We spoke with Harpreet Cosgrove, a licensure candidate and new mother about her experiences while studying for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), advice for other candidates, and study tips.
Tell us a little bit about your family and the impact that having a family had on your licensure path.
My husband and I had our daughter in 2021. I started taking the ARE at the end of 2019 and was on my way to completing the exam at the end of 2020. I found out I was pregnant about a few weeks before my 5th division. At the time, I was working at a firm that was incredibly supportive of taking the ARE. I had a study group at the office and endless resources to review and prepare with. Unfortunately, by the time of my exam, my health had severely declined due to hyperemesis gravidarum. I didn’t understand my illness and took my exam because I was worried about losing the payment for it and not finishing on schedule. I had already spent so much time preparing I figured I should at least try taking the exam. The following day, I was in the emergency room and was put on bed rest for the next six months. I had to cancel my final division I had scheduled, and it would be 18 months before I would be ready to retake the final two divisions. We ended up relocating to my home state. I chose not to return to work with the hopes of getting better pay after finishing the exam. Between struggling physically from a very difficult pregnancy and battling postpartum depression, finding my way back to the exams was a mentally challenging journey. When I did finally sit for my next exam, I was still breastfeeding my baby and worried about not pumping through the long exam. I felt extremely isolated while preparing for the exam. I didn’t have a job, the study group that I had made it through all my other exams with, or the library of resources I did while at my previous job. The studying techniques that had gotten me through the first four exams were no longer options as I now had a baby to care for full-time. I passed the final two exams and retook the other after a failed attempt the first time around. Now I’m preparing to take my California Supplemental Examination (CSE) and can hopefully never make another flashcard ever again!
What strategy helped you keep your momentum?
I didn’t get to keep my momentum, and that was a tough pill to swallow. I had to surrender the idea of having any control over my life and remember the plans I had prior to starting a family before I could find my footing again. Preparing for an exam pre- and post-baby were completely different experiences. I used to study for hours after getting home from work. After the baby, I had to switch to optimizing a few hours a week. It took several failed attempts to find what would work for me with my new responsibilities, but I’m glad I kept trying new things because eventually I did find what worked for me. I kept my routine going until I met my goal. I went from having the time to spend months on end preparing to only just over a month of preparation time—it forced me to stay disciplined and focused.
Who is a part of your support team? How do they support you?
I’ve been so fortunate to have my mom, husband, and friends to keep me working toward my goal. Luckily, many of my friends are teachers, so during the summer off I could ask different people to help. Support pre-baby was cheering me on and just offering words of encouragement. Post-baby support took a different shape—people showed up for me by watching my daughter while I studied at a coffee shop for a few hours, bringing by meals so I could study instead of cooking, and encouraging me to schedule the exams when I got discouraged—all things I definitely didn’t need before I had a baby and had to humble myself a little to accept. However, taking all that help is the only way I ever could have gotten through it! I’m sure many people in the field are very independent and self-sufficient, so learning to accept help was a challenge in itself, but doing so allowed me to return to my fighting best.
How do you make time for self-care or downtime in your busy schedule?
I had to restrict what days I studied so other days I could rest. I had to schedule my rest time, or I would’ve burned out so quickly. Being a stay-at-home mom, I took my study time out of the house. It gave me some quiet time to reframe my mind before getting to a coffee shop and enjoying a treat to study. I also scheduled one weekend day a month to just do something fun with my friends away from my house and baby.
How do you study? What helps you manage your time best?
Studying with a baby meant not having hours to read every book and take every practice test several times. Only having a few hours a couple of times a week meant I had to prepare to study ahead of my scheduled time. I used to schedule every day leading up to my exam. After having a baby, I had to take things week-by-week because many of unexacting things could happen within a week. I did my best to stick with my allotted time and not go over to avoid burning out. Having a baby means there’s no real rest time, only active recovery. In terms of actual study techniques this is what I did:
After familiarizing myself with materials, I go through practice exams and mark questions in levels of difficulty ranging 1-3.
- 1: I know, ignore and spend time elsewhere
- 2: I don’t know, but I know where to find the answer
- 3: I have no idea, will need to dig deeper into
I made flashcards for any material marked as a 2 that didn’t stick after finding the answer. Material marked as 3, I dedicated a lot of time to reviewing related study information from several resources. For any material I marked a 3, I dedicated 20 minutes of reading and five minutes of rest. This kept my mind fresh through the process and I got through a lot of material with clarity.
I also did my best to see what resources were repeated through people’s recommended lists on the NCARB community pages and skimmed those to get a picture of what I needed to look at, and then identified where I needed to spend the most time. I tried to reframe topics by explaining how each step works and what the variables are. The best thing I did was watch YouTube videos on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) and structural topics that reading alone couldn’t fully encompass, but due to limited time, I saved this for things that I couldn’t explain to someone with no knowledge of the material. I created flashcards two weeks out from the exam on any topics I still wasn’t grasping.
What advice would you give to parents who are studying for the ARE?
Ask for and accept help wherever you can. Trying to do everything alone fosters burnout and puts your mental health at risk. In a relationship, it can mean switching duties around the house. Doing things 50/50 didn’t really work anymore, but having a conversation about how to make things work allowed us each to feel supported. With friends, it might mean having a schedule of some sort for a couple of weeks at a time, so you never feel like you're burdening someone else with your needs. Finally, it will take longer than expected and it will be harder than expected but win or lose the whole way through you can know you have people waiting for your return home. At the end of the day, this journey may create opportunities for a better life for our family and ourselves. For me personally, it has been something I have been working towards since I was in the fourth grade. Finishing the Architect Registration Examination after facing so many challenges gave me more confidence and greater professional self-worth.
After completing my exams and posting to the community, I learned about additional options that were available to mothers. I do wish that these were more visible in the process. Things like pumping breaks, clock extensions, and rescheduling/canceling options would have been so validating. All of these things should be clearly visible and included with all of the standard information about taking the exam. Not knowing about it and having to dig around for resources made it feel like I no longer fit into the mold of an exam candidate and honestly a bit invisible to the candidate community. When I would read through the community posts about how people passed the exam, it felt so impossible to imagine getting through anything people recommended because it seemed like most of these people were young and didn’t have families or other responsibilities away from work. I wish there could be a more visible community of people with families, especially because the time when most people are prepared to take these exams falls into a time when so many people are also starting a family.