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Graphic Vignettes: Metaphorically Speaking

Solving a vignette is very similar to baking. Consider this. Each vignette is an item to bake. Building Section Bread, Mechanical & Electrical Plan Pie. Stair Design SoufflĂ©. Follow the recipe exactly and it'll be delicious. Seriously, stick with this for a minute. 


Think of it this way. The NCARB vignette practice software is like an ARE test kitchen and you are going to bake a graphic vignette. Let's say, a Building Layout Birthday Cake. NCARB gives you everything you need!



Most cakes have the same fundamental ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs. So does the Building Layout vignette; doors, windows, stairs, corridors, an elevator, bathrooms, a high space with two exits, a view, etc.



Cakes are made by carefully following a recipe. Likewise, the Building Layout vignette is solved by following NCARB's program. The view is to the north, face main entrance to the west, R must be near L, direct access from LR to MP, etc.



Does the recipe call for nuts? How many eggs? What temperature oven? How long should it bake?
To solve any vignette correctly, use NCARB's ingredients and follow their recipe.



A few variations in the ingredients and the recipe results in a very different kind of cake. 

Here's the key. On test day NCARB won't ask you to bake them a Building Layout Birthday Cake. They'll ask you to bake them a Building Layout Fruit Cake, Coffee Cake, Bundt Cake, or whatever. No sweat! The fundamentals are the same. You know you're going to bake a cake.

Same thing with Building Section Bread. Rye, Pumpernickel, or Pita? No matter. You know you're going to bake some bread.




The NALSA Practice Vignettes work the same way. Use NCARB's kitchen, tools and ingredients, but follow the NALSA recipe. With practice, you will learn how to follow any recipe with delicious results.

You get the idea. Check out the NALSA ARE Blog posts for more tips and insight.


Now, get into the kitchen!

ARE Nameophone Challenge

ARE Nameophone Challenge WIN a FREE NALSA Division Package and Archiflash iPhone/iPad App.

Here's a fun distraction from studying. It's called "The Nameophone Game," and at NALSA, we're obsessed with it. A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. A Nameophone is just like a homophone, but with names. Think of a person's name that means something else. Here are a few classics:

Paige Turner
Bill Board
Justin Time


You get the idea. Now, how does this relate to the ARE? It doesn't, really. But we've come up with a few architecture and construction related nameophones:

Belle Tower
Millie Meter
Russ T. Nail
Kerry Attid
Paulie Urethane
Matt Finnish
Archie Texture - Yeah, it's a stretch...


It's addicting. Send your best architecture-related nameophones to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . On May 5th, 2016, the NALSA crew will vote for our favorite. If you're the winner, we'll set you up with the NALSA Division Package of your choice, and an Archiflash iPhone/iPad app for free! Spread the word.

UPDATED: What You Need To Know About ARE 5.0 NOW

After attending the NCARB ARE Test Prep Provider Conference in March 2016, we have a lot to share. We did our best to consolidate the top takeaways of our 2-day experience into one exciting blog post. We'll all embrace ARE 5.0 eventually, but first...


1 - Test in ARE 4.0.

  • If you are currently testing in ARE 4.0, continue, no additional action is necessary.
  • If you haven't started testing, become eligible to test in 4.0 before 5.0 launches on November 1, 2016. You don't have to take a 4.0 exam before 5.0 launches, you just need your eligibility to test prior to the launch of 5.0. Then you have the choice of self-transitioning at any time until June 2018.
  • Only candidates who gain eligibility to test after 5.0 launches are required to test in 5.0.


2 - NCARB has stated that candidates will like ARE 5.0 because there are no vignettes and only 6 divisions, but we're not convinced that the difference is so cut and dry.

  • In the world of ARE 4.0, candidates are familiar with the two distinct sections. First, multiple choice questions that test what you remember about a specific topic at varying degrees of difficulty. Second, graphic vignettes which are well understood, and the only part of ARE 4.0 that can be practiced and completed successfully with a high degree of certainty (provided that you have the proper study tools). ARE 5.0 introduces a new style of questioning. NCARB is expecting candidates to have an assumed base level of knowledge in order to answer questions at a higher level of cognitive complexity.


Here is a simplified example.

ARE 4.0: On a standard traffic light, what three colors are represented?

A. Red, blue, orange

B. Red, yellow, blue

C. Red, yellow, green           ANSWER

D. Red, blue, green 

Rationale: Only knowledge of the facts is required to answer correctly. No understanding of traffic light functionality is necessary.


ARE 5.0: On a standard traffic light at a four-way intersection, the red lights are flashing in all directions. Two drivers meet at the intersection. Which of the following is the correct scenario?

A. The driver on the left must yield right-of-way to the driver on the right.

B. The driver second to arrive at the intersection must yield to the first driver.

C. If the drivers arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left must yield.

D. If the drivers arrive simultaneously from opposite directions, the driver turning left must yield.           ANSWER

Rationale: A judgment or determination regarding a set of criteria must be made to answer correctly. Answer D is true in all cases.

A. The driver on the left must yield right-of-way to the driver on the right. This is true, but is required only if they arrive simultaneously, are perpendicular to one another, they will cross paths, or they want to go the same direction.
B. The driver second to arrive at the intersection must yield to the first driver. This is true, but is required only if they are perpendicular to one another, will cross paths or if they both want to go the same direction.
C. If the drivers arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left must yield. This is true unless the drivers arrive from opposite directions.


  • Because of the associated resource material required to answer the questions, Case Studies have the potential to eat up a significant amount of your testing time, but all questions on the exam are weighted equally. You don't get more points for answering one of the Case Study questions correctly vs. answering a Hot Spot question correctly. Take a look at NCARB's Case Study Question Type Video, if you haven't already. Additionally, any of the ARE 5.0 questions types, including Hot Spots and Drag and Place, may be used in Case Studies.
  • Two of the new ARE 5.0 divisions, Practice Management and Project Management, cover topics that are barely touched on in 4.0. For example, Practice Management will require knowledge about topics such as Profit & Loss, Revenue/Expenses, Payroll, Employment Laws, Business Planning, and Negotiating Contracts.
  • For those candidates planning to Finish in Five by taking PPP, CDS and SPD in 4.0, the two ARE 5.0 transition divisions are the biggest and potentially the most difficult. Project Planning & Design and Project Development & Documentation are each composed of 120 items and cover information from all but one 4.0 division. Please consider this if you're planning to transition.


3 - If you insist on taking ARE 5.0, wait 6 months.

  • For the first few months, it will take longer for candidates to receive results. NCARB needs a certain number of candidates to test before they can say with certainty what score constitutes a PASS. Why be a guinea pig?
  • Until ARE 5.0 is finalized and vetted, study material availability will not be comprehensive.
  • Give yourself time to fail. The 60-day retake rule still applies, and your rolling clock remains in effect throughout this transition.



We've fielded a number of ARE 5.0 questions from confused candidates. If this blog post hasn't cleared things up for you, PLEASE This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We have a pretty good grasp of the new exam.

Stay tuned. As we learn more, we'll share ASAP.

ARE 5.0 Self-Transition vs. Forced Transition - Five Facts

SelfTransitionARE 5.0 is launching at the end of the year. We've compiled five facts to help you understand your options after the new exam begins.


  • If you're currently taking ARE 4.0, even if you haven't passed any divisions, you can continue to test under the ARE 4.0 format until June of 2018.
  • After the introduction of ARE 5.0 in late 2016, you have the option to self-transition to ARE 5.0.
  • If you do not complete ARE 4.0 by June of 2018, you will be forced to transition to the ARE 5.0 format.
  • If you become eligible to test after the introduction of ARE 5.0, you must continue testing under the ARE 5.0 format.
  • Once you self-transition or are forced to transition to the ARE 5.0 format, you cannot switch back to ARE 4.0.

In light of these five facts, consider this. The ARE 4.0 path is well traveled. The multiple choice question types are straightforward. The vignettes especially, are thoroughly understood, and with practice they can be solved successfully every time. While ARE 5.0 has fewer divisions and fewer overall testing hours, how candidates will fare under the new format is still a mystery. Of course, passing the current ARE isn't a sure thing, but you know what to expect.

Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that your rolling clock still applies.

Are you planning to self-transition to ARE 5.0? Our Transition Trio provides all the study tools you need to pass PPP, SPD, and CDS at a great price.

Interior Layout - Understanding Furniture Access Requirements

"The furniture layout must allow for reasonable clearances and access to all of the furniture elements."

Based on the NCARB requirement for a 36" passageway, we understand this to mean that each piece of furniture must be accessible via a 36" clear access aisle.

The most efficient and effective way to verify that your solution has a 36" aisle is by checking it with a 36" 'sketch' circle. However, this is where many candidates make a mistake. They use a 'sketch' circle to establish the distance between two elements, but forget to provide a clear path to those elements.

IL Path Problem



The Problem

In this example, the candidate has not provided a clear path to all of the furniture.

Although each piece has a 36" clear area in front of it, the coffee table, the large bookcase, and the three chairs on the east side of the conference table are effectively inaccessible.

Because the door on the east wall and the chair at the north end of the conference table are blocking the access aisle, the furniture in the northeast corner of the room is not accessible, i.e. there is no 36" clear access aisle.

Remove the impediment of the door, for example, and the access aisle is restored.





IL Path Strategy


The Strategy

Using a 36" 'sketch' circle to measure the distance between two elements is only part of the process.

Consider the 'sketch' circle to be a moving object, much like a big Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. The Roomba must be able to get to all of the furniture, thereby establishing a path. If it cannot squeeze between two elements, then a 36" clear access aisle has not been provided.

Draw a 36" diameter 'sketch' circle anywhere on the screen. With the circle still connected to your cursor, "drive" the circle around on the plan (like a Roomba); through the door, around the table, between pieces of furniture. If access to something is blocked, you'll need to make some adjustments.






For more information on the Interior Layout vignette, check out our helpful NCARB Codes Illustrated documents in your NALSA Account under Free Stuff.
Don't have a NALSA account yet? Click here.

NALSA's Vignette Package for the Schematic Design division is, hands-down, the best way to prepare for this ARE division.



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