List of recommended study materials:

- Kaplan 2009 (I used 2009, later versions are the same with new cover art) [Note: do not use their vignette info]
- Ballast practice exams
- Fundamentals of Building Construction (Second Edition or later) by Edward Allen
- Building Construction Illustrated (Third Edition or later) by Francis D.K. Ching
- Architectural Graphic Standards (10th Edition or later)
(Note: eBay is also a good way to find cheaper books... and to sell them off when you're done.)

- Historic Preservation: "Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings"
     See link below:

- ArchiFlash cards ***Awesome resource*** (Mine were from the 3.1 exam)
- AIA contracts
- post your vignettes for review on


Creating Defensible Space, by Oscar Newman  (published by HUD):


Links for History prep:


Lugnut's Accessible Ramp vignette FAQ (from

Q.. The code says that rails can extend into the required ramp or stair width up to 4”. Does that apply to both sides (4” total) or each side (8” total).
A. This applies to both sides for a total of 8” into the required width….UNLESS the program specifies a clear width (unlikely).

Q. The drawing shows a pair of 3’ existing exit doors. Do I have to match these with new doors?
A. No. Existing exit double doors do not require double doors upstream. This vignette does not include calculating egress width, and we have no way of knowing why there are double doors in place. It could be just for aesthetics. IF you have the space and will sleep better while waiting for your exam results, adding the extra door will not hurt you, IMO. Note matching the existing doors with new ones is impossible in the 4.0 practice vignette.

Q. Regarding the new door, the code says to provide a min. 32” clear opening. Does that mean I can use a 32” door?
A. No. The key word is “clear”. Doors have thickness and hardware. Frames have stops. To get a 32” clear opening, you need a 36” door. If you draw a pair of doors, at least one of them must be a 36” door or larger.

Q. There is only one command for drawing rails. Do I draw handrails and guardrails separately?
A. No. For this software they are the same element.

Q. How do I get rails to “clean up” or “join” where they intersect/meet?
A. You don’t. The program isn’t that sophisticated. Make sure they at least touch or overlap. Allowing centerlines of rails to meet seems to work just fine.

Q. Does the practice software have a timer like the real exam?
A. No.

Common Mistakes:
1. Incorrect landing heights. These elevations are used to calculate the slope of the ramp. You can easily fail because of an incorrect elevation on the landing(s).
2. Missing hand/guard rails. The code allows you to omit a hand rail on a ramp of 6” in height or less. There is no exception for guard rails. If one side is open (to a fall), you must provide the rail anyway.
3. Ramp/stair/rail that reduces the egress width of the existing corridor. NEVER DO THIS. Do not block off any part of the existing exit corridor. By code, placing the new required door and wall does not reduce the egress width of the corridor. Cutting it off with a ramp, stair or rail will.
4. Rails against walls. Leave a gap 2”+/- so that a person has the ability to grip the rail. Do the same on the open sides for consistency. TIP for drawing rail extensions: Instead of drawing sketch elements to find the min 12” extension, just draw them to the end of the ramp/stair. Note the length of the rail at the bottom of the screen and then adjust them until they are 12” longer.
5. No need to draw 0" landings. NCARB knows where the floor is.


Lugnut's Stair Design vignette "FAQ" (from

1. Always practice with the cut-stair. Not learning to use the cut-stair will not adequately prepare you for the real exam. You cannot go wrong by using the cut-stair (correctly). Better to be prepared to use it and not need it than the other way around.

2. Show the cut-stair on both levels. It is not a matter of “what you can see” from a particular viewpoint. The cut-stair is a symbol that indicates “continued beyond”. Show it going up on the lower level, and show it going down on the upper level on the same flight of stairs. This is standard drafting convention…always has been even though some folks don’t follow it.

3. Stop handrails at the break-line in the cut-stair.


Check out the ERRORS page for additional info on the vignettes: