ARE SPD: Exam Prep, Quiz & Resources

are spd

If you’re preparing for the Architecture Registration Exam 4.0 Site Planning & Design (ARE SPD) this is your one stop shop.  While studying for the exam, a huge hassle was finding all the right resources.  (Believe it or not, there’s a lot of crappy info out there).  This is a place you can come to find a list of resources for the exam.  If you have any additional resources, leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the list.

First?  A quiz for you to assess where you’re currently at.  The 25 question quiz below randomly selects questions from a library.  So every time you take the quiz, it will be different.  You can use the quiz to gauge where you’re at or use it as a study tool itself.  If you do poorly, you might want to look into the resources below. Without further adieu…  Good luck!

Find this quiz helpful? Checkout the premium SPD mock exam bundle!

SPD  Mock Exam Bundle

As I come across additional resources for the Construction Documents & Services exam I will add them below  Note that these are prep for ARE 4.0.  The resources here will be valid until 2018 when ARE 5.0 is implemented.

ARE SPD Books & Literature

ARE Exam Prep SPD

To help guide you I’ve located [$] below for any links that lead to paid resources.
[$] means less than $50
[$$]  means between $50 and $100
[$$$] means over $100

General Exam Resources
Kaplan: Site Planning & Design Study Guide
 [$$] – I like this Kaplan study guide because it comes with a lot of illustrations to help drive the points home.  Each chapter has a mini quiz review at the end which is helpful for assessing if you learned and retained the material.
Kaplan: Site Planning & Design Q&A [$] – This is designed to help with the multiple choice portion of the exam.  It’s about 60 questions.  In the back of the book it explains the answers.  It’s certainly a decent way to measure how prepared you are for the exam.
Ballast: ARE Review Manual [$$$] – This is a giant 800 page book with all of the sections of the exam. It’s pricey, but it takes a very indepth and comprehensive look into each of the sections.  It’s VERY thorough but is sometimes hard to get through.  The ARE SPD portion  is in section 3. [Also recommended for: BS, BDCSCDSPPPSD, SS] Ballast: Site Planning and Design: ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exam [$$] – I’ve heard that this is a big help in passing the multiple choice portion of the exam.
How to Pass the ARE [$] – Ebook or Audiobook – If you’re starting to go through the ARE this is a great resource for you to get in the right mindset.  It doesn’t go over exam specifics (aka it’s not a study resource), but it will help you know what to expect and give you strategies for overcoming hurdles.

NCARB Recommended References for the ARE SPD
The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice [$$$] – An up-to-date guide on the aspects of architectural practice. [Also recommended for: BDCSCDSPPP] Architectural Graphic Standards [$$$] – This book is really just amazing to have as an architect.  It has so much useful information in it and 99% of it is just architectural drawings. [Also recommended for: BS, BDCSPPPSD, SS] Cracking the Codes: An Architect’s Guide to Building Regulations [$$] – This book attempts to break down some of the more mundane parts of architecture like code into more bite-sized bits.  Since code is sprinkled throughout the exam.  This might be a good resource to invest in.
Dictionary of Architecture and Construction [$$] – Sometimes the most difficult part about architecture is learning the lingo.  This dictionary is an awesome guide to everything lingo-related. [Also recommended for: BDCS] Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards [$$] – Very helpful for landscape architects.  It’s a useful guide for architects to have so that they understand, comprehend, and can create their own landscape drawings.
Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings [$$$] – A great resource for understanding systems and electricity in buildings. [Also recommended for: BS] Site Engineering for Landscape Architects [$$] – The “leading texture used in site engineering, planning and construction courses.”
Site Planning, Third Edition [$$] – The “only comprehensive source of information on all the principal activities and concerns of arranging the outdoor physical environment.”
Site Planning & Design Handbook [$$] – This book doesn’t have raving reviews but it’s on NCARB’s list… so here it is.
Sustainable Construction: Green Building Design and Delivery [$$] – “This book is a must for the builder/owner and manager looking to take advantage of the opportunities in this rapidly evolving field.”  It’s also a good investment for the anyone pursing architecture licensure since sustainable principles are sprinkled throughout all of the Architecture Registration Exams.

Video Playlist on ARE SPD

Online Resources & Downloads for the ARE Site Planning & Design Exam

ARE SPD ExamNCARB: SPD Exam Guide – Directly from the source.  A brief overview of the test and what to expect from the multiple choice and vignettes.
Jenny’s Notes –  Pretty comprehensive 43 pages of notes for the exam.
Site Design Vignette: Trees & Sun – Use of trees and sun explained.
Site Design Vignette: Tips – Tips to help pass the site design vignette
Dan’s Guide to Passing the Site Design Vignette – Dan touts that his method will allow you to “quickly and accurately create a site planning solution that will pass.”
Site Grading Vignette: Swales – Swales can be a bit tricky at first.  Here’s a diagram to help you understand them.
Site Grading Vignette: Explained Passing Solution – An explained solution to the site grading vignette.
NALSA Vignette Tips – NALSA explains that even though the vignettes shown in NCARBs exam guides are passing, they are not “ideal”.  Meaning… they may still contain errors.  This site has some really great tips I didn’t realize before reading it.
SBYRKTCT’s Help & Alternate Practice Vignette’s -There are a bunch of resources here.  I love the vignette tips & it’s a great place to get notes.
Black Specs SPD Video Course – These videos are helpful at getting a general feel for the test but I wouldn’t solely rely on them to pass the exam. At ±$100/mo I’m not sure it’s worth the money, but it’s an option.
Architect Exam Prep: SPD – I purchased this course after reading someone say on AREcoach that they felt that only 10% of the multiple choice questions that had on the exam were covered in Ballast & Kaplan.  Aside from some of the annoying things in the audio (like the 30 second long intro for each audio), it’s helpful reinforcement if you have a long commute.  Although some of the material is just paraphrased from Ballast and Kaplan.
Post your practice vignettes to AREcoachNCARB’s Google Plus page, or .

Have any additional resources for the ARE SPD?  Leave them in the comments below!


  1. Mike January 4, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Hi Tony,

    I need to take 5.0 PPD & PDD. Do you plan on posting notes such as “Caroline’s Notes” that you had posted for the various 4.0 exams for either of those sections? I found those notes to be some of the best resources in studying for the 4.0 sections. If so any idea when? Thanks

  2. Stephen October 17, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Hi Tony,
    Any updates on the SS exam ? If there’s an expected release date ? Thanks

  3. DesignerHacks October 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm #


    We are releasing practice exams for the SS exam later this fall.


  4. Paige October 4, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Will you have SS questions on here at some point?

  5. Daniel September 9, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Great post, very helpful with the lists of suggested materials, I just passed CDs in July and am taking PPP in November so I definitely needed the list.

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