California Supplemental Exam

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    I took the CSE last week and passed. Thank you to all who’ve posted here–it definitely helped! A lot of questions about irrigation, mostly related to the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. You should know a bit about irrigating with greywater. Quite a bit on ADA. If you study the DSA links provided by others in this thread, you should be fine. Know the responsibilities of USACE, CA Fish & Game, and Regional Water Board, especially related to development adjacent to wetlands. Be familiar with CalGreen, especially related to irrigation and stormwater collection. And know your natives! Especially know their water/sun requirements. There were a few questions asking about the most appropriate plant palette for a certain condition, but there wasn’t much variety in the choices, which made it difficult. There were also a couple mistakes on the exam, which was incredibly annoying because I started wondering if the mistakes were intentional to throw me off, or if they were truly errors. They weren’t major, but enough to slow me down. Good luck!

    Tonie C.


    Congrats, and thanks for sharing!


    Thank you everybody for keeping this discussion up to date! I’m taking the exam this week and I’m wondering if I need to memorize formulas (such as the MAWA) or are they provided on the exam where they’re required to be used? Thanks for your help!


    Erika, there were no calculations (at least for me), but you should understand the components of the formulas and the general intent of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.


    Thank you JS! I feel pretty good about the components, just haven’t attempted to memorize that formula.


    Just thought I’d bump this to the top to see if anyone has any further insight/ideas/tips/hints, etc….  It would be much appreciated – just as the previous posts are appreciated.

    I have a question about the newer, multiple choice process:  after finishing the 5 national exams, what’s the next step?  Will something official be mailed/emailed out from CLARB or LATC or do I have to call/email someone and initiate the process to confirm my eligibility and get moving on taking the CSE?  Thanks!


    Did you get your results yesterday or today about passing C/E ?   Heard they had a really high passing rate.

    DO NOT WAIT for LATC to send  you anything.   If you signed up first thru LATC, then they should get notification that you passed.      If you have to call, wait a week or two and call until somebody picks up.  Don’t leave a message, as it will probably get buried under all the others.  Be persistent and polite, and remember to get a name so you can follow up.  LATC has a history of being really disorganized.

    You can fill out the CSE app and send it in (w/ $) – just send it registered reciept, and watch your account for the check clearing.  Call if nothing happens after a couple weeks.  Once that happens, wait 3-4 days, go sign up for the CSE.  If you have trouble like not finding your test or not getting test day confirmation, call the CSE test admin and ask for help.  They were really helpful with me, but a pita for an aquaintance.

    Then, once you pass the CSE (instant results in kind of a gloomy atmosphere) you have decipher a poorly printed pro-rated fee chart, send in more money (registered reciept again) and hope they don’t take 3 months to process like they did with me (they took too long to process, so the correct payment became an overpayment, which they wouldn’t accept, and even after sending in a new check, I still had to call and goad them with 3 more calls into finding the final app and check and processing it). 

    Just be polite.  And persistent.

    Good luck.


    I called.  They answered — and they said I just need to wait for them to send me the paper saying I passed.  So I assume this is what I’m supposed to be doing — just waiting on them.  I can’t just send in my application and check, can I?


    problem was I waited 3 months to receive that letter that never arrived, and even on calls they pick up, that person didn’t deal w/ new candidates (took a message anyways), or they could never find the file, or they just didn’t call back  (they sed they would). 

    Finally got to the right person, and when asked when the letter was going to arrive, her reply was “just send the application in.”  No other comments.  “…just send… it in.”   3 months…

    Wait a while and then decide. 

    Free advice is free, and I could be wrong telling you to not wait for the letter.  I also could have had a typical experience, and it does take 8-9 months to complete the process.  For me, passing the cse after it took LATC so long to get their act together really deflated the entire event. 


    Has anyone taken the exam in the past 6 months that I can run a study guide by (via email) to see if what I’m studying is comparable to what you saw on the exam?

    John A. Denson
    For those of us preparing for the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for landscape architects, there is not a lot of study material available. Here is some information that I’ve culled from this discussion thread and other places on the web:
    The LATC produced a candidate guide that you can download at
    The LATC Candidate Guide is really vague and confusing.
    LATC also recommends reading a list of books. You can find the list at
    Unfortunately, most of the books are out of print and hard to find (even on
    I’ve summarized some topic areas that come up in the discussion most often:
    Be familiar with ADA guidelines pertaining to landscape architecture. Guardrail, grating, ramp surface, landings for ramps and stairs are all covered on the exam.

    • What kind of concrete finish is appropriate at ramp?
    • Which of the following does not require ADA access: sports fields, restrooms, playgrounds, or a parking lot?
    • Know the requirements for accessible guardrails. Know that a 4″ sphere cannot pass through the rails. A guardrail is required when the drop is more than 30″.
    • If you are locating a tree in an ADA accessible courtyard what would you look for in the tree to ensure compliance. My answer was branching structure. I could have been wrong though.
    • Maximum grating opening in path of travel is 1/2″.


    • Fire issues in landscape architecture.


    • Know the responsibilities and limitations of the US fish and wildlife service, Coastal Commission, US Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Game. If you are constructing in a wetland which agencies might be involved?
    • various levels of guidelines: landuse plan, subdivision plan, zoning ordinance etc.?
    • Which agency is responsible at various scale and location of projects.
    • Be familiar with CEQA, Coastal commission, Dept of fish and Game, USFWS.


    • How do you calculate pressure gain or loss due to elevation?
    • What info do you need for MAWA( water application) calculations?
    • What info do you need to calculate precipitation rate?
    • Why do irrigation systems require backflow preventers?
    • Where do you get your water pressure info from?


    • Be familiar with the plant communities of California, especially with what plants can be planted under native oak trees and in riparian areas.
    • What plants should not be planted next to equestrian trail?
    • What are some names of some plants with culinary value that can be used in the landscape in California?
    • What is Anthracnose?
    • Be familiar with the most notorious and common invasive plant species.

    Project Management

    • Project close out requirements.
    • What should be in a contract between LA and client.
    • If an architect is the prime consultant and LA is sub-consultant and architect says he is responsible for ALL code compliance issues, what is your response?
    • How do you ensure sub consultants will comply to schedule (deadlines)

    Miscellaneous Topics

    • In the sierras where do you place a cottage?
    • Where do you get your 100 year flood line from? 
    • If you are doing a project in the San Joaquin valley, which is more important: water conservation or fault line study?
    • What are the legal light requirement for self-parking lot?
    • What info does a mechanical engineer need to be provided for coordination regarding water feature?
    • What info do you need to calculate the maximum span of wood beam?
    • Why steel is steel used to reinforce concrete?
    • How do you identify a sites landslide potential?
    • What method would you use to restore a concrete paving that is currently finished with a different color in a historic preservation project?
    I’ve also put together a blog to keep track of all the stuff I found when I was studying at  I’m putting together some practice quizzes and preparing a study guide that can help landscape architect candidates actually walk into the exam with confidence. 
    I hope this information really helps. Good luck preparing for the California Supplemental Exam for landscape architects. 

    My recent exam had a lot of native plants and plant groupings. Oaks, slopes, fire, erosion, etc….

    Know your irrigation — MAWA, ETWU,(MWELO)/ AB1881, CIMIS; backflow preventers, reclaimed/recycled water in irrigation.

    Know your Cal Green. Know your CEQA too and about EIRs and NDs.

    Know your ADA information — clearances, slopes, cross slopes, ramps, stairs, fence, guardrails, handrails, grates, etc….

    Know your agencies and what they do: local agencies and state, Fish and Game, US Army CoE, Coastal commission, Dept of fish and Game, USFWS…

    Title 24, Practice Act, limitations in what a landscape architect can and cannot detail.


    Personally, I believe that STATE supplemental EXAMS are (in my opinion)……1. Another source of revenue for the States.  2.  A form of “retraint of trade”. 

    Several years ago, I recall that The State of California had a VERY difficult LA exam.  And that the State of California Legislature considered that exam a form of “restraint of trade”, that if the LA Board didn’t revise the exam to make it “more reasonable”, that the State Legislature would abolish ALL Landscape Architecture licenses in The State of California.

    I haven’t taken this newer version of The California exam, so of course, I don’t have specific knowledge of how FAIR it is.

    The State of Florida has gone down this same path.  Florida has an EXTREMELY difficult supplemental exam.  There is no longer ANY receprocity in Florida.  I have spoken with a couple of my long time Landscape Architect friends who have taken the Florida exam – One told me it was like taking the BAR EXAM without ever having been to Law School – it’s that difficult. 

    I held an LA license in The State of Florida from 1978 through 1998.  I designed many projects in Florida during that time period.  Even though I went before the State Board in an effort to get reinstated (and at the time, I was license in 13 other States), they denied my request…even though, also at the time, I had 28 yrs. of professional LA experience – more exp. than the 5 Florida Board members I was standing in front of.  The Florida test is supposed to determine “competency” to practice in The State of Florida – much like California’s test.

    But, I fully understand………..IF you wish to obtain an LA license in California or Florida… have to play by THEIR rules. 

    However, I still maintain that these “supplemental” State LA exams are a form of “restraint of trade”…and there are some very good Federal Laws that prohibit this activity.


    Interesting.  I just passed CA and found it to be confusing — at least in terms of what the focus was .  I’d say close to 25% of it was on water conservation through current irrigation regulations, where as I would have thought it would be geared more towards health, safety and welfare of the public — you know, landscape architect stuff. 

    I wouldn’t say it was prohibitive, but I would say the exams are inconsistent, and thus hypocritical.  I don’t know the scoring standards for the multiple choice exams, but I’m guessing that every question carries the same weight and is worth the same amount.  If it’s supposed to determine competency, then more critical aspects of knowledge should be weighed heavier than others.  Knowing the proper codes for guardrails means a lot more than knowing what your irrigation consultant uses CIMIS for.  But, in the graphic exams (LARE) things are weighed accordingly.  If you design a ramp with a 15% slope odds are you’re going to fail because “you fail to grasp the basic level competency required to be a practicing landscape architect,” but in the multiple choice exams you can get the CIMIS question right and miss the slope question by a mile and it probably still evens out in the middle. 

    That being said, I’d say it was still difficult.  I’m not sure it’s gotten easier, if anything it’s gotten more difficult.  My CA predecessors were blessed with no exam for awhile, and then it was changed to a take-home, fill-in-the-blank-right-out-of-the-book exam — it was just a few years ago that they changed it to an actual exam.  And from that I’d say it’s probably a little more difficult today than it may have been in 2009 as they’ve revised. 

    Good luck to anyone pursuing licensure or preparing for the exam!


    Hello Daniel……….CONGRATS on passing The State of California LA Exam!!!  I know it MUST have been pretty difficult.

    Yes…..isn’t it interesting.  They give this LONG list of references to study for the exam…where they could probably come up with 10,000 various “muliple choice questions”….then, the 100 questions they ask you are on the “fringe” areas of Landscape Architecture. 

    I have been practicing Landscape Architecture for 35+ years (in 17 different states)….and have NEVER designed an irrigation system.  Instead, I would rely on professional “licensed” Irrigation designers to handle that task for me and my clients…it wasn’t a problem. Though, I have given some direction to several irrigation designers – to ensure what type of coverage I was wanting…and I have personally inspected many irrigation systems.

    What I found that was ridiculous about the Florida exam…is that there are over 50 sources you need to study and be familiar with…which cover every possible aspect of the LA profession.  But, I have lived and practiced in Florida for years…and (with all due respect to LA’s in Florida)…I found that approx. 75% of the licensed LA’s in Florida ONLY provide “planting plans & irrigation plans”……period.  As you & I know, there is SO MUCH MORE involved in our profession!  So, the fact that Florida has this “over the top” State exam is NOT “reasonable”…’s like the State Board is posting a huge sign that says “If you’re an LA from another State, don’t come to Florida – we don’t want to SHARE” our design work….lol.  When I stood before the Florida LA Board requesting I be reinstated…I was not represented by an Attorney…I think “maybe” if I had been, I may have stood a chance.  At that meeting, the Board had a State Attorney respresenting them.  In addition, when I wrote to the Board 6 months later…still trying to see if I could get “reinstated”, they wrote to me and told me that they had NO RECORDS that show I was ever licensed in FLORIDA.  So, I e-mailed them a photograph of my Florida LA license that was issued to me in 1978. But, they wouldn’t make an exception (even in my case)…I’m sure they were afraid to set a precidence.  But, I can guarantee…NONE of the Florida Board Members had to take that exam!

    NOW, that you have your CALIFORNIA LA license….you should be able to get an LA license in almost ANY other State (via reciprocity).  I recommend that you apply for a CLARB Certificate. The CLARB board keeps a record of your University transcripts, letters of reference, ALL state licenses you have, etc.  They make it very easy to pick up other State LA licenses.  I believe there are ONLY a couple of other states who require ANY type of “supplemental exams”….I think NEVADA does.

    I would recommend that you be SURE to keep up with your REQUIRED “annual education courses”….I think every State requires them now (I’ve always done mine on-line)…..and keep GOOD records in case ANY State asks you for proof that you took those courses. 

    Best of Luck to You!


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