It is that time of the year again. The University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) is just around the corner and you are surfing the Net, joining forums about THE test and looking for “special tips” for taking the examination, aren’t you? I see you.
I cannot help but remember how chill I was on my exam day. It was not really because I was so confident that I knew everything the premier state university expected me to know. I think it was more because I did not even think I would make the cut.
I did not get to attend any review class nor did I buy all the best and recommended UPCAT reviewers.
As many UPCAT passers will tell you, it is not really about how much you have studied the summer before for the entrance exams but how much you have learned in school since Day 1.
“UPCAT is not a day but a season. It started the day you realized you needed to work hard for your high school grades so it could help you ace the test. UPCAT … started when you began to hope to be an Iskolar ng Bayan,” says broadcast communication graduate Joseph Cataan.
All you need for UPCAT are refreshers because, as they say, “you already know what you know.”
I was also calm and cool about the whole thing because I was never pressured by my parents. On UPCAT day, my dad said, “Just do what you have to do.” And so I did.
People will tell you that getting into UP is not the be-all and end-all but it pays to be assured that you did your part, from pre- to post-exam.
Here are a few tips from successful survivors of the UPCAT to get you on your way down that maroon brick road:
1. Time to face the music! No room for panic.
You might hate mathematics or physics but come review time, you have to face your fears. Brush up on subjects you do not feel confident about.
Do not panic. Before your review session, which should have a fixed slot in your regular study time, breathe out all the bad vibes. When words and numbers start going haywire, rest. Doubting your skills and your memory will not help. Trust your brain.
Dr. Ronnie Baticulon warns against information overload. “Trying to cram so much information in your head in so little time, under so much panic and pressure from your parents and peers, is not the best way to prepare for the UPCAT … . Your three years and three months in high school should provide you enough knowledge to be able to answer most questions correctly,” he says.
Baticulon is from the family of valedictorians that made the news earlier this year. He was also one of the Top 50 UPCAT passers in 2000.
2. Calm your nerves before the actual test.
Ask anybody who has taken the UPCAT, and he/she will tell you one thing: Make it a point to rest, rest and rest on the day before the exam. Easier said, I know, but that is what you need to do.
Alex Cao, an engineering graduate, even recommends not going to class on the Friday before the exam. “Do something relaxing—have a massage, laze in bed and read a good book. Watch a movie,” she says.
And, of course, sleep early. You do not want to add to your baggage the avoidable stress of sleeping through your alarm and rushing to the venue.
3. Make sure you have everything on your checklist.
Before you hit the sack, check and recheck your bag, says Angel Marañon, a speech pathology graduate. Make sure “you have everything you need, like testing permit, forms, pencils, [sharpener], etc.”
Aside from the basic checklist, verify the exam time and know how to get to the exam venue, says journalism graduate Jedd Hernandez, now a UP law student.
“Be sure you know the location of the building where you will be taking the exam. Take into account the time that you’ll have to spend looking for the exam venue and being stuck in traffic. You don’t want to be late,” he says.
4. Bring a jacket!
I had to make this a separate entry because exam rooms can get freezing cold.
“Rumor has it that proctors intentionally turn the air-conditioner to the coldest setting as part of UPCAT,” Cataan says.
But in my case, I took the exam at a public elementary school in the afternoon on a hot day. Good thing I was in a cool shirt.
If you have no idea about the temperature in the exam room you are assigned to, wear a loose shirt or a sleeveless (but not too revealing) top and bring a jacket.
5. Go with a friend—a very good friend.
Sure, the company of someone who feels the same level of stress and anxiety will be good. But the last thing you need is to be with a know-it-all who will ask you never-ending questions about the most difficult items in the reviewers. Be with a friend who will take it easy with you as you laugh your way to the venue.
6. Eat. Do not skip your meal before the UPCAT.
You may not be able to eat during the exam. It is a five-hour test, remember? As Baticulon, a neurosurgeon, says, “Your brain needs glucose to be able to think clear and fast.”
Also, you do not want the unnecessary distraction of a grumbling stomach.
7. Get in your comfort zone but do not slack off.
During the exam, I noticed people looking anxious and stressed as I munched on my snacks. Again, relax. In my case, I ate not because I was hungry but because eating helped me calm down. Know what puts you at ease, be it a breathing technique or something. But remember Tip No. 8!
8. Be sensitive. Remember your movie etiquette!
One reminder that is often left out in test-taking manuals is something I learned by experience.
Whatever you do to ease your anxiety, make sure you are not annoying or distracting anyone. The same good manners required when watching a movie at a cinema are expected here. If you opt to bring comfort food, do not bring something with a very distracting smell. Eat quietly—wrappers should not make a sound.
Do not wear any accessory that can stir the room up. On entrance exam day, I wore multiple steel bangles and they jingled with every hand movement I made. Even I got distracted. I took them off and never wore them again. Ever.
9. Time management is key.
The resounding advice of UPCAT passers: Do not spend too much time on one item.
“Skip a question if you can’t answer it right away or put a temporary answer and mark it,” Marañon says.
Decide quickly whether you should answer an item or not. But if you really do not know the answer, should you guess? This brings me to Tip No. 10.
10. To guess or not to guess.
Think about the exam mechanics. If it is right minus 0.25 of wrong, is guessing a smart choice?
“When you don’t know the correct answer to a question, make an educated guess. Trust your instinct. Your first answer is almost always the best. Don’t get intimidated by ‘right minus 1/4 wrong’ (0.25-point deduction for every wrong answer versus no penalty for a blank answer),” Baticulon says. “This early, you have to learn how to take risks. Think about it: If you have to guess the answer in five questions, you only need to get the correct answer in one question to offset the penalty point from the other four questions.”
11. Take note of the official reminders from the UPCAT site.
Be at your test venue by 6:30 a.m. (if you are scheduled in the morning) or 12:30 (for the afternoon session).
Do not try to sneak in your cell phone or a calculator because you can be disqualified if you are caught.
If you still do not have your test permit, check with the Office of Admissions (9818500 local 3827, 3828 or 3831), and follow up with the UPCAT examiner assigned to the UPCAT Test Center nearest to your high school on Aug. 2.
12. Tie loose ends and move on.
Once it is over, come back to this list and read this last advice again.
Surely, some questions will stick in your head and keep you up the night after the exam. Go ahead, check your book, surf the Net for answers and talk about them with your friends until you are satisfied. And then let it go.
After all, you have done what you had to do. And, as Cataan puts it, “It is not us who choose UP. UP chooses us.”