I passed the LARE in less than one year and you can too!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Since the Landscape Architecture Registration Exam (LARE) test transitioned from five parts with drawings and computer components, to four parts that are all computer based, much confusion has swirled around the blogs, message boards and the collective minds of the bewildered test takers. Studying for and passing the LARE is a series of odious tasks from beginning to end. One task that I found to be particular to the LARE and very unnecessary is figuring out what is actually on the test and how to best use your precious study time.  The LARE was not my first rodeo. I also studied for and passed the CPA exam in less than a year. But that was a different life and I digress.

Given my experience and success with the LARE, I feel it is only right that I pass on what I have learned for posterity. However, I would like to disclaim something: this advice is only worth what you are paying for it (which is nothing). If you disagree with anything I say here, please constructively let us know in the comments.

I will start with telling you how I did it, a couple ways I think it could be done, and then section by section what I found useful for study. It is against the code of conduct for me to tell what was actually in the test, so I can’t be that specific. It also changes every session, so it wouldn't even be helpful.


I began last year in the April administration with section 1. I figured I would get my feet wet with the “easy” one. Section 1 is by no means easy, but it is straightforward. There are several resources out there (which I will get to) that if you study from them you should ace it. If only it were so for the rest.

Over the summer I decided to speed up the slow boat to China and do Sections 2 and 3 together. After a period of intense procrastination and a trip to Europe, I decided I did not have enough time left to study two sections. I had already scheduled 3, so I just didn't sign up for 2. This was probably a mistake, since 2 months is more than enough time to study for one section if you do it diligently.

After getting the boost to my confidence when I passed 3, I decided that I would knock out 2 and 4 together in the December administration. There is a lot of overlap between some sections, but 2 and 4 were a bad choice to put together. It can be done, but there are better ways. At this time, I foolishly scheduled the two tests right after the thanksgiving holiday weekend, when my whole family was coming to town and staying at my house.  That was so stupid! But still I passed, and you can too!


With the benefit of hindsight I see a few other ways this could be done.

The drawn out method: take one section at each administration and really focus on it. This will take more than a year, but if you are paying for the test yourself, and you are a low-risk sort of person, you can be sure you gave it your best shot at passing. The drawback of this is method is that it takes more than a year, and who wants to waste any more time than necessary?

The compressed method: Take 2&3 together first, then take 1&4 together or vice versa. This way, it takes you only 6 months, and you can make maximum use of the overlap in the study material. Folks used to have to take all 20 sections at once, so you can do two. (The number of sections goes up and up the older the LA is…”what, you only take 4 sections on the computer? In my day we had to draw construction documents in an unlit room for 8 days straight with no food or toilets! In pen! With no calculator!” ugh, shut up.)  

The one year low risk method: Double up on one administration. Maybe April do 1&2, August do 3, and December do 4.  Or maybe do it the way I intended to (see above), but don’t chicken out in July. This is a very viable strategy and only ruins one year of your life.

You'll need to get some books. Maybe not these. 

You'll need to get some books. Maybe not these. 


And now the main course. There is some seriously unnecessary confusion surrounding what to study. CLARB has put out a reading list, practice exams and of course, the Orientation Guide. The ASLA as also released some sample questions and additional material for Sections 3 and 4. These documents are your best resources for the test, although if you are just starting out they may seem like they are incomplete. The list of topics by section can be found in the orientation guide, but you may find, like I did, that it is worthless for helping you decide where to spend your time.   

A word on the practice tests: For each section, start with the CLARB practice test to get a feel of what you might see, then put it away. Optional: Towards the middle of your study time, get the Shake n Bake tests, and test yourself. Write down any terms from it you don’t understand then, don’t look at it anymore. When you are about 1 week away from test day, take the CLARB practice test again. Do not be discouraged if you do poorly on a practice test. I did terrible on them all but I still passed, and contrariwise, many people report doing great on the practice test but still failing. Just use them to familiarize yourself with the way CLARB writes questions.

A word on old study material sitting on your office hard drive: just put it down, and back away. Maybe even do future candidates at your office a favor by putting it all into a folder called “OLD STUFF FROM WHEN YOU HAD TO DRAW FOR 8 DAYS WITHOUT LIGHT FOOD OR PLUMBING”. Maybe there are some nuggets of truth in there, sure, but is it worth it to dig through some guy’s seminar notes from 2006? Don’t waste your time. There's plenty of other stuff you can wile away the hours with. If you do read that cobwebby old stuff, remember that there is no reference manual on the test now, and everything you need to answer a question will be given to you. 

Section 1: As I already mentioned, this section is the most straightforward. Some people who are extremely left-brained designers may have told you that this section is SO HARD! It’s not. Get yourself a copy of Construction Contracts by Hinze and read it. (I used an edition that had many references to fax machines and it worked out just fine, no need to buy the most recent edition if you can borrow an old one). There are a few chapters and case studies that you can skip, but read as much as you can. Take notes to ensure you are actively engaged in what you are reading, and come back to those notes occasionally to refresh your memory. Read up on specifications! They will be back in section 4 as well, so get them down pat. Also, there will be a section of the LARE Orientation Guide that regarding ethics and rules for landscape architects. This is on the test, so get very familiar. I have been told that the other books on the reading list were not valuable, but if you already own them, or can get them from the library, they are probably worth a skim.

Section 2: Read Site Planning and Design Handbook by Russ and Site Planning by Lynch (not on the CLARB list). You probably do not need to read both of them cover to cover. Depending on your job and school experience, some things may be unnecessary.  I felt like both books were like reading a ton of common sense that I already learned in school, but there was definitely value. They both took disparate ideas floating around in my brain, and reorganized them back into a more logical framework, so I could more easily recall a concept when asked a random question.  The Basic Elements of Landscape Architectural Design by Booth was very common sense, and I didn't think it had much value. However, it is heavy illustrated and concepts from this book may be worth a skim when studying for 3.

Section 3: Go back and review the 3 books you used for section 2, or look through the parts you didn't get to. The ASLA website has some useful links to old vignettes. I will break my caveat here, and say that these could actually be good practice for section 3, since you have to drag and drop items on a plan. The best part is, when you look at the answer key and your drawing is nothing like it, it doesn't matter because that isn't how they test us anymore! Woohoo! Can I get up and use the bathroom, too? You bet you can!

Investing in a copy of Graphic Standards for Landscape Architects is a good idea. Part 2 of the book has some concepts relevant to Section 3, and Parts 3 and 4 of the book is relevant to section 4. Part 1 is relevant to section 1, but I didn't find it to be very useful for study. If cost is an issue, the student edition is much cheaper to buy. I already owned the student edition from school and it worked for me. 

Section 4: This one is a beast. They throw in a little bit of everything in this one. Grading, Drainage and Construction Documents is as all-encompassing as it sounds. Get your section 1 notes back out and give them a once over. Don’t forget your bonds, the bid process or specs, since that is an important part of construction documents. If you don’t deal with CD's much at the office, try to find a project manual and go through it, just to get familiar with layout and conventions. Construction detailing is covered in this section too. CLARB gives lists in the orientation guide for studying section 4, like fasteners and deck joist spanning. They are there for a reason. I read the Site Engineering book cover to cover, and I actually found that I was wishing I had spent more time reading about bolts and less about the finer points of grading and drainage.

Grading and Drainage from Site Engineering for Landscape Architects goes above and beyond what you will need for the test. There were 13 or so chapters (not including case studies, which you can skip) in the musty old edition that I used and you can easily do one chapter in a sitting and get through the whole book in couple of weeks. If you have mastered these concepts, then great, you won’t get too many grading surprises on the test. However, if you are short on time, you can skip learning Manning’s equation by heart, and just get moderately acquainted with pipe sizing. Road alignment and stationing is something you should be able to do or read on a plan.  The type of complex grading problems you find in real life isn't the sort of thing that will be on the test. You just need to know the important concepts that you already learned in grading class. The ASLA vignettes might be good practice if it has been years since you did any type of grading. Again, do not get distraught if your answer doesn't look just like the answer key; those days are over. 

That was the good news. Now for the bad news: if you are not experienced with construction detailing, you will have to read the chapters devoted to it in Graphic Standards. I am not kidding, and yes, it is as boring as it sounds. If you can find a way to make it fun or relevant, please post in the comments, because I never figured it out. When reading these sections, what you need to cement into your memory is terms and concepts, not anything very specific like how deep a footer for a wall should be based on x wind load. Any sort of formula is probably a waste of brain space. But the concept of wind load and how it may affect wall construction is important, and everything like that is fair game. Getting familiar with the parts of ADA that landscape architects often use (handrails, walkways, stairs, ramps and clear space) is imperative. You won’t be able to memorize it all, so accept it, and use common sense and the process of elimination if you come across something you don’t know.


If you are still dreading this test because you are what is known as a “bad test taker”, take heart. What your problem could be is that you never really learned how to learn.  Before you dive in head first to the frustrating LARE process, perhaps read up on some strategies for making learning easier.

I found this course to be really helpful in training my brain. https://www.coursera.org/course/learning

There are the obvious things, like if you learn a little bit each day, you will retain more than if you cram. But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep clears your brain of toxins that form over the course of the day and you will wake up feeling refreshed, with the added benefit of possibly dreaming about what you are learning? Check it out, and watch some of the videos, it’s free!

Also, start a spreadsheet. Hold yourself accountable (to yourself) by creating study goals and tracking how you do. Log how much time you spent and what you were doing. This will be very helpful if –heaven forbid- you do fail a section. When you meet your goals, and especially when you pass a section, treat y’self. Have an ice cream on Friday if you finished your reading goals for the week. Have a beer (or seven) when you are done with the test. You earned it.

As you are sitting in that sad, gray Pearson Vue testing room in a suburban office park, the whir of the highway outside and tapping of keys the only sound, the tan walls of the cubicle obscuring any connection with other life in the room, and the pressure of months of preparation all leading up to this computer screen in front of you, I wish you the best, future Registered Landscape Architect. Know that you can do it, and that I am rooting for you.


Studying for the LARE: Getting Started with the New Landscape Architect Registration Exam

Image via  Alberto G/Flickr

Here at Studio Outside, a few of us are preparing to take the Landscape Architect Registration Exam, also lovingly known as the LARE. Because the format of the test has changed completely for 2014, I thought it might be helpful to summarize some of the major changes to the test as well as provide some helpful study hints for those of us looking to become registered in 2014. 

Old vs. New Format for the LARE in 2014

One of the most daunting tasks in beginning the LARE exam has been to understand the difference between the old format (5 sections A-E) and the new format (4 sections 1-4). Regrettably, most of the study material available has not been updated to the new format. The CLARB website does do not go into much detail on the difference, so I wanted to share what I have understood.

Section A has essentially become Section 1, which is still called “Project Construction and Administration”. Section 1 has 100 multiple choice and multiple response questions. The new section 2 “Inventory and Analysis” is the same as section B, “Inventory, Analysis and Program Development”. Programming seems to have been rolled into Analysis of Existing Conditions, but the content is unchanged. This section has 80 multiple choice and multiple response problems. For sections 1 and 2, any study material from A or B is worth your study time.

Section 3 is now called “Design” and combines all content from Section C “Site Design” and some from Section D “Design and Construction Documentation”. Section D topics covered in this section are design principles, resource conservation and management, and materials and methods of construction. Section 3 consists of 100 multiple choice, multiple response and advanced item types.

Section 4 is now called “Grading, Drainage and Construction Documentation”, and it combines the other part of Section D and all of the section E. Section D topics covered in this section are graphic communication and construction documentation. Section 4 consists of 120 multiple choice, multiple response and advanced item types.

The question format is the biggest change. Since all parts are on the computer now, the old test’s vignettes have replaced advanced item types. Still these items are worth 1 point each, it has the same value as the multiple choice and multiple response questions.

The item types are detailed brilliantly in the CLARB orientation video above. The video is 44 drawn-out minutes of each item type explained, but it is definitely worth your time to watch it, since you get the benefit of having a test administrator give you the exact logic of 12 real test questions. Understanding the logic of the test is just as important as learning the material. It can help you reason through areas where your knowledge of the subject may be weak.

the LARE tests only your knowledge and your ability to protect the health safety and welfare of the public. It is not any sort of measure of innate talent or creativity.

A Few Helpful Tips

Image via Pawel Kryj,  pawel_231 ,  sxc.hu

Image via Pawel Kryj, pawel_231, sxc.hu

It is important to remember that the LARE tests only your knowledge and your ability to protect the health safety and welfare of the public. It is not any sort of measure of innate talent or creativity. The only way to pass is to become familiar with the material and the logic of the test. Taking as many practice tests as possible is the best way to get familiar with the types of questions on the exam.

Another study tip I find useful is to set a schedule. Set serious goals and map them onto the calendar. Different people need different amounts of study time so no two schedules will ever look the same. Take inventory of your time as it is now, before the test: where do you have extra time that you could use to study? Should you give up TV time or time spent on a hobby? I have time, for example, on Friday afternoons, that I usually spend doing miscellaneous chores, reading the internet, etc. This time has become my study organization time. I now use this time to set up a schedule for the week and collect any material I might need to accomplish this. That means, during the week, I can devote 1-2 hours every night to study time, and not figuring out what to do next.

My final tip is to make flashcards from the study material. Write down everything new you learn onto flashcards. Do not use someone else’s cards; you will only be getting half the benefit!  Creating the flashcard will create a memory of the term or concept better than just reading it. Closer to the day of the test, at the point where you have read enough material to get an overall understanding of the subject matter, start to study from your flashcards. Narrow down the cards where you may have weakness and set aside the cards you can’t possibly forget. Keep distilling the information down until a few days before the test. This spaced repetition is the most effective form of studying.

Right before the test, go over everything again to make sure you haven't forgotten anything while you were learning the harder stuff. The book LARE Secrets is what I would recommend for the beginning and ending stages of studying, because it is just facts and no fluff.

Good luck conquering the LARE!


Further Reading:

CLARB - Prepare for the LARE Exam

ASLA - First Steps in Preparing for the LARE 

Amazon - LARE Secrets Study Guide