5 Tips for Passing Section 4 of the LARE

5 Tips for Passing Section 4 of the LARE

The new Section 4 is the Costco of the LARE, where grading and storm water management share the floor with construction materials and methods , and even some construction administration and contract information you thought you put to bed in Section 1. That’s a lot to study. The good news is that it’s over in 4 ½ hours and you get 120 chances to succeed. Every correct answer you need will appear on your computer screen, and you can get a fair number of questions wrong and still pass.

After sitting out the last offering of the old Section E, I took the new Section 4 in December and missed by about 5 questions. I passed in April, after rethinking my testing strategy and reviewing all the non-grading topics like crazy. I believe studying in the old way for this section will not yield the best result, and I hope to help current candidates during this transitional time in the exam’s evolution.

Once you’ve studied the material, here are 5 tips for spending your time in the exam room more productively:

1.  Practice using new testing functions before exam begins.

Play with the “skip,” “flag” and “review” functions in the testing center before your exam begins. I didn’t use these tools my first time, and used them well the second time around. “Skip” questions you want to save for later and quickly move on. “Flag” questions you answered but have serious doubts about. “Review” lets you easily navigate to skipped and flagged items, which you swat like flies after you’ve made your first complete pass.

2.  Approach graphic questions as a group.
Cluster most graphic questions together and approach them as a group. This was my biggest strategy change the second time around. We know that our left brain is verbal and our right brain is graphic. When doing CLARB’s sample questions, I noticed that by staying in my right brain for all of the graphic problems, I worked more efficiently and with greater ease than when I switched back and forth between verbal and graphic modes.

3.  Jot down all formulas on your whiteboard ASAP.
Jot down all formulas on your whiteboard as soon as the exam clock starts. Even easy formulas like circle and triangle geometry, or square feet to cubic feet conversions that you may know but confuse under testing conditions. Grading formulas, including cross slope should also be written down, even if you know them really well.

4.  Diagram all grading problems first.
Diagram all grading problems on your whiteboard before doing any math or selecting any multiple choice response. Note the direction of flow with arrows, high and low points, and importantly, any spot elevations that may remain the same over distances. You’ll have more certainty once you begin using your calculator if you’ve done this.

5.  Set time targets for yourself before exam day.
The clock on your computer screen will be counting backwards from 4:00 hours, which may not be helpful to everyone. There are wall clocks however. Here’s a schedule that I used: 120 minutes for first pass for all questions (60 seconds each); 70 minutes to revisit skipped questions; 15 minute break; 35 minutes review all questions. You may as well use all your time, you’ve paid for it.

If these tips seem useful to you, consider taking my August 8th webinar. It will be 90 minutes including Q&A and will include a lot more advice. You will also get a link to watch the webinar afterward at no cost, and attendees will receive a code worth 25% off the price of CLARB’s Section 4 sample questions. See:

Cheryl Corson is now licensed and happy. She is in private practice in the Washington, DC area and has taught landscape design at various local universities and the U.S. Botanic Garden. She holds an MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Published in Blog
Cheryl Corson, RLA, ASLA, CPSI, is the founding director of Corson Learning ( She is author of the Sustainable Landscape Maintenance Manual for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and leads the Mid-Atlantic Vectorworks Landmark User Group. Cheryl Corson is a landscape architect and wellness coach committed to personal and environmental health and well-being. Contact:; 202-494-5054


  1. Cheryl, unfortunately I didn’t see this until today and won’t be able to attend. 

    Are you planning on holding another webinar with Q&A in the near future?

  2. Upcoming webinars are posted on the same link provided in the article. The first live session is Oct. 7th, 2013.

  3. Registration is now open for the Section 4 LARE Prep webinar series with expanded content. Link is on my home page,

  4. I think something you are forgetting is to study your fasteners and deck construction details (footings, joists, etc.) I know I aced the grading questions, but not working in wood construction ever really hurt me on this exam.

  5. Doug – yes, the webinars mention fasteners and decks. For sure, if you do not regularly (or ever) build decks, it’s very important to know how they attach to structures and the basic physics of load, supporting beams, etc. I know I got some of the hardware questions wrong on my exam…so am grateful to have passed. Good point!

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