The most important thing I did for this exam was post my vignette solutions for critique on

Find someone who has passed the 4.0 exam to review your vignettes, or post on

If you are working full time, two weeks of after work study should be good enough.

You need two things for the SD exam: familiarity with the NCARB drafting program, and a planned approach before walking in the testing center door.

The ALTERNATE VIGNETTE FILES are accessible via the links below... scroll down...  Enjoy!

Interior Layout vignette tips:

My quick (and abbreviated) step-by-step process:

- Place the RBO tag... easy to forget... do this first with a 48" CFA sketch square at the entry door.

- Draw a bunch of each of these off to the side: 48" x 48" sketch squares (push-side door CFAs), 54" x 60" rectangles (pull-side door CFAs), 36" diameter circles (clearance checking around furniture) and 60" diameter circles (one per room).
- I usually start with building the LCR around the conf table.
- You'll roughly know each space location based on window requirements.
- Set up your CR as compactly as possible.
- For offices, IMO, the most efficient placement of exec desks is w/ one side against a wall & backed up to a wall behind (36" to back of desk).
- Then place your door CFAs (no need to place actual doors until the end because they disappear if you shift the wall).
- Then fill in offices w/ misc furniture.
- Then place RBO furniture in space left over.

- Then place your doors.  

            Door Note #1: doors swing into rooms, not into the RBO

            Door Note #2: give at least one click for wall space at the hinge side jamb

- Don't be afraid to use 36" wide rectangles or the measure tool to verify tight clearances.

My best tip for the IL vignette:

Don't rotate any piece of furniture in increments less than 90 degrees... it's generally unnecessary, it wastes precious exam time and it could inadvertently cause an avoidable mistake.

Timing suggestion:

Do the NCARB practice vignette without timing yourself.  (Make sure to post it for review.)  Since the alts are arguably more complicated than what you'll experience in the exam room, don't bother timing yourself on them either. Work them until you've gotten all of the requirements & clearances straight.   (Make sure to post them for review.)  Then go back and time yourself on the NCARB practice program until you can finish it in around 40-45 minutes.

Question: Can the 60" turning radius overlap the doorswing? ****

Here is the logical answer from the forum that for years never seemed to fail anyone (including myself):

- Yes, it can.  Though it cannot overlap the door leaf as shown in the fixed, 90 degree open position.

- The logic: wheelchairs are allowed to turn around in this area when the door is open (IBC & ADA included).  

Here is the official NCARB answer that was recently published... a year before the 4.0 exams become obsolete, go figure...

"No, the door should be able to complete its full range of motion without impacting the necessary clear turning radius of a wheelchair. The clear turning radius can overlap other areas of the clear floor area at doors but should not interfere with the door swing."

In most instances, the scoring computer will be able to find another 60" clear circle of clear space somewhere in the room other than at the sketch circle your drew.  The tight space of the CR is probably where you'll need to be careful.

Min. clearance needed for exec desk:
- 36" from edge of desk to wall
- Provide 36" from back of chair if there is furniture directly behind and facing the chair or if there is furniture beyond the desk that requires access past the chair

Front of exec desk:

- The curved front suggests that it should not directly face a wall or have furniture back up to it
- There is no evidence to suggest that the full front of the desk requires 36" clear

[ *** Note: NCARB has recently stated that they recommend providing 18" clear across the front of the exec desk. ]

Min. clearance needed for conf table:
- Long sides: 36" from back of middle chair to wall (or furniture)
- One short side: 36" from back of chair to wall (or furniture)
- Opposite short side: 36" from table to wall (or 36" from back of chair to furniture)

Min. clearance for 90 degree T44 (aka Table For Four): 

(as relating to NE corner of room, revise directions as necessary per location)

- 36" from table to north wall
- 36" from table to east wall
- 36" clear from back of south chair
- 36" clear from back of west chair
- If there is furniture (with a side that faces the T44 and requires access) behind the north or east chairs, there will need to be 36" from the back of those chairs to the face of said furniture.

A graphic depicting T44 configurations, taken from the areforum, can be found here:

Clarification on the "sound design logic" of corner coffee tables:

a) two chairs flanking a coffee table in a corner is okay because sitting in the chairs provides access
b) one chair and one bookcase/cabinet flanking a coffee table in a corner is okay because sitting in the one chair provides access
c) two bookcases/cabinets flanking a coffee table in a corner is not okay because there is no direct access to the table... solution: when not providing flanking chairs, leave one side of the coffee table clear with 36" for access

Clarification on "clear view from secretary desk":
From the program:
"The configuration and furniture layout of this space must allow a clear view of the suite's main entrance door from a secretarial desk."
If you aim for the narrowest possible definition, you should face the desk towards the entry door, without any walls obstructing the view [no heights for furniture are given, so it's generally accepted that they don't block views, though you may feel free to decide otherwise]. It's logical that the secretary can turn his/her head to see the door, so facing the desk directly at the door isn't absolutely necessary. Since we assume throughout the vignette that furniture does not move, we should assume a head turn of no more than 90 degrees.

Clarification on "posture chairs" in the IL alternates:
Yes, the alternate was made up by a forum member.
No, the alternate program does not specifically state that posture chairs and drafting tables (i.e. work tables) do in fact "go together."
Remember this statement and you cannot go wrong on the exam: Separately inserted furniture requires its own clearance.
You should provide 36" clear in front of the posture chairs and 36" clear in front of one long side of the drafting tables / work tables.

Clarification of 60" furniture clearance suggestions:
60" is not required in front of any particular piece of furniture.
NCARB requires 36" clear with one 60" turning circle anywhere in each room.
60" clear at the copier and/or worktables was a suggestion by the late Prof. Dorf who believed that you should provide convenience space for wheelchair users. No such requirement is in the NCARB program. This vignette will not be built. ADA does not govern here, only the Code provided by NCARB in the exam program.  Additional convenience for those in wheelchairs is not required here.

Clarification on furniture "handles":
NCARB has proven time and time again that they don't put forth any more effort than is necessary to complete any task.  With that in mind, they would not have taken the time to put handles on the face of cabinetry if they didn't count against the clearances.  Note that they included the word "FRONT" to indicate the front of the cabinets and bookcases, and yet still added handles.  Make sure you account for the handles.

Lugnut's Interior Layout
FAQs (from

Q. I’ve read that I must have a 5’ turning radius in front of the copier and worktable.  Is this required?

A. No. You must have space for a turning radius in each room, and it can be anywhere in the room. There are no furniture-specific space requirements. 3’ clear across one long side of the worktable and the entire front of the copier is sufficient.


Q. I keep getting an overlap warning on furniture that is clearly not overlapping. What am I missing?

A. There is a bug in the practice software that causes a false overlap warning. NCARB hasn’t bothered to fix it.


Q. Is it okay to have furniture behind a door?

A. Only if you have access to that item without moving the door.


Q. Is clearance required at the ends of the copier?

A. No.


Q. Can I place furniture in front of a window?

A. Yes. Furniture heights and window sill heights are not provided. If it mattered, NCARB would have to say so.


Q. Do certain pieces of furniture have to be grouped together?

A. No. There is no evidence that this makes any difference at all.


Q. Can clear floor areas (CFA’s) overlap?

A. Yes. They are just empty space.


Q. Can the space for a turning radius overlap the door swing?

A. Yes, but it cannot overlap the door itself.

[ *** Note: While this advice re: turning radius and door swing has been given out for nearly a decade, NCARB has now (finally?!?) noted that it is a minor error to overlap the turning radius with the door swing.  Also note that this "error" probably only happens in small rooms such as the Copier Room because most rooms will have enough space for the scoring computer to find turing space in a location not overlapping with the door swing (the scoring computer does not score your sketch elements). *** ]


Q. Which way should the doors swing?

A. Into rooms. A door between two rooms can swing either direction.


Q. What does T44 mean?

A. Abbreviation for “Table For Four” commonly used on the forum.


Q. For furniture with chairs attached, do I measure 3’ from the desk/table or the back of the chair?

A. Depends on the layout. You can measure from the desk/table if there is nothing behind/beyond that must be reached. Otherwise, measure from the back of the chair in order to get past it.


Q. Does the practice software have a timer like the real exam?

A. No.


Q. Is it okay for a wall to intersect a window?

A. No.


Q. If I have a hallway/corridor in the suite, does it have to be 5’ wide and have a space for a turning radius?

A. NO. There is no hallway or corridor in the vignette unless the program specifically indicates that you must draw one (unlikely). Space for a turning radius must be provided in each room, but it can be anywhere, and only one is required. Wheelchairs can back up.


Common Mistakes:

1. Door conflict. A door swing cannot overlap the CFA of another door.

2. Furniture behind doors.

3. Inadequate access. Instead of dropping a 3’ diameter sketch circle into the plan, try sliding one through the plan. If it overlaps any object in order to reach another, clear access is not provided.


Dottie's "How to do a quick Interior Layout"

When I started practicing, it took me 1 ½ hours to do an interior layout vignette.

By the time I was done, 2 weeks, I could do them in 1/2 hour. So, here are my steps and what I did on the test:
1. Open plan, before reading program, it helps calm the nerves.
2. Draw a whole pile of 3' circles outside the upper left hand corner of the plan. Just make a messy little pile. This will give you some to grab when you need them.

You can select the circle tool just once and make many circles, instead of picking the circle tool multiple times.
3. Then do the same with 5' circles, should only need 5 or so.
4. Grab the stupid little RBO tag and put it near the main entrance into the space. This will probably be the reception area, and it is very easy to forget that tag.
5. Go to the code and check what your door clearances are. Back to the drawing, draw a pile of push side rectangles just below your circles.

You can draw rectangles right on top of each other. That way you only have to look at the text bar below only once, then the other rectangles right on top, without looking.

This is very fast. Then repeat for pull side clearances.
6. Make some rectangles in both directions. They can be 4'x4'6" or whatever. This will save time later and you don't have to rotate as you create doors, just grab the one you need.
7. Grab the conference room table and put in the middle of your space. This gives a great scale of space when you get back.
8. By now, you have done all that, in 5 minutes or less, practice this set up stuff, will become very quick. This simple stuff helps you to calm down and get down to business on the furniture layout.
9. Go read the program. I did write down furniture and spaces in a quick chart on the paper provided. Write down any additional doors and windows needed in each room.
10. Double check the codes. Make sure they are the same.
11. Go back to the drawing. Draw, very quickly, the walls for the rooms. Just do it sloppy, does not have to be perfect. Place the furniture from the tools in their allocated spaces. Now you have a real good idea of space requirements.
12. Start with the conference room. This one seems to require the most space. Or, like in the alts on the FTP, start with the room needing the most space. Go through and start making that one room into a real room with walls cleaned up and so on.
13. Move through each space, cleaning up the walls. Add doors as you go. Remember, when you move a wall with a door in it, it will disappear and must be redrawn.
14. Use your sketched rectangles and circles. Just move as needed.
15. Recheck your work. Reread the program and double check.
16. Viola, 30 minutes, just like that. On my test, I checked and checked for 15 minutes and decided to quit before I over thought anything or made a stupid move. I finished 15 minutes early.


Alternate IL Vignette files:

*** Note: you cannot use alternate vignette files with NCARB's new cloud based (citrix) software.  You need to be running the NCARB software directly off your computer in order to switch out the files and run the vignettes.


Use this file to get the alternate furniture (replace your file from NCARB with this one):

Instructions: right click on the link above and save the file.  Do not open it, it's just text.  Replace your original .AUT file with this one.

Help with loading the Alternate Vignette files:
Note: your NCARB vignette files are probably in C:\Program Files (x86)\NCARB\ 

Lugnut's Building Layout
FAQs (from

Q. The program calls for two rooms to be “near”. What is “near”?

A. Always consider the door to door distance. Same half of the same floor should be sufficient. Direct access is not a substitute for “near”.


Q. How many windows should I use, and how big should they be?

A. At least one, and you can add more if it’s a large room. Typically 4’ to 6’ wide is sufficient.


Q. If the program does not specify which floor for a room, does it matter where it goes?

A. For some rooms it will not really matter. The program does require “sound design logic”, so rooms like EM and EE logically belong on the first floor.


Q. How do I achieve “visual control”?

A. Use interior windows, not doors to provide a line-of-sight control of a particular element.


Q. The program does not call for windows in some rooms. Should I add them anyway?

A. You can, but it won’t help your score, and you risk adding them where they may be prohibited.


Q. Should I add exit doors from the larger rooms even though the code and program don’t require them? I’m concerned about the room capacity.

A. No. The code provided is the only one that applies.


Q. I've seen sample passing solutions with double doors. Are they required?

A. No. Egress capacity is not in the scope of this vignette unless the program says otherwise (unlikely). Many sample passing solutions contain errors, just not fatal ones.


Q. I heard that the toilet rooms must be stacked. Is that true?

A. No. It's only a 2 story building. Stacking toilet rooms (developing a core layout) makes sense for multi-story buildings.


Q. Does the practice software have a timer like the real exam?

A. No.


Q. On the actual exam, do they still give the tabs for Codes and Tips, or is it just the Program?

A. The exam will provide codes, tips and the program in the same format as the practice exam. You do not have to memorize the code or tips. Note the real exam may not have the same code or tips. Read everything provided to you.


Q. Do door locations at stairs matter? Do I have to worry about headroom issues inside the stair?

A. There is no sure way to know how NCARB grades door locations in stairs - if at all. The late Prof. Norman Dorf recommended using a 10x20 stair for entry/exit at the same end and 12x18 for entry/exit at opposite ends. Given a lack of evidence either way, I tend to take a more conservative approach. Floor to floor heights are not given, so we don't really know how stairs would be configured. Since "sound design logic" is a program requirement, you should probably put the entry door to the stairs at the same end on each floor. The NCARB sample passing solution shows entry/exit at the same end, but that does not necessarily mean you have to show them that way. The attached diagram (ARE stair.pdf) explains further.


Q. The program says corridors may not exceed 25% of the program area. Does this include the lobby and stairs?

A. No. The lobby is circulation, but is not a corridor. The program is specific. Take it literally.


Q. I'm concerned about having a dead-end lobby. What if I have one end of my lobby that is more than 20' from an exit?

A. There is no such thing as a dead-end lobby. The code does not refer to dead-end circulation. The code only refers to dead-end corridors. Take the code literally.


Q. Can door swings cross the building limit line?

A. Yes.


Common Mistakes:

1. Doors swinging the wrong way. Doors swing into rooms. Exit doors MUST swing in the direction of egress. If a room is required to have exit doors, all doors to the exterior or circulation MUST swing in the direction of egress.

2. Missing wall openings. To connect circulation elements, use the wall opening tool. Omitting wall openings between circulation elements is likely fatal because it can create illegal dead-ends.

3. Dead-ends exceeding 20’. Very likely a fatal error.

4. Trying to match the second floor outline to the first floor outline.

5. “island” roof. This is a first floor roof area completely surrounded by second floor elements. Placing a room or corridor there is recommended.


Building Layout - Alternates:

There is a reason why I don't have files for BL alternates posted... IMHO, they are a waste of your time.

The IL is a race against the clock... you need to train for speed, and the multiple IL alternates will help you do that.

On the BL, you've got four hours to mull that thing over. All of the exam options you will need to understand are found in the NCARB practice vignette.  The alternates don't provide you with any more insight into the BL than the base NCARB program... and most of the time the alternates create just enough confusion to get your practice time off track.  Practice the NCARB BL vignette enough to develop a solution system, but spend the bulk of your available study time on getting faster with the IL.

During the exam:  Take your time and get it right. Even if you spent an hour to develop a good parti, you'd still have another three hours to fit the pieces together.   It's plenty of time.


Brandonpass notes on the IL & BL vignettes


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