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UPCAT Dos and Don’ts

by Janina Denise H. Torralba

            College entrance exams are generally a one-shot deal. You either pass them at the first and only try, or you don’t. With that knowledge, it’s hard not to put some pressure on yourself—and pressure is a very volatile thing. It can either give you a mindset that will whip you into shape, or it can make you crash and burn.

             With no prior experience of applying for and taking a college entrance exam, you might find yourself unsure of how to condition yourself or, heaven forbid, preparing haphazardly altogether. But fear not; if UPCAT jitters have made you unable to think straight, here is a list of things you can and cannot do in preparation for the UPCAT, and even on the day itself.

 Applying for the UPCAT

  •  DO make sure that you already know what you truly want to take up in college. What if your current option will no longer hold your interest after five or six months? You might end up forfeiting your slot in UP. Shifting may be a solution to this problem, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park.
  • DON’T select a degree program solely because it is known to be a non-quota course. Choose what you really want if you do not want to waste a year studying something that will not matter to you in the future.
  •  DO make sure that you will choose campuses that are convenient for you. If they are not readily accessible, be sure that your parents will allow you to attend either of your chosen campuses. If not, it just might end up being a waste of effort. In short, confer with your parents before choosing your campuses.
  • DON’T force yourself to choose a second campus just because you get to choose two on the application form. UP will not forbid you to take the UPCAT solely for that reason. Of course, choosing only one campus minimizes your chances of getting in, but you will not have to worry about that if you are well-prepared.
  • DO choose a campus because it offers your preferred degree program, and not because it has a low cut-off score. Applying for reconsideration in a better campus afterward can be quite an arduous process, and obviously, it does not guarantee that you will be able to study in UP.
  • DON’T be lazy or careless—read your General Information bulletin and Forms 1 & 2 properly, follow all instructions, and never falsify any information! There have been instances when students have been unable to submit their application forms on time because they overlooked important details in these documents.
  • DO prepare the needed materials on time, and ask your school to do the same for the materials they will be asked to provide. These materials will be specified in the General Information bulletin according to your situation. Some of those to be issued by the school may take a long time to process, so get the materials ready as early as possible.
  • DON’T hesitate to ask for help! As the saying goes, “Admitting your own ignorance is the first step to wisdom.” Better that you get the assistance of others than try acting like you know everything and fail miserably.

 Preparing for the UPCAT

  • DO use your old reference materials such as books, notebooks, and even periodicals from previous years. The UPCAT is not exclusively composed of fourth-year level questions, so recalling your old lessons will be helpful.
  • DON’T take your review too lightly or too seriously. Being complacent leads to under-preparation; being over-pressured leads to nervous breakdowns. Make sure you still have time to relax and have a bit of fun, but never ever compromise your review.
  • DO take care of your health. It isn’t uncommon to perform poorly on any exam due to lack of sleep and nutritious food, so prepare your body as properly as you are preparing your mind for the big day.
  • DON’T let yourself get distracted when reviewing. Turn your television, laptop, radio, and all other gadgets off, or at least stay away from them. If you need to go online to review, refrain from website-hopping. If you cannot concentrate when it’s too quiet, you may either stay in a room next to wherever your sibling is watching television (but not anywhere from which the screen is visible), or you may listen to songs as long as you cannot sing or dance along to them.
  • DO understand, not remember. To remember what you are reviewing will not guarantee retention; to understand what you are reviewing ensures longer retention and a better grasp on the topic.
  • DON’T hesitate to apply for a review center should you feel the need for it. Just remember to pay close attention during your sessions, because review centers offer not only knowledge, but also tips in taking the exam. If you think you don’t need to apply for a review center, reviewers online and offline will suffice. Discipline is the key!
  • DO organize your review. This will enable you to cover all the topics you need to study and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed or overloaded with information. Maximize your time, and allot more of it to the subjects which you feel demand your attention more.
  • DON’T limit yourself. Think out of the box and find other ways to prepare for the UPCAT. Perform mental exercises, play educational games, talk to your fellow UPCAT takers (and prospective future schoolmates!)—the list is endless. Moreover, as we are on the topic of breaking limitations, don’t doubt yourself!

Taking the UPCAT

  • DO get to your testing center on time. If you must, leave your house extra early, especially those who will be taking the UPCAT at the Diliman campus. The roads around and within UP Diliman can get quite congested, seeing as thousands of applicants take the test there alone. It’s not egregious in the morning, but it’s more difficult for the afternoon session.
  • DON’T wear anything uncomfortable. There are different temperatures and conditions in different testing centers; some, such as the Institute of Mathematics, will separate the students with jackets from those who do not, and place them accordingly into the right rooms. Not all buildings are fully air-conditioned or otherwise, and you will not know the room where you will be taking the test until the day itself. To be sure, wear something simple and bring a jacket with you. Take extra care to protect your face and your throat, where your skin is most sensitive. If it is too cold, you might get sore throat—or Bell’s Palsy.
  • DO bring just the right snacks—easy to eat, easy to handle, nutritious, and filling. You don’t want to mess up your testing materials with your food, and you certainly do not want to end up going to the toilet far too often. Not everyone who brings snacks will be able to eat them due to the intense pressure, so make sure your snacks can be consumed quickly. Brain foods such as nuts, fruits, and even chocolate will be good for an energy boost, but try not to rely on caffeine. Of course, the reminder of eating healthful food stands for your breakfast as well.
  • DON’T be disorderly while taking the exam. Don’t mutter to yourself too often or too loudly, don’t move too much, and don’t tap your pencil on the desk. It’s embarrassing, it’s disrespectful, and it might draw several pairs of reproachful eyes to you, including those of the proctor.
  • DO rest every now and then. As with the engine of a car, your brain might “overheat” if you take on the test too furiously and too quickly. Sit back in your chair, breathe evenly, and eat a little. Excuse yourself from the room and stretch a little outside if you can, but don’t take too long.
  • DON’T answer the test questions in a linear fashion if you can’t. You can skip the difficult questions first, but you can’t skip to another subtest without instructions. Just take note of all the items you’ve skipped and save them for after you’ve answered the easier ones. Don’t fret over the scratch paper; you aren’t obliged to fill it up. You can write less or more, depending on your capabilities to solve mathematical problems in your head.
  • DO keep track of the time. There is a time limit for each part of the test, and during the first and last test, you will not be allowed to leave the room in the last fifteen minutes. Manage your time properly and pay attention to the proctor. There will be some form of update on the time.
  • DON’T take anything your proctor says for granted. Besides general instructions, the proctor will also remind you of certain rules, such as where to keep your test permit or where to put your things. The proctor will also remind you of some additional testing information, such as the number of the room where you are taking the exam. Some instructions will be repetitive, but not all are arbitrary.
  • DO read everything carefully before writing anything down. Some questions are actually trick questions designed to confuse you before you come to a conclusion, and some will have choices that are ridiculously hard to distinguish from one another. The items for Reading Comprehension will not only have stories and essays; there will also be charts, comic strips, and more. Presence of mind is a MUST.
  • DON’T forget to pray! God is always with you, so be sure to acknowledge His guidance and presence.

Of course, some of these tips will be subjective, particularly those given for the preparation period. This article is not an instructional manual; it is a general guide which offers tried and tested tips with hopes of giving UP applicants satisfactory results. In the end, you may still follow the approach which will suit you and your needs. Like they say, “Kanya-kanyang diskarte lang yan.” Just be sure that your decisions and actions will be made and taken judiciously and carefully.

Gather up all you’ve got and get ready for battle!

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