LARE's Section 4: Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation is, in my opinion, the hardest portion of the exam. It has the lowest passing rate of any section - before and after the change in format. You will find in your preparation for this section that there is a wide range of topics that need to be covered, most of which you have seen, but probably haven't mastered.
For me, the most difficult of the 120 questions were those pertaining to grading and specific construction details. I would encourage everyone who is thinking of taking Section 4 to give yourself a few months of studying in order to cover the wealth of material out there. There is only one year's worth of up to date practice tests, but there is a lot you can take from previous incarnations. If you have already taken Section 3 then you are going to be familiar with the advanced question types that are present on this section. There is a lot of detail in this section so I would just be patient and expect to learn a bunch of information that may not show up on the test. That huge list of fasteners that you have to memorize may seem like overkill, but you can expect it to help you on at least one question (it did for me).
Before moving forward - please take a look at CLARB's LARE Orientation Guide if you haven't already.
SECTION 4 ONLINE RESOURCES
Because of the difficulty and breadth of Section 4, there are more than usual online resources for it. The ASLA has put out study guides and examples as well as the aforementioned video.
ASLA LARE Prep Study Materials
ASLA has provided a good amount of examples and guides for your Section 3+4 studying needs. They pin point some of the more difficult and multidimensional questions on the exam. These are provided for free as opposed to the practice tests listed further down. I would also like to spotlight their Section 4 Review Materials as a good starting resource.
LARE Exam Google Group
One of the best places on the Internet right now to get study materials as well as feedback on questions that you might have about the exam is the unofficial LARE EXAM Google group. Here hundreds of test takers as well as test prep professionals exchange exam tips and study materials.
L.A.R.E. - ANYTHING GOES Land8 Group
If you haven't already joined Brandon Reed's Land8 LARE group, what are you waiting for? This is also another fantastic resource for members to swap study materials and ask questions.
Digital Flash Cards
Using flash cards is one of my favorite ways to study, especially if they've been pre-made. Many people - including myself - have created personal study material flashcards that are ready to use. Making your own flashcards is a great way to study however, so I still encourage you to create your own set tailored to your own preferences. I would also recommend installing a flashcard app that links to a site like Cram so you have your cards on the go.
PPI: Power to Pass Exam Reviews
PPI has long provided test prep materials including practice exams and study guides. The books are written by professors and professionals in the industry and are a good overall resource to study for the new exam formats. They seem to have retrofitted their older Section A-E materials into a new package for Sections 1-4, however which may make the materials a little less accurate than before.
Cheryl Corson Design Webinars
Land8 member Cheryl Corson is well known for her LARE webinars and her great advice for taking the LARE. Cheryl has a good focus on Section 4 and her personal experiences passing it.
SECTION 4 READING LIST
The Section 4 reading list has a few hold overs from Section 3, but adds one important text. Site Engineering is a very useful book that outlines a variety of topics that will be covered in the Section 4. All of the books on the below list are very large and, as with other tests, I would recommend a good study guide to accompany these. If you have given yourself enough time to go through each and take notes then you are ahead of the game. If not, then go out and pick up a study guide to help you outline your study targets.
Site Engineering is an essential book for understanding the actual construction of land forms. This book includes more recent details of green stormwater management options, a new focus of the test, as well as other complex construction concepts. Because of the new content of the 6th edition vs earlier editions, I would recommend picking up the newest book if possible. There is a more concerted focus on green infrastructure which coincides with the new versions of the test. Though I wouldn't say the book is "intellectually stimulating" as the publisher does, I would say that the topics are important and this book is a must have for studying.
Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards | Hopper
While you should have a solid understanding of the contents of this book already. It never hurts to touch up on your graphical standards. For Section 4, the diagrams of common construction details can be very beneficial for studying. This book is also listed for Section 3: Design.
Time Saver Standards for Landscape Architects | Harris and Dines
This book is every landscape architect's best friend. It will remind you of minimum turning radii, maximum slope on ramps, etc etc. However, it will also bog you down with a huge amount of information if you are not careful. As a former student, you should be familiar with this book. Pay careful attention to the topics provided by CLARB in the Orientation Guide and tailor your reading to it. If you don't already own a copy then you should. Lest you spend over an hour searching the internet for angled parking standards. This book is also listed for Section 3: Design.
Landscape Architect's Portable Handbook | Dines and Brown
Don't let this book's title fool you. At 400 pages and $65 the "portable" handbook is just as massive as some of the other books in this list. While if does do a nice job over quickly covering a variety of topics, I personally would not recommend it to those that are purchasing the above books. It outlines roughly some of the same things and doesn't really add any sort of new material. At best, this book is a reduced version of Time Saver Standards. If are not able to get your hands on a copy of TSS, then this book may be a good substitute. However, if you are already covering the rest of this list then I would let this one slide.
RECOMMENDED STUDY METHODS FOR SECTION 4
Unlike Section 3, older vignettes are a good study resource for Section 4. The advanced type grading questions are roughly the same with addition of a possible answer bank and a computerized format. I would encourage you to take a look at the examples provided by ASLA mentioned in the "Study Materials" section. Section 4 is a monster of a test that covers the largest amount of material. For me, it was the only exam that I left feeling totally unsure of my result. As with other sections, you are only graded on the questions you get correct. However, there are many questions that require you to have solved a different question in order to answer it. Grading questions are one example of this. Take your time and try to no overthink your answers. You are inevitable going to come to a few questions that you don't know the answer to. Take an educated guess, flag the question, and move on. Often there are clues in the rest of the exam that can help you go back and make a better choice.
This is part of an ongoing series spotlighting the Landscape Architecture Registration Examination (LARE) administered by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB). If you have any resources that you can add to this guide we would be happy to include you and give you credit. Please contact the author Benjamin Boyd if you have any additional resources that you'd like to share.