solidify it when you listen to it later. I have been offered money for my recordings. I, of course, declined. Selling my recordings would be illegal and unethical.
There will be graphic elements that cannot be efficiently described into a recording. You will need to mark these and allow yourself enough time to review those items. Side note: When it comes to familiarizing yourself with items such as construction equipment and fasteners do not make it an exercise in identification. Know what they do and how they are applied, not just how to recognize them.
Study with a goal to create associations with all the other items studied. This, of course, reinforces the information. I know, this advice sounds obvious but when you’re in the weeds of study you will need to remember this.
I was a member of a study group for a short time. This group eventually fell apart due to differing interests and differing paces. I believe traditional study groups are a waste of valuable time. Most participants invariably view them as opportunities to socialize. Instead, I recommend organizing a resource alliance. As the name implies, this would be a group set up solely to inventory and share study resources.
Although the graphic (site planning, grading, drainage and stormwater management) sections of the exam have been reconfigured in the new format the knowledge requirements remain the same. Instead of drawing each of your solutions you will be demonstrating this knowledge on-screen. You should still arm yourself by reviewing and taking graphic vignette practice exams. Look for patterns in the working solutions provided. Note the benefits, drawbacks and effects of the various configurations in landform. Practice visualizing what a 2-D arrangement of contour lines will look like as a landform. Become aware of which constructed elements are appropriate for the various ranges of slope percentages. Order and process are very important when solving spatial problems. Become aware of these processes, know why they work and be able to identify and address any areas you may find challenging.
For all sections, make note of those areas you feel are more challenging for you. You will be comforted by knowing which topics you need to allot more time for as exam day approaches. Take it all in. Let the information fill in the holes, confirm suspicions, create relationships, and affirm your relationship with the profession. Make it a religious experience and you will smoke the exam. Words to test by: Calm, Logic, Reason, Common Sense, Health, Safety, Welfare.
For the day of the exam I dressed in layers so I could adjust for the environment in the test center. I checked in with the receptionist as soon as I arrived. I was asked to empty my pockets and place everything except my driver’s license in a locker. Although there was an official start time I was allowed to begin the exam as soon as I felt comfortable. I checked in at another desk just outside the exam room where they logged me in, took my picture, and asked me to show my empty pockets. I was also asked to show my arms to verify that I didn't write anything on them. I was then given a marker with two laminated sheets and then asked to wait outside the exam room until the attendant set the computer up. She then motioned me in. The instructions on-screen were easy to understand. I began with a tutorial that I had more than enough time to get through. In that tutorial I learned how to flag questions so I could easily return to them if necessary. I clicked a button, the timer started and the first question popped up.
You will likely be provided with sound silencing equipment to put over your ears. They cut out the noise completely in my first exam. With later exams, however, they were less effective. Bring your own ear plugs and show them to the attendant. Although I was told nothing would be allowed except my driver’s license I found out later they would have allowed them. This policy may vary from center to center. You will regret not using them if you find yourself in a room with snifflers, coughers and keyboard pounders. Remember, you will be taking your exam along side people taking other types of exams. I’m pretty sure I took one of mine next to someone taking a typing exam and she was punishing that keyboard like she was getting paid. You will be allowed to use the bathroom during the exam. You will need to sign out and back in if you do. You will also be required to reveal your arms again. Side note: I took a 5 hour energy drink just before each exam.
Take each question as it comes. Nothing else exists except you and that single question. Don’t underestimate the value in knowing that the answer is right there on the screen. The correct answer to many questions will likely be the safest, most efficient and most sustainable of the choices. Complex choices are your friend. I’m referring to the “Is it A) I, II, IV, and V or is it B)…” These give you more elimination tools than you would have with the standard options. If you get done early always go back and review your answers. You’ve probably heard this a thousand times but there is a reason. By the time you get to the end of the exam you will feel calmer then you did in the beginning. I first went back through my flagged questions and then went back over the entire exam to review my answers. The computer makes this easy. There is the saying that your first response is usually the correct one. There may be some merit to this but you can also correct some hasty initial responses because you are no longer feeling the pressure of the clock.
When you walk out the exam make note of those items that concerned you. If you study well then you likely won’t be taking the exam again but this will give you one more tool should you need to retake it.