Author: Cheryl Corson

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LARE – Comment or No Comment: What is that Mysterious Tab For? [Webinar]

As anyone who has sat for the LARE exam knows, at the top of the screen of every question is a tab that says, “Comments.” The first time I saw this, during the exam, I was intrigued. After all, CLARB’s LARE intro videos show examples of the exam interface, which show only the screen tab called, “Exhibits” for graphic questions on Sections 3 and 4. No mention is made anywhere about a tab called “Comments,” including during the tutorial given in the exam room prior to launching the LARE. “Would CLARB offer words of encouragement in this Comments tab?”, I wondered during the first few minutes of my exam.

After the adrenaline rush of the exam’s first few minutes wore off, I did click on one of the Comments tabs, only to discover a blank window in which to type. Who will read this, I wondered? Is this a good thing or not? Why has no mention been made of this before?

My Comment Story

Having ignored the Comments tab throughout most of my Section 4 exam, I became tempted to use it while trying to solve one particularly vexing drag and drop question. I had become convinced that the correct response simply did not appear on the left side of the screen among the possible choices. It was well into the four hour exam and I was getting fatigued.

My internal dialog went like this: “There’s got to be a mistake with this question. There should be more of these responses on the left side of the screen than there are. I bet that CLARB reads these Comments, and I’m going to complain.” I opened the Comments tab and began to type.

As soon as I began, a light went off in my head and I realized that there was nothing wrong with the question. I had just misinterpreted it. Indeed, there was only one correct drag and drop response on the left side of the screen. Had I persisted in my Comments tab rant I surely would have missed it. This experience convinced me to avoid the Comments tab thereafter.

The Exam’s Fourth Wall

In theater, the fourth wall is an imaginary boundary separating the audience and the actors on stage. The Greek chorus in a play is one example of breaking the fourth wall. The LARE Comments tab is a dangerous vehicle because it encourages the test taker to break that fourth wall between their role as test taker, to become a commentator instead. This can break one’s concentration and undermine one’s self-confidence by introducing negative self-talk into the exam experience. It is also a time-eater. I can’t imagine a situation in which a test taker would write a comment complimenting CLARB on having written a particularly good question.

Sometimes there might be reason to comment. I would limit this to extreme examples. I know some test takers a couple of years ago whose exams contained a few questions in which there were no spaces between any words on a multiple response question. This would be a good reason to comment, but keep it brief. Perhaps insert a little humor by writing, “therearenospacesbetweenanywordsonthisquestion.” I have not heard of this happening again, and I suspect that CLARB threw out those particular questions.

What CLARB Does

Some people believe that if they comment during the exam, explaining to CLARB why they answered the way they did, that it may improve their score. This is unlikely. According to Jim Penrod, former CLARB deputy director, during a presentation he gave to the ASLA LARE Prep Sub-Committee when I served on it, CLARB engages a statistician who flags questions whose answers differed to a statistically significant degree from that which was expected. Then, the volunteer committee who writes the exam questions must make a determination – either stay the course on what they felt the correct response would be, accept the alternate responses in addition to the expected response, or throw the question out. No one is going through one person’s comment and making a determination about whether or not to grant that one person that one question.

Keep in mind that everyone’s exams differ slightly, either in exact content, or at least in the order of the questions. Rebecca Moden of CLARB suggested that if a particular question is troubling you, wait until after the exam and email CLARB within a week. You do not need to remember the exact question number, since the question order varies. You only need to remember the content, and not precisely either. Writing CLARB cannot hurt your score and it may or may not help, based on the aggregate response of all test takers to that exam item.

Keep your self-talk during the exam as positive as possible. Avoiding the Comments tab is one way to help maintain your focus and confidence during this rigorous experience.


February 15, 2018 | 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EST | $10

Join us for the newest installment in a webinar series sponsored by Land8 about the LARE, presented by Cheryl Corson of Corson Learning. In this hour, Cheryl will moderate a dialogue on the “Comments” tab that appears on each exam question but remains unexplained in the Orientation Guide. The webinar will be followed by a Q&A session with Cheryl. If you are unable to attend, you may still register and you will be sent the recording.


Complete the $10 payment at the link above, and you will be emailed more information.

LARE Mix and Match

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.

Exam Pairings

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.



Complete the $10 payment at the link above, and you will be emailed the password to access the recorded webinar within 24 hours.

How Different is the 2017 LARE?

For any LARE (Landscape Architect Registration Examination) candidate, knowing what to study given limited preparation resources is key. In 2012 the exam changed so that hand drawing was no longer used, and design, grading, and drainage became computer based. New verbal and graphic questions in various formats were developed for the first time. This was a dramatic shift in the exam’s history, and by now we’ve mostly adapted to this new format, which remains unchanged for 2017 exam cycles.

LARE Exam Format & Content Development

Underlying the exam format is the content to be tested, which is evaluated by CLARB (Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards) every five to seven years through a “task analysis,” a survey sent to about 20,000 professionals, asking what type of work landscape architects regularly do. CLARB says periodic task analyses keep the exam “legally defensible and relevant,” important because state and provincial licensing boards need trust in the exam’s ability to help ensure the protection of public health, safety, and welfare. Sample test questions from 20 years ago seem very different from those of today. Evolution is good, especially since content changes come from the field, not by administrators.

The most recent task analysis was completed in 2016. Out of 20,000 surveys sent, 3,488 respondents practicing in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico completed the survey. The previous task analysis overlapped with the exam format change in 2012, but we’re told that the Recession resulted in few changes that time. Now that the economy is more active, it’s not surprising to see some content change as announced on CLARB’s website.

How Many Questions?

Between November 2016 and February 2017, the CLARB website said that the number of questions for each of the four LARE sections had been reduced. For Sections 1 & 3, it said, instead of 100 questions, there would now be 85. Section 2 would go from 80 questions down to 70. Section 4 would go from 120 questions down to 105. This seemed like a nice change.

In mid-February, the CLARB website’s page listing the number of questions changed so that a new question category was added, increasing the total number of questions back up to where it had been since 2012. The new question category was called, “pretest items.” See CLARB’s LARE Orientation here.

Now we know how many questions are being field tested (my term) and don’t count toward your score. However, resist the assumption that any question you may be having a hard time with doesn’t count toward your score! If you downloaded the CLARB LARE Orientation during or prior to February 2017, make sure you have the most recent edition.

Even though no one divides their time per question evenly, it’s helpful to know how much time is allotted per question for each section. For section 1, one and a half minutes; section 2, 1.9 minutes, section 3, 2.1 minutes, and section 4, an even two minutes. Gain confidence by setting a timer for 90 seconds and imagining answering one question in that time. It’s going to feel long. With planning, the LARE does not necessarily present time challenges.

New and Rearranged Exam Content

Here are a few pointers on new content:

Section 1 – Project and Construction Management: Landscape maintenance is a new exam subject which now represents 10% of exam content. Some construction administration previously found on Section 4 has been moved to Section 1. Obtaining permits and cost estimates and collecting and analyzing performance metrics now appear in this section.

Section 2 – Inventory and Analysis: In my opinion, this section is least affected by the 2016 task analysis. Some new content called out on the CLARB LARE Orientation Guide are, “Gather stakeholder input, identify policy objectives, determine appropriate types of analyses, and interpret all sorts of site analysis data.”

Section 3 – Design: The new content area called, “Stakeholder Process” now represents 9% of this exam, which is new. Some items seem to have migrated from Section 4 into Section 3, such as, “Develop Historic/Cultural Restoration and Preservation Plan.” Other new content includes, “prepare preliminary quantities and cost estimates, and identify and develop performance metrics.” Note that this overlaps with Section 1 to a degree.

Section 4 – Grading, Drainage and Construction Documentation: New in this section are, “develop mitigation plan, develop traffic control plan and emergency access plan.” And as we know, erosion and sediment control are important to know in this section, though it is not called out by this name in CLARB’s bulleted list.

Join us for a webinar as part of the new Land8 LARE Webinar Series presented by Corson Learning. You will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the LARE.

“How Different is the 2017 LARE?” Webinar
May 31, 2017
8:00 – 9:00 PM EDT
Cost: $10
*Registrants will be emailed a special link prior to the event. Those who register and are unable to attend at this time will be emailed a recorded video of the webinar.

This event has passed. You may still access the recording of this webinar for $10 at the link below. The password to the video below will be emailed to you within 24 hours. 


Meditation for LARE Anxiety

Research shows that a huge percentage of self-talk is negative, which makes finding your 25% reserve of positive self-talk very important heading into the LARE exam. Assuming you put in the prep time, your attitude going into the test center will energize all you’ve learned and sustain you during the exam.

You’re traveling to the test center. If you’re anxious like me, you may have previously gone there so you know where it is and what the reception room looks like. You have eaten enough, but not too much. You’re well hydrated. You have a healthy snack and a bottle of clean water to put in your locker for a break during the exam if you need it. You’ve dressed in layers (no jacket or vest with pockets) so you’ll be comfortable in the exam room. You consciously breathe deeply and slowly. You are aware of all you’ve learned and all the good preparation you’ve made.

The proctor in the reception room hands you an erasable white board, a black marker, and a working calculator, which you take with your driver’s license, from the reception area into the exam room. There are about a dozen computer work stations, wall clocks, and a glass observation booth for the proctor. The proctor shows you to your work station and turns on the computer calling up the tutorial that precedes the exam. Then you are left alone to settle in. You adjust the keyboard, mouse, and chair to suit you. A set of noise cancelling headphones is on the desk. You try them on to see if you feel they will help you focus. People already taking their exams on other topics pay no attention to you.  Except for tapping keyboards the room is quiet. You breathe consciously and deeply and start the tutorial.

The allotted 30 minutes for the tutorial is much longer than you need. You use that time to become facile with the exam interface and can easily navigate between the ‘skip,’ ‘flag,’ and ‘review’ functions and screens. You exit the tutorial and the first LARE question appears on the screen. You ignore it for a moment while you write any formulas or notes you wish on your white board. You feel ready. You are centered. You now read the first question, knowing you have ample time to respond to all of them plus check your work.

You respond to the questions one by one, easier ones and harder ones. Point by point you build up your score until you feel you have enough points to pass. You know you don’t need a perfect score so you are unconcerned when a handful of questions seem baffling. You give every question your best shot. To maintain focus and self-confidence you ignore the “comments” tab at the top of every question. You know you can email CLARB with your critique later if you choose. You remember to rest your eyes during the exam, looking past the screen to the wall in front of you to refocus your eyes and attention periodically. You feel your feet on the floor and you straighten your back to allow oxygen to freely circulate. You remember to breathe.

You’ve made your first pass through the test, taking a break if you wish. When you review your questions you only change responses you are certain of. You make good mental notes of any questions for your personal research later on. And then it’s over! You exit the exam interface when you’re confident you’re done. You raise your hand for the proctor, who turns off your computer and accompanies you back to the reception area. You walk outside into the daylight and find a quiet spot to write any mental notes you’ve made before they fade. You congratulate yourself for undertaking this challenge and treat yourself to something nice as a reward. You know that whatever the outcome, today you’ve made your best effort. During the six weeks before you learn your results, you live life completely free of the LARE!

LARE Math Basics

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.

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