This is a new series featuring candidates’ experiences with preparing for and taking the California Supplemental Exam.

Well I completely panicked at the beginning. I couldn’t answer the first two questions at all. I started to hyperventilate.

I’m originally from the UK and I’m based in Portland, Oregon where I am one of the owners of a 50-person firm that works across the Western US – thus the need to become licensed in California.  After a fair bit of procrastination I decided the only way to kick-start my CSE prep was going to be signing up for a seminar; so I signed up for David’s “Whole Enchilada” fully intending to work through all the material prior to the seminar.

I found myself in Oakland in February having managed to print out the study guide and download the audio guide…. but I hadn’t cracked a single page or listened to a single pod cast.  And I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. So I was feeling a bit panicky at the beginning of the seminar as there were several candidates who were ready to take the exam and they clearly knew their stuff.

studyingBut it turned out there were others like me who were just getting started.  And by the end of a fairly grueling but fascinating day I was feeling much calmer about what lay ahead – David did a fantastic job of outlining the five sections and reviewing many key points.

So I decided to do something fairly ridiculous and challenge myself publicly to pass the test within a month.

I signed up for the test as I travelled back to Portland and started studying on the flight home.  And this was my basic approach to preparing to take the test:

  • I read through all the material twice, carefully.
  • I then read through each category in turn and took the practice test for that section and the entire 125 question test without commentary.
  • I did each of the three project scenario practice tests, spacing them out as I studied so that one was at the start, one mid-way and one at the end of my study effort
  • I listened to some but not all of the audio guide as I focused on my areas of weakness.
  • I returned to the study guide and focused on my areas of weakness (exposed by those practice tests) and really dug into the links for these areas to better understand the background material.
  • I worked intensely at the beginning about 2-3 hours a day during the week and probably 12 or so hours each weekend.  The final week I relaxed and didn’t work the last weekend, and cut back on the daily hours.

Glass-of-WaterBecause I’ve been practicing architecture for over 20 years and because my experience includes a lot of contract administration and a lot of pre-design work, much of Categories I, III and IV were fairly straightforward for me. As an out-of-state architect what I really needed to learn first the first time was the California-specific information in Categories IIA and IIB – CEQA, the Coastal Commission, Lien laws, State statutes, and State, regional and local agencies and all that good stuff.  And so this is where I spent much of my time.  I also brushed up on my AIA contracts knowledge.

I took the ARE a long time ago – in its early days as a computerized test.  That was the first time in my life that I’d taken a serious multiple choice test rather than one you might find in CosmoAnd I HATE multiple choice tests…. I have a sort of panic reaction as I read through the possible answers because often they all seem reasonable.  And so taking David’s OMCES practice test was really key for me.

And exam day?  Well I completely panicked at the beginning.  I couldn’t answer the first two questions at all.  I started to hyperventilate.  And then I just pushed through it… I managed to finish all the questions within time, and when I got back to the first two questions they were FINE – I wasn’t reading them carefully or calmly and when I did they become perfectly manageable.

I even had time to use the “comment” button every now and then – if something seemed particularly confusing or ambiguous I explained why I had made my particular choice.

vintage_california_postcard-The second part of the test was more relaxed, time-wise.  I left the room with time to spare having reviewed my answers carefully.  And I expected to have to wait 30 days for my results (that was what I’d been told on arrival at the testing center) so it was unbelievably fantastic to hear the proctor say, “congratulations – you passed!”…I almost hugged her. Such a relief – and thank you David for the incredibly useful package that you’ve put together.  For me, the combination of the study material AND the seminar was perfect.  I set myself a pretty crazy goal – passing the test within a month of starting to study.  All I can say now is “thank you”.  And “phew!”

Becca’s 5 Tips for preparing for the CSE

  1. Set deadlines – schedule the test, schedule the seminar, and don’t change the dates unless there’s an earthquake
  2. Read through everything, start to finish, to figure out what you don’t know.  And then focus your study efforts on what you don’t know, using the links in the study guide to delve deeper into the material
  3. Use the flashcards to test your knowledge as you progress… the OMCES till you think you know your stuff.  This keeps the practice tests as real as possible
  4. Test day:  I recommend being sober.  And hydrated.  And rested.  I also recommend breathing – seriously!  A few deep breaths can do wonders to settle nerves and help you focus
  5. Motivate yourself by fantasizing about what you’re going to do with all the extra time you’ll have after you’ve passed the CSE.  I’ll finally have time to write that novel……

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Would you like to submit your OWN story for the CSE Blog? Email me for details.

If you enjoyed Becca’s story, please leave a comment below. Do you relate to her experience?