Deciding which exam sections to take in what order, alone or in combination, is the first big strategy decision you’ll make about the LARE once you’ve committed to the process. If you’re in a state or province requiring that you be vetted prior to sitting for the exam, it’s your second big step.
In my case, I combined Sections 1 and 2 in one exam cycle, and Sections 3 and 4 in another. Because I had passed Sections 1 and 2 having taken them on consecutive mornings, I registered for Sections 3 and 4 the same way, one morning after the other. But recovering, changing gears, and refocusing on Section 4 in less than 24 hours proved too much, and I failed with a ‘score’ of 606. In the next exam cycle, it felt almost luxurious to prepare for Section 4 all by itself. For an extra treat, I signed up for the noon time slot instead of the 8am window. It felt so much better to have a nice breakfast, take a last look at my books, and head over to the testing center after rush hour!
Now, I advise folks to sit for one exam section per exam cycle if at all possible. It’s the sanest approach given the inevitable challenges of adult life. If your employer is pressuring you to go faster, if your state has a short window in which to complete the process, or if you’re pregnant, moving across the country, or job-hunting for a position requiring a license, then it’s reasonable to double up.
There are people who do the ironman or ironwoman approach by taking three or four exam sections during a single exam cycle. I’ve met a handful doing Corson Learning. Most have been successful. Note that in a typical exam cycle, all across North America, according to CLARB, there are only a handful of people approaching the LARE this way. It is the exception, not the rule. But if there’s a compelling reason or motivation, it can be done. The iron-wo/man approach requires extreme organization and focus. It’s not a goal, but it is suitable for certain personality types. You know who you are. The rest of us tortoises reach the finish line anyway, with a little less drama and flair. Passing is passing and it really doesn’t matter how you do it in the end.
If you haven’t taken a standardized test in a while, it makes sense to take one section by itself first. This will help you overcome test anxiety by giving you experience with the testing center and the process as a whole, which, let’s face it, is stress producing.
Recent graduates in states permitting candidates to test without prior work experience will find that Section 2, Inventory and Analysis, is the most like school and requires the least experience with construction and contracts. It is the shortest exam in time (2 hours plus exam tutorial) and in the number of questions (80). For details on what’s covered in this and other exam sections, see the CLARB Orientations Guide.
In the past, I have advised candidates intent on pairing exams in a single cycle to combine Sections 1 and 2 because they are shorter and do not include the special item types present in Sections 3 and 4. That way, the logic went, you head into the longer, more difficult exam sections knowing that you are halfway to heaven. However, in 2017, CLARB adjusted the LARE content to reflect its latest periodic task analysis. My new advice is that if you are combining exam sections, consider starting with Sections 2 and 3 together, taking Section 2 early in the two-week exam cycle, followed by Section 3 later in that same two week window.
Sections 2 and 3 now seem to hold hands better than before because Section 3 content seems to have changed the most as a result of the CLARB task analysis, such that it has more of a planning focus than before. To that end, one new book appearing on CLARB’s recommended reading list seems absolutely vital to Section 3, but also helpful in Section 2: Planning and Urban Design Standards (student edition). While the low production value and tiny font size is annoying, some sections of this book seems important, as I can tell from my personal copy which arrived in yesterday’s mail.
Sections 1 and 4 now align because of their emphasis on contracts, bidding, construction administration, and construction details in general. Yes, Section 4 is still a bear, and you must perform grading operations, but it now seems to hold hands better with Section 1 than it did before 2017.
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Cheryl Corson is a landscape architect in private practice in the Mid-Atlantic region. She has helped over 600 people pass the LARE since beginning Corson Learning in 2013, two months after passing the LARE herself (http://corsonlearning.com). She is author of the Sustainable Landscape Maintenance Manual for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2017), available for free at: http://cherylcorson.com/publications.php.