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5 Important Tips For the Site Zoning Vignette – PPP

The Programming, Planning and Practice exam, part of Architect Registration Exam has only one vignette to solve – the Site Zoning vignette.  There is one key thing to remember when going in to this exam… this vignette has only ONE correct solution, so pay attention!

5 tips zoning

In the Site Zoning Vignette, you will be required to develop a diagram showing the zoning requirements as well as provide a section through the entire site.

This top 5 list for the Site Zoning vignette will help keep you focused as you prepare for the Programming, Planning and Practice division. Be sure to practice a lot with the NCARB software. You’ll want to be completely familiar with the software tools prior to taking the exam.

5 Important Tips For the Site Zoning Vignette

1.  Follow the program.  Don’t get caught up trying to create a design or make the site pretty.  This vignette only has one correct answer so follow the directions carefully to be successful.

2.  Use sketch circles to maintain setbacks.  Easements, side and rear yards as well as any areas that need to be protected can easily be maintained using sketch circles to stay clear of the setback.

3.  Maximize the area for both site improvements and the buildable area.  These areas should not cross over setbacks however they should get as close to them as allowed by the program in order to show the total area where site improvements and built improvements are allowed.

4.  Use sketch circles to mark the grade points on the section.  Trace the contour points that cross the section cut line down to the section grid and mark the elevation using small sketch circles.  You can then connect these circles using the Grade Plane tool to accurately set the grade plane.

5.  Follow the maximum building envelope instructions carefully.  There will be specific requirements for the overall maximum building height for both lots as well individual requirements for each lot.  Carefully sketch out these height requirements using sketch lines then trace over them using the Building Envelope tool.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and since there is only one correct answer, perfection is essential here!  Stay alert and be careful to follow all program requirements precisely.

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer, keep going and you’ll be there before you know it!

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Comments on this entry are closed.

Ryan January 6, 2015, 5:25 am

I did not pass this vignette. Going in I was confident in the vignette more than the multiple choice but the results were reversed. I easily passed the multiple choice and failed the vignette. I am very frustrated because I don’t know, and can never know, what I did wrong and what to work on to improve. I triple checked everything. And then I triple checked everything again. I finished 100% certain I had passed. Now I don’t know how to study.

The only thing I can think of involves the set back on the water feature. Since every source constantly reiterates that you are not supposed to draw the section as if it were an elevation from the street and the water feature cuts into the site, if you did draw an elevation the area of the building profile in section would be much ‘greater’ than if you had followed directions. Therefore, it would be an easy way to grade that parameter, by measuring the area of the resulting shape. If it were over a certain area you automatically fail. However, the vertical building section line adjacent to the water set back is determined by the ‘buildable area’ shape on the site plan, and the buildable area shape is limited because of the 1′ x 1′ snap grid, which makes you have to decided at each point where to place a node in order to maximize area without going over. BUT there should be tolerances for such things, so they say.

I feel frustrated like the only thing I can do is take the exam over and over again until I accidentally produce a correct profile from arbitrarily correct set of nodes, while I could demonstrate competence in this are by any other means in my sleep, I do this all the time at work.

How can I study? What should I focus on?

Aubrey January 6, 2015, 9:32 pm

Hi Ryan,

I totally understand your frustration and am sorry to hear about your results. This vignette is very tricky since there is only one correct answer and everything is so interconnected (the grade plane, the building profile and height) if you make one small mistake in one area, it can easily snowball into something much bigger. As you mentioned, the biggest mistake some people have made with this vignette is drawing the section as an elevation, so it is very important to interpret the grade points at the section cut line accurately. If you are off on your grade plane, it will throw off your building height as well.

What I found to be useful while studying for this exam was to create a notechart based on the program requirements to keep me organized and make sure I didn’t forget anything (if you have our Vignette Study Guide, there is a sample chart in there, but feel free to make your own to suit your needs as well). Practice is key for this exam, and accuracy is crucial. I found the notechart was the most helpful way for me to keep on track with the program. I’d use the scratch paper you are given at the testing center and spend a few minutes at the beginning of the vignette to organize the program information in a way that would make sure I didn’t forget any important dimensions or site restrictions.

As for where to go from here, I would suggest that you practice with several different programs to get familiar with the requirements for this vignette as well as the clunky features of the software. One great resource is coach’s forum where you could post screenshots of your solutions and get feedback from others on what areas you are doing well in and where you need improvement. I found this invaluable as a study aid… plus you can critique solutions from others as well and become familiar with the common mistakes made on this vignette. Repetition is key to getting to know this vignette program as well as the software itself.

Good luck and don’t give up!!



Nicole March 4, 2015, 6:41 am


I am in the same boat. I thought I passed the vignette and had failed the multiple choice, but it turned out to be the opposite. It is so fustrating!

David March 6, 2015, 10:21 am

Hi Nicole,

I agree it is frustrating. If you look at this whole process as a character building exercise that’ll help. We know it’s not about the skills we possess as an architect or designer, it’s just a test that we need to complete to obtain or license. Just keep pushing forward and you will get there. And once you do, you won’t look back at the number of times it took.

Hang in there, you’ll get it!


Salim Omar January 23, 2015, 8:09 pm

Hi , I have a question. I thought I had a perfect drawing as well. The test results tell me I don’t. The one thing that I am not sure is . When you mark your street angle restriction. And I am not talking about the exam. This is general question. The practice drawing tells you to start it at the bench elevation. I would think that it always is bench elevation of property line. Unless specified different. I will welcome comments. Another comment is . I have use Autocad for 22 years. Why do we have to use a Kinder Garden level Cad. It’s like trying to do modern surgery with Stone Age instruments. ????

Aubrey January 28, 2015, 9:59 pm

Hello Salim,
Defining the building envelope is one of the most confusing portions of this vignette. NCARB doesn’t do a very good job describing how it needs to be drawn and you have to pay close attention to the plan to make sure you know where the benchmark is located. In general, it will likely be on the property line where the section cut line and property line meet. It will be indicated on the plan with a symbol marked “benchmark”. The building envelope requirement may be set some distance above the benchmark, which would mean you would set the angled line at that height above the benchmark. This line may also pass through both lots depending on the program.

As for the vignette software, it is frustrating that it is so archaic and inaccurate and not being familiar with it can possibly set you back, or at least cause delays during the exam. My understanding is that NCARB wanted to come up with a fair approach to solving the vignettes for those people with limited CAD experience. They wanted anyone to be able to use it, no CAD experience necessary. So basically we all end up suffering :) My best advice would be to keep practicing with several alternate programs to make sure you get very comfortable with the software as well as the requirements of the program for this vignette. Good luck and let us know about your success!


James Baptiste May 27, 2015, 8:46 am

I just got a “Fail” letter too. Exact same story as the folks above, nailed the multiple choice, somehow failed vignette. I’ve been doing this work for over 12yrs so I’m shocked. Does this sound plausible?….In Eric’s video, he indicates that the maximum building height in the program is 90′ so he draws a sketch line at 90 fee to set the upper limit. The program doesn’t say “90′ above the benchmark” nor “elevation 90 feet”, it says maximum building height is 90′. Does this mean 90′ from the lowest grade/building intersection at the section mark, 90′ from benchmark, or elevation 90′ as Eric indicated? I can’t think of any other dimension open to interpretation that I may have missed.

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