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UPCAT Tips: Preparing for the Test

At this point, one thing should be clear: there’s no sure-shot, magic-bullet method to pass the UPCAT. Most test passers, however, will tell you that adding a few simple steps to your test prep should help improve your chances of making the cut. It’s time to stop just preparing and start preparing smartly.

Smart Memory Work

Too many people nowadays think that memorization is the key to passing the UPCAT. While keeping a fact or two in your memory can be helpful, memorizing every factoid is way too hard to be practical. Here’s how you can optimize all that space in your head:

  • Don’t memorize, understand. When you’re going through the book or reviewer, look at the concept instead of just the facts per se. You’ll be able to answer more questions while memorizing less, especially for science-related topics.
  • Use Analogies. This is a very effective way on memorizing science concepts as well as new vocabulary.  For the layers of the earth, you can use egg as an analogy, for volcanism – your bowel movement, etc.
  • Memorize one, then derive. Math involves all sorts of long equations, but that doesn’t mean you have to be able to recite all of them from memory. In fact, you can get almost all of the formulas from just a handful of fundamental equations. Focus on that handful, and then derive as necessary on test day.
  • Practice. Many have problems with English vocabulary  words because they merely use rote memory to pair words with definitions. Try using new words in sentences or regular conversation so that their meanings come to you naturally.

In practice, you’ll do better by memorizing as few things as possible. Rote memory works only on standard questions; once you get to a tricky or more advanced item, you won’t know what to do anymore. Working with concepts, meanwhile, will keep you versatile enough to answer most anything that comes your way.

Neater Note-Taking

Once you’ve simplified how you work with your head, it’s time to clean up your act with respect to your notes. Notes are an all-important part of the test prep process because they are good last-minute resources and reviewers. Every person, though, has a different style when it comes to taking notes. But whether you work with all text or draw pictures, here are some tips that should work for you:

  • Don’t just copy. You probably work with a textbook or some other source that has information in paragraph form. Not only is it pointlessly difficult to copy all that into your notebook, but you’ll also find those notes hard to review.
  • Use imagery. Have you heard the saying about how images are worth a thousand words? They’re worth even more in your notes. Pictures and diagrams could be a little tedious to make, but they’ll make your reviews much more efficient.
  • Put everything in an outline. Bullet points and sub-points help show you how different ideas are interrelated. At the same time, you don’t have to read through all the extra words that typically go into sentence construction.

Just like with memorization, your goal with your review notes should be to minimize and to optimize. That means getting the most benefit out of the least amount of effort exerted in this area. After all, you still have your regular academics to worry about.

Scheduling Strategy

You’ll have less and less time in the weeks leading up to the UPCAT. Scheduling and time management become more important than ever during those days, as you have to get all your reviewing and regular school requirements done simultaneously.

  • Prepare a calendar. It seems like such a small thing, but having a visual reminder in front of you at all times helps you stick to the schedules you set.
  • Focus on just one area. When planning your review sessions, don’t be ambitious and clump your Math, English and Science topics in one day. You’ll have an easier time by focusing on just one or two major topics from the same subject per day.
  • Call up your friends. Studying all by your lonesome can be demoralizing. Call up some of your classmates and organize a group study session every so often. Just make sure that you have a schedule or facilitator to follow so that you don’t end up gabbing the whole session away.

Don’t think that you can go on an academic marathon and study for three weeks straight. Experts suggest that you give yourself a day off every week or so to give you a little incentive and some time for your mind to rest from all that reviewing.

Style and Studying

Each person has his or her unique way of learning. Of course, you can still learn using other styles and methods, but using the one best suited to you will optimize the speed and effectiveness of your review.

  • Visual learners learn best through seeing. Whether it’s a printed diagram of the water cycle or a video on geology, having everything visually in front of you will help give you a better grasp of the concepts. Prepare notes in a structured outline form to help play to your learning strengths or look for instructional videos on YouTube to help you with some concept.
  • Auditory learners pick up things from hearing them. Lectures and oral reviews usually help you best if you’re an auditory learner. You may want to try reading your notes aloud, or going with a review group that does oral discussions.
  • Haptic or kinesthetic learners use touch or actions to get a literal grasp on the concepts at hand. It can be a little difficult as a kinesthetic learner because you’re often on your feet and on the go. Give yourself hand gestures to signify certain facts or equations you want to remember. Little props like a Styrofoam ball model of atoms should also improve recall.  I once taught a tutee about coplanar and collinear points by using pins and a shoebox.

One thing you should never do is force yourself to conform to a style that doesn’t suit you. If you notice that you’re not making a lot of progress with one method, switch over to another right away so that you don’t waste time. You’ll likely have to make a switch or two, but you’ll be thankful you did come UPCAT day.

You have a lot of things to do for UPCAT prep: pages of notes to dig up, books to go over and countless topics to review. In the end, those who do best with UPCAT review – and ultimately the UPCAT itself – are those who can do the most work in the least time

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