Section D?

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    Zach Watson

    So if I might ask, because I’m still in school, what is so difficult part about section D of the LARE exam?  I mean right now I’m in my Grading and Drainage class this semester and it doesn’t seem to be that difficult, maybe it’s because our class is taught by a civil engineer and we are doing numerous vignettes over the entire process that makes it seem not so daunting, but I always see people on here talking about how difficult section D is.  Thank you and good luck to those who are still waiting on their results and to those who are still taking it in the future.

    Jason T. Radice

    It may not seem difficult now, but give it a few years. It’s a skill many LAs don’t use a great deal (believe it or not) and you forget some of it. Then there is the whole test effect. You have very limited time, the environment is stressful, and, just like real life, a simple mistake can cascade into something where the solution does not work. Again, you have little time to fix it. Then there are the little details, such as terminating the lines, providing swales, and micrograding. You really have to know how they grade the section to perfect how you take the test. You must also ay strict attention to the requirements asked in the question, as well as the “code” they hand out with the exam. I think that is where most people lose credit, they don’t follow the requirements. I got lucky, I passed it the first time, but took the whole time period to finish it (and I do alot grading in practice!)

    Zach Watson

    Got ya, that makes sense, it’s just one of those things that I find interesting only because I only hear about section D and not any of the other sections of the LARE.

    Jordan Lockman

    Are you talking about section E the grading section or are you talking about section D the multiple choice Design-construction documentation section?

    Many people have problems with Section D the most difficult multiple choice section, but the pass rate is still pretty good 60% most of the time. Although it had a pretty bad number for Septembers test.
    The problem people have, may be the large amount of information and it is the longest of the three multiple choice tests. Some of the things tested are things that are different in different climates. It asks some questions about design details for making a deck well that is a little different here in my cold climate vs. California. It requires you to know things that often are only reference material for you. This is a test where it is good to know things from time savers and graphic standards.
    They tested on planting design, pipe sizing, what type of fasteners to use, what design details were correct, questions about practical built elements, etc. This test requires a good knowledge of how things actually get built and how to tell others the right way to build it. Some of the questions are a little tricky also. “Like what is the most important thing that affects …….?” that is a difficult question that is not very objective, since every option that they give you seem like they are good answers.

    Section E the grading test is really fairly simple from an academic point of view, but I failed it once even though I fully understood grading at the time. Why because I was rushed and made too many stupid mistakes. Didn’t add an extra contour line to make my pond deep enough, berm was not tall enough, didn’t design a small part of a swale to channel water correctly. I did problems like these on practice tests, but I just didn’t have the time to go over and check for silly little mistakes. Most people could pass this test that are taking it, but only a third of people taking it each time pass, because we just didn’t handle the time management and didn’t minimize the small mistakes that did us in. There are implicit and explicit requirements that you can miss while still having a pretty good solution shown. So sometimes you think you did alright but you missed something that is required in the reference guide or something that they directly asked for. There are usually like 10-15 requirements and you miss one or two critical things and you can fail an vignette. Critical things include depths, slopes, specific quantities that are asked for, etc. What is not critical is how pretty or truly functional it is.

    Zach Watson

    Ok thanks for the clarification Jordan, we have talked a little bit about the LARE but not in great detail so I got that one mixed up. 🙂 Now that I know what Section D is about I can totally understand why people struggle with it so much. I mean when it is a national test and each region has individual parameters they have to work within, and then also trying to understand how things a built in other regions can be a bit cumbersome, but I guess that is what you get when the US has so many different climatic zones and one test to cover all of them. Thanks again.

    Robin Welter

    I have to agree with Jason that in a few years, or when you get out of school into the reality of design, you’ll find it much more complicated. Rough grading and fine grading are two different animals, add in ADA issues and existing conditions that you have to tie into and it’s a complex web at times. Ask your prof to get into vertical curves because I’ve found those on a test. I feel grading is one of the most important things you are going to learn because you’ll be using it 80% of the time in your work and an L.A. that can grade is priceless for civil engineers. You’ll save your client time and yourself money on your projects.

    Tackle the test in sections from easiest to hardest, and I found that if you do quick sections that it helps give you an overall plan for your final design. Read the instructions for the requirements like Jason said, there are little tricks they add in especially having enough cover over a pipe.

    Scott Lebsack

    It seems like the Pass/Fail rates especially on this section is one of the points Landscape Architecture Licensing Boards use in an attempt to legitimize the profession. in order to get that rate low, there can be “tricks” used to catch and fail some test takers (example @ the end of this comment). Not to pass judgement, understanding/evaluating a given problem is important, but knowing what a grader is evaluating, and knowing the test must be read very closely are not something one might pick-up in any professional setting. Just like section C the test is a very different environment from actual practice.

    I was lucky enough to live in northern California when I began taking the LARE, and had the opportunity to attend Ray Freeman’s weekend long LARE Section E review course. I had a strong technical background and a lot of experience grading, but I believe it was the test prep course that put me over the top. The class instructors stressed the importance of thoroughly evaluating all of the language on the test and gave a lot of insight into exactly what the test might be asking graders to evaluate.

    All that said, I still imagine it would be nearly impossible for any graduate who began working in a firm with less emphasis on grading to pass without a lot of study and practice vignettes.

    Example… one vignette asked test takers to grade a parking area and adjacent ball field on a sloped hillside, a third element was a small detention pond with a throw away line that included the phrase “collect from all disturbed area” so rather than detaining the water from the parking lot which might be typical, as the ball field is permeable, this line meant that the detention pond had to be at the lowest corner of the project with swales along each side of the ball field and also that the bottom rim of the basin had to be at grade and the remainder of the basin entirely in cut… the phrase wan’t in the problem explanation, I believe it was a description placed under the name Detention Basin on the project legend. Luckily when reviewing my vignette I realized the importance of this phrase and had the time to adjust accordingly.

    Jeremy Greenhaw

    Its hard to say exactly what is so difficult about it, for some it may be the perception of the test. I think people talk it up a little, but grading can get tedious with real work experience-then the implicit and explicit direction for the LARE. Like Jason said I too (luckily) passed the first time but I do a ton of grading at work and it is in front of me all day on many projects. There is no question that it was a difficult test and I took every minute they gave to finish the exam. I literally was the last person in the room.

    A couple of things I remember: The thing that got me pressured on the exam was time management-as others have said. To me, knowing where I was in the stream of time during the test really helped. Take a clock and time yourself on a simple vignette you haven’t seen before and you will see what I mean. Getting the concept quickly-since I do alot of grading, maybe that helped with some of the processing time it takes to get your mind wrapped around the problem. I cant really say other than to practice and keep practicing with the vignettes and made up problems. This may help you get a quicker feel for how grading works conceptually. I did not take a special prep class for the grading portion but I have heard those may be helpful in getting you tuned into the ‘LARE code’ requirements.

    I remember that I only had real difficulty with one of the vignettes. Somehow I had transposed the grades for this vignette that just would not work and remember thinking “move on and come back to it.” That is what I did and I found the error immediately after coming back to it. After 4-5 hours straight your brain will be fried and you really have to start relying on your practicing of those vignettes. I think I was very tired and just got mixed up. It is an endurance test in some ways.

    I hope you are successful when your time comes to pass the test. Knowing how to do grading “quick and clean” has been one of the main things to open doors for me with engineering offices and other LA’s for employment.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    …. also, some people have a natural high aptitude in it and some people do not. It sounds like you (Zack) probably have a natural aptitude. The thing that concerns me is that you don’t mention that others in your class are struggling through the class. I took two different grading and drainage courses at two very different schools and worked as a TA in a third. In each case there was a sizable amount of people who were struggling including just as high a percentage of high achievers. These classes were all taught in a studio setting, so everyone knew who was struggling.

    Is everyone in your class finding it easy?

    Zach Watson

    Based upon the instructors comments during class as both her and the TAs walk around class and answer questions I would have to say that there are quite a few people that are struggling with the concepts (more than half the class). In last vignette we had to grade a proposed parking lot and then place the elevation of the storm drain’s rim, and invert out and invert in for a series of two storm drain pipes. There were many in my class that struggled with just knowing where to start with the assignment. I’m more than happy to help everyone that is willing to let me, and when I do, I let them work it out with a few guideline steps (you know the feed a man a fish theory). I guess I ask because a majority of the reason why I understand it is because of my experience of working for a firm for several years at the height of the market and so I assumed that with having gone through school and then moving on to work for a firm there wouldn’t be as many people that would struggle with, what I know now to be section E of the LARE.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA


    A lot of people struggle because of the left brain-right brain thing, but a lot that don’t sometimes get a bit lax on the graphic part by making liitle drafting errors. Make sure to stay very precise and don’t get cute trying to tie your contours back artfully (we can’t help it, we are designers). They don’t give you a lot of room to accomplish the solution, so if you add any flare it will probably leave you not enough room somewhere else and you might not notice that your slope is too steep or otherwise goes against the criteria. … when that happens late on a timed test you don’t have time to start over re-drafting it correctly.

    There are no points added or subtracted when you make it pretty, so avoid the temptation because it can displace area that you may wind up having to use.The tests that I took were generally crammed into the space so there was very little room on the page for graphic flexibility.

    Also, relax when you read the directions so you don’t misunderstand. Go back and read them again after you start just to make the connection between what you are doing and where you are going with it. Sometimes the directions are much clearer once you are emersed in the problem than beforehand.

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