ARE Structural Systems Seminars by David Thaddeus

Tips for studying for the Structural Systems Division of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE):  

  • Budget and schedule quality study time and minimize any distractions.  Do not answer your phone except for emergencies, and make sure that you do not keep checking your emails, Facebook, etc.. You must have the quality time to focus, even if the study sessions are short.
  • Set the exam date based on your available study schedule and do NOT postpone the test date.  This is a way to give the testing process priority over less important distractions, and a way to keep your studying organized and on schedule.
  • For this division of the ARE, it is critical to study as many topics as possible since the content area is very broad.  You should cover as many topics as you can without getting hung up on any one topic.  There is just too much ground cover.  Some years ago, there were 3 structural exams on the ARE: General Structures (GS), Lateral Forces (LF) and Longspan Structures (LS).  Now in ARE 4.0 there is only one: Structural Systems (SS). The topics covered in ARE 4.0 SS are still from the all three previous exam areas (GS, LF and LS).  SO it does not make sense to get hung up on one topic when there is so much content to cover.
  • Don’t sweat the math !  It is much better to understand the math conceptually rather than all the fine minutiae that the structural engineer must know.  We have to leave them with something to do!  In my experience, ARE 4.0 is much more about a qualitative understanding of structural behavior rather than a thorough quantitative understanding.
  • NCARB has published the percentage distribution of questions from the four content areas and can be reviewed here.   Study according to these approximate percentages: 40% of your study time should go to General Structures; 30% to Seismic Forces; 15% to Wind Forces and 15% to Lateral Forces General.
  • A basic understanding of materials and their performance is essential to successfully passing the SS division of the ARE. This should include a thorough understanding of the building materials concrete, steel, masonry and wood.  A good review of these topics from the Building Design and Construction Systems (BDCS) division of the ARE is imperative to understanding the response of structural systems.  In addition, an understanding of the properties of different soils is also strongly recommended.
  • The most productive preparation is to do as many Question and Answer as you have access to.  Time yourself on these and do not look at the answers as soon as you finish each question.  Instead, take thirty to sixty questions in one sitting allowing 90 seconds per question.  Use the onscreen calculator to do your mock exams instead of your favorite calculator. The onscreen calculator closely simulates the calculator you will find at (c:\Windows\Accessories\Calculator).  See a picture of the Windows Calculator with essential features highlighted here.
  • There is an onscreen Reference Tab for the Structural Systems exam.  It is important to review the list of formulas, tables and charts that are available during the exam.  You may preview a list of these here.
  • Prepare a list of common formulas and concepts that will be memorized before the exam and re-written at the test center before starting your exam. An example of such a list may be found here.

Tips for the Structural Systems Division of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) TEST DAY:

  • The duration for the Multiple Choice (MC) Section of SS is 3.5 Hours = 210 minutes. This ends up being approximately 90 seconds=1.5 minutes per question.  After the 3.5 Hours for the MC section you will get a 15 minute break after which you will return for the Structural Framing Vignette for one hour.  Make sure that you do not text or use your phone during the break.

As soon as you start the MC section of the test and the clock starts the countdown, take 30 seconds to one minutes to verify what is given in the onscreen Reference (see list here)

  • Get plenty of rest the night before the test.  Eat a snack / meal before going in to test. 
  • Empty your pockets and leave your valuables (including your watch) in the locker provided.  If you think that you may feel cold during the test center, keep your sweater or jacket on; otherwise leave it in the locker.  You are not allowed to shed or add layers once the exam begins.  Many Prometrics testing centers will “wand” you before you sit down at the terminal to test, so be mentally prepared for that.
  • You will need your Authorization To Test (ATT) letter and your Driver’s License.  These are the only items in addition to the locker keys that you are allowed to have when you check-in.
  • You are not allowed to bring your personal calculator to the exam.  There will be an onscreen calculator.
  • You will be given two pencils and four blank sheets of paper for personal notes that will not be graded.  You will have to submit these sheets if you need additional blank pages for additional scratch work.
  • Before starting the actual exam write down the information that you have memorized while preparing for the exam.  This way you do not need to remember it while under the pressure of the test itself.  You will likely not need any of the formulas you have written down, it is just like comfort food, it’s there if you need it.
  • Read each question carefully.  You should not leave any questions unanswered.  If you have fully read a question and thought some about it, you must choose an answer, even if you are clueless!  Any time you have invested in reading the question entirely must not be left blank.  Mark the questions you are unsure of and return to them at the end.
  • Read the math questions, if you think you know what to do and it appears that the question does not involve too many steps, do not skip the problem just because it is math based.  If a math based question appears to be involved, then by all means skip it and come back to it and give it the time it needs.  If the question is quantitative and Fill in the Blank (FiB), it may still be easy and require attention to units, do not skip those!
  • For the multiple choice type questions, read the question very carefully.  Analyze the language carefully.  Try to eliminate choices before committing to an answer; unless the answer is VERY obvious to you.
  • For the multiple choice type questions, be careful with answer choices that are absolute and that leave no room for exceptions.  Answers that should raise a flag of concern are ones which may include words such as: “never”, “always”, “all”, “ensures”, “guarantees”, ”identical”, “certainly”, “precisely”, “will”, “shall”, “must” etc…. Safer and more qualified choices include words such as “some”, “sometimes”, “often”, “may” instead of “will”, “approximately”, “some”, “many” or “few” instead of “exactly”; etc… Definitive words are less likely to be correct than other options that leave some room for exceptions.
  • Read language carefully for negatively phrased questions and remember that two negatives do cancel out and may be read as a positive.  For example:

Winds don’t often blow as ships desire  is the same as   Winds often blow as ships don’t desire. But,

Winds don’t blow often as ships don’t desire   may be read more directly as

Winds don’tblow often as ships don’t desire   when the two NEGATIVES are crossed out it reads as

Winds blow often as ships desire

ARE Tips for Structural Systems LIVE | Face to Face Seminar with David Thaddeus:

  • Review the general studying tips listed HERE (LINK TO PAGE 1) and to general testing tips HERE (LINK TO PAGE 2) 
  • Pre-Seminar Preparation:
    • If you have not taken the BD/CS division of the ARE; or if you have taken it longer than 6 months before taking the LIVE/ face to faceseminar, it may help to review the following topics from that exam.  Focus your review on the terminology & structural properties of these building materials & systems.
      • Concrete
      • Steel
      • Soils & Foundations
      • Masonry
      • Wood
      • Read chapters 4, 5, 8 & 9 from FEMA 454 (add link)
      • Read buildings @ risk (B@R)  (add link) (Links to these references may also be found in the email you receive from the sponsor)
  • The live/ face to face seminar is very long & consists of over 30 hours of instruction in 3 long days ( 8:00 am – 7:00 pm). It is not an ideal format, but over20 years of teaching this material to ARE candidates, I have found this to be the optimum format to deliver 3 semesters of structures in 3 days. So, make sure you get plenty of rest before the seminar & bring some TYLENOL!
  • Always take notes since that will keep you engaged in the seminar (and awake too)

The sponsor will provide hard copies of the seminar workbook for you. I strongly recommend that you print your own color copy of the Workbook KEY (NOT provided by sponsor). Please see the email message you receive(d) from the sponsor. Most documents that I will project during the seminar may be found in the seminar handouts. I will be filling out the worksheets LIVE during the seminar. You can take notes from scratch on a blank copy of the Workbook that will be provided by the sponsor at the beginning of the seminar, or you may choose to follow along in the Workbook KEY and add notes to the KEY, as you deem necessary.

  • Handouts:  At the commencement of the seminar, the sponsor will provide you with the following hard copy handouts: (all handouts are 8 ½ x 11 B& W copies except for the Workbook that is 11 x 17 B&W
  1. Workbook: An 11 x 17 document with background images & problems to take notes on.
  2. Reference: A document with tables & charts from miscellaneous sources
  3. Power Point Slides: Copies of images & animations used during the seminar
  4. Miscellaneous: These are loose handouts that include a list of study references, summary description of the divisions of the ARE with pass rates (1998 – present).
  5. Workbook KEY: Not provided by sponsor, but strongly recommended as a color printed 11 x 17 copy. Workbook KEY (see email from sponsor to download a copy)


  1. Vignette: Guidelines & tips for passing the structural framing vignette component of the structural systems division
  • Take advantage of the LIVE | Face to Face format by participating, asking questions & answering questions during the seminar. This is especially important during the mock exam segments of the seminar; this is when candidates learn the most. Hearing how candidates (mis)understand the questions is invaluable. The hardest issue about the questions is “where to start” and how to eliminate incorrect answers. Besides understanding & digesting all the information provided during the seminar, the mock exams best simulate the actual testing experience.