The Best Way to Find Used Architectural Books for Exam Prep

Architectural exam prep is expensive, and the cost is compounded by having to buy books in addition to taking the exam. Each exam costs $235 USD, which can be an intimidating amount, especially because the likelihood of passing all six exams on the first try is quite low. If you're lucky, your employer will pay for them, but if not — or if they cover only a portion of the cost — you'll have to shell out some cash yourself.

As any architect will tell you, there's nothing more exciting than seeing your design go from concept sketch to construction site reality. However, studying for exams like the AREs can take away from this excitement if you're not prepared for it financially beforehand. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money on architectural exam prep materials and still get everything you need for success on these tests.

eBook Libraries

Architectural books are available in many places online, but ebook libraries can be especially useful because they're often free to download or read. Most public libraries, or your university library, will have subscriptions to eBook services such as Libby, which may have the title you’re looking for. 

If what you want isn't there, fret not. There are a wide array of eBook and online libraries — some will require you to make an account and others only allow you to read on their website rather than download files onto your computer or device. Be sure that the ones you come across are trustworthy before you provide them with any of your information.


If you prefer getting your hands on physical copies, there are plenty of places online to help you save money on your used books. If you were a thrifty student in college, you may already be familiar with digital services like SlugBooks or CampusBooks to find cheaper copies of used books — especially textbooks — online. 

Both go through multiple sellers and renters across different websites to help you quickly see your options. They’re decent time savers and a good place to start if you’re not keen on spending a lot of effort looking for the absolute cheapest copy of a book (though if you are willing to do that, keep reading to see our next point).


Note that the aggregators above are imperfect — doing a quick search for a couple of books manually and using the two aggregators, both missed the lowest-cost options on multiple websites on one of the two books. 

They’re generally better for books that are specifically textbooks than more general references. We’ll often write down ISBN numbers for several books we’re looking for — ISBNs are edition-specific identifiers and are the 10- or 13-digit numbers on the copyright page. This is important when looking for a specific edition of a book with multiple published revisions — as is the case with many of the reference books we use studying for the AREs and in the profession at large.

Large stack of books with page marker ribbons hanging out from them.Source 

For example, ISBN 0471348775 should always return the Second Edition of Sun, Wind, and Light, which, unlike the slightly-revised Third Edition, has all of the graphs and charts in the printed text. The Third Edition moves much of that material to an online eBook, which does allow for some interactivity, but may or may not come with a used copy. For most things, we prefer the second edition, and using the ISBN when we’re searching for it should ensure that we have the correct version of the book.

When ordering multiple hardcopy books, especially when the books are not traditional ‘textbooks’, the best total price can often be had by collecting the list of edition-specific ISBNs. Alibris and Amazon are especially good at labeling the different editions in a way that is clear and concise, and both provide the edition-specific ISBNs in a way that is easy to copy over into a Google doc or spreadsheet. 

Then, we’ll typically open three to five online bookshops — usually AbeBooks, Amazon, thriftbooks (which doesn’t seem to be searched by the aggregating services), Alibris and Better World Books, in order of most- to least- frequent use, and start looking up the books, building our shopping cart in each with an eye to the best overall price for acceptable condition. Personally, we’re not too picky about the condition so long as the copy is legible and not overly annotated — adding a duplicate copy in each store where the shipping costs could make the difference. 

Once we’ve looked up all the books we’re planning to get, we’ll cross-reference the different shopping carts and look for shipping efficiencies from specific sellers that are applied at checkout and for any overall coupons that the used bookshops may offer. This usually results in making purchases in two to three stores from several different sellers, but the order in total may only cost $200 for six books instead of the $250 it would cost buying from one store or not looking for shipping savings.

Finding used architectural books is a lot like finding hidden treasures in your local used bookstore. It’s all about having the right tools and knowing where to look. The selection can be overwhelming, so it’s important to know what you want and how much you’re willing to spend in order to avoid investing too much time searching through options that won’t meet your needs or budget. 

If you have any questions about finding used architectural books for exam prep, check out our article “What are the Best Architecture Textbooks to Help You Pass the ARE 5.0?” or send us an email at We enjoy helping students like yourself who are looking for advice on how best to prepare for their next step in life.