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The Art of Conquering the UPCAT (Essay Entry #10)


The Art of Conquering the UPCAT

by Mia Claire L. Catapang



(Note to readers: If you don’t feel like reading my novel-like essay, you could just skip my oh-so-long introduction about my embarrassing, nerve-wracking experience with exams and head to the more important bold and italicized paragraphs. All bold, italicized sentences enclosed in quotation marks are excerpts from The Art of War by Sun Tzu.)

If the United States (US) is a melting pot of races, the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) too is a melting pot – melting pot of mazes. (Great, an analogy is used to describe an entrance exam.) You have to find your way through the tangled, overlapping mazes of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry topped with the nose bleeding English stuff, and not to mention the disconcerting right minus ¼ wrong policy.

College entrance exams like the UPCAT are one big glob of sizzling, mind-boggling, shell-cracking questions with the notorious time pressure. I have known this prior to taking the Ateneo Junior Summer Seminar Qualification Exam which is essentially the Ateneo College Entrance Exam (ACET) itself. I breezed easily through the first English Proficiency questions. But moving on, I almost had a nervous breakdown when I realized there was only 15 minutes left for the English section and I haven’t even written a single word for my essay about justice. All that was coming to my mind about justice is Chief Justice Corona. Essay writing almost traumatized me.

That day I realized how time pressure can kill me if I’ll still be shading circles for like 10 seconds. I’m not much of a math whiz but I’ll do the math: so that means I will be wasting 10,000 sec for shading alone. That is 16.67 minutes – approximately 17 minutes. The time limit is just 1 hour so that means I just have 43 min left for the 100 item test. You subtract the 20 min for the essay writing part and what will be left is just 23 min which is scarcely enough to analyze every single question. I certainly cannot let the same thing happen in the UPCAT!

Thus, to pass the UPCAT, the first thing I will to do is to brush up my shading skills. Apparently, I’m just kidding. But I tell you, entrance exams will definitely kill you – not in the literal sense of course – if you do not have what it takes.

From my near-nervous-breakdown experience, let’s go to “what it takes to pass the UPCAT”. Take a look at my comprehensive master plan based on excerpts from the book, The Art of War:

“He who knows… and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.” Simply put, know your enemy for there is no knowledge that is not power. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.” I’m not saying that the UPCAT is your enemy for real. It can be your enemy for it can prevent you from getting the chance to study in UP if you’re not clever enough. Know yourself too–your weaknesses and strengths like being hopeless at problem solving, nose bleeding at every unfamiliar English words that sounds so Greek, etc.

(Note to the easily-panic-stricken people: Don’t lose your wits with what you’ll find out.)

So of course the first thing I should do is to know the UPCAT and use what I know to improve myself. A few weeks ago, I checked out the essentials of the UPCAT from blog sites and websites that specializes in entrance exams (i.e., Academic Clinic). My supportive mother also gave me copies of articles from the Philippine Daily Inquirer about UPCAT Tips.

So here are the essential things about the UPCAT:

What will get you into UP is the University Predicted Grade (UPG). Some UP campuses like UP Diliman and UP Manila have a higher UPG cut-off.  The UPG consists of 40% of High School Weighted Average (your grades during the first three years of high school) and 60% of UPCAT performance. It was a good thing I had enough sense to study hard during the first three years of high school while almost half the classroom populace was like: “Bahala na, sa Fourth Year nalang ako mag-aayos. Mag-eenjoy muna ako ngayon.” Alas, they were mistaken! If you’re one of them, SCREAM NOW! LOL. Just kidding. Fear not for there’s still a remaining 60%. Just do great in the exam itself.

There are two main sections in the UPCAT: a Quantitative Test (science and mathematics) section and a Verbal Test (English, Filipino and comprehension skills). So this summer I’ll be refreshing myself not with halo-halo but with the past freshman and sophomore studies like Biology, Algrebra, etc. I still cannot decide between self studying and enrolling in a review center, so I’ll do both. Even before review classes starts I’ll be digging my way through past high school notes so review classes won’t feel like a living hell.

Unlike its counterparts, the UPCAT has no killer essay but it has the infamous right minus ¼ wrong penalty. Thank God, UPCAT has no essay writing section! I’m now saved from the ACET essay fiasco! But still, there is the right minus wrong ¼ wrong penalty. So what do I do? According to what I have read, blanks do not count but that doesn’t mean you need leave your answer blank. If you guessed the answer (or made an educated guess for school prodigies), you will just loose ¼ of a point but if you will leave it blank you’ll lose a whole point. So I’d rather be a risk taker and make my best educated guess.

UPCAT has time pressure. That’s why I won’t be wasting my precious minutes on thinking over a hard question. Strike the easier questions first then go for the harder ones afterwards.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted…other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity.” When translated in the UPCAT sense: If your knowledge is insufficient, your motivation weak, your physical body not in good condition, your fellow examinees will leave you hanging down the trail with the other failed students. Remember, it’s the ranking that matters – how your score compare to the scores of other students.

The UPCAT is some sort of competition with more or less 70,000 students hoping to have their hands on the UP education. Statistics show that only about 10, 000 make it. Sounds disconcerting, right? I definitely need to keep up with the crowd. Here’s what I need to do (and you too!):

Study with strategy. Merely memorizing won’t work – you need to understand the concepts. But it’s a different case with math because you surely need to memorize the formulas. One good tip I read is to just memorize one formula and derive others. For the English section, one tip is to READ A LOT. Good thing I’m a wide reader way before I have known about UPCAT. The more you read, the more unfamiliar words you will know. Again, don’t memorize the meaning of these words – use these words in your daily conversation or in writing so it will be easily imprinted in your mind.

“Fake it till you make it.” Always think that you can do it. Believe me, positive thinking and a good mindset will definitely help you make it through the UPCAT successfully.

Avada Kedavra coffee and junk foods!  Don’t make the mistake of drinking coffee and eating junk foods during the exam day. It will just disorient your brain. Eat chocolate for it can stimulate your brain. My mom told me so and the internet says so too. Aside from that, healthy foods are also desirable for breakfast.

“Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and CONQUER, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is FOREKNOWLEDGE.” Now you have this so called foreknowledge. (Thanks to myself. LOL) I hope you’ll use this knowledge wisely and strategically for the coming UPCAT.

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands…” To pass or not to pass – it depends on you. If you will study hard enough with the right strategies and give the test your best shot, you surely aren’t that far from victory. And of course, we are never alone in this battle so pray and commit the exam to God.

This marks the end of my master plan. Thanks to the book, The Art of War for those war strategies that I surprisingly found so helpful and appropriate in most real life situations including the daunting prospect of taking the UPCAT. I am also grateful for all those articles from blogs and websites that gave me profound information and tips.

I am now ready to conquer the UPCAT! Avada Kedavra UPCAT!



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