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ACET Review Guide

There are people who seem to thrive under pressure, and there are people who wouldn’t dare touch it with a ten-foot pole.  Regardless of which type of person you are, pressure is something you’ll need to deal with anyway when you face the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET).

With its reputation as one of the most notorious “pressure cooker” entrance exams available today, the ACET serves as a source of anxiety for potential test-takers.  Let’s see why this is so and what we can do about it.

ACET Coverage

The ACET may strike you as a strange test—strange in the sense that it has no specific Science section to speak of, unlike its contemporaries.  Instead, you’ll get a smattering of general science questions here and there.

The Mathematics and Language Proficiency sub-sections are mainstays, and you’ll also get some Logical and Abstract Reasoning, plus General Information (current events and factoids) to make up for the lack of Science questions.

Like its classic rival, the ACET also has an essay portion.  Unlike its classic rival, the ACET’s essay is only in English.  Its topics can be anything under the sun—you may be asked about the upcoming elections or whether you think the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight will push through.

ACET Review:  Solo or with Friends

The ACET is a demanding exam, but adequate preparation can make it more manageable.  You can do the lone ranger impression, organize a study group or sign up with a review center.  Each one has its pros and cons, and the “best” method for you will depend entirely on your individual needs, preferences and resources.

Besides going back to your high school material, you’ll also want to polish up on your English essay-writing skills (This is where friends can prove most helpful.).  There are many resources on the Internet with suggestions and even practice exercises to help you tweak your writing savvy.  This article is one such resource, as is this one.

Aside from reviewing, there are other not-necessarily-academically-related ways of preparing for it.  Have a look at some of the helpful suggestions in this article.

Centering the ACET Centers

There are times when you absolutely must seek out more specialized help.  Review centers provide good alternatives, so long as you know what you want and what the center you’re targeting actually offers.

For instance, some centers may drill you more on the core academic subjects, while others may offer helpful extras like diagnostic evaluation and career assessment.  Some may offer essay training (Keep your eyes peeled for these.) while others actually provide tours of the school in question.

I’ll take a closer look at review centers in another article, but for now, you may also wish to read this one.  Even if it’s geared toward applicants of another school, it still contains many practical guidelines for sniffing out the right review center for you.

The ACET Secret

I’ll let you in on a little secret I picked up from my past experience:  mind games are very much a part of Jesuit education, and the ACET is one fine example of that.  In other words, you may think that you’re being tested on academics alone, but in reality, your future Jesuit instructors are also checking for certain good qualities in you:  fluency, assertiveness, tenacity, calmness under pressure and what not.

Keep this principle in mind when preparing for the ACET, and it will help you during testing day and beyond.


The prospect of taking an entrance test can be one of the most trying experiences for an incoming college freshman, particularly if that test is called the ACET.  Add in the reputation of the entrance exam being “unfinishable” and you have a good recipe for burnout.

The good news is that there are strategies you can employ to help you not only survive the pressure, but thrive in the midst of it as well.  Take it from one who’s been there, done that.

The Coverage

An entrance test usually contains a number of standard issue topics, and the ACET is no different in this respect.  Expect to see questions related to mathematics (geometry and trigonometry), reading comprehension, language proficiency and abstract and logical reasoning.

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between the last two sections, the former has to do with discerning patterns among shapes and other squiggly things.  The latter has more to do with spotting fallacies and loopholes in arguments.

Unlike its entrance test brethren, the ACET contains no separate science section.  Instead, it makes up for it by adding a General Information section (aka the facts section) to the mix.  It would be wise to update your current events databank for this.

Remember how you had to write an essay when you applied at the Ateneo?  Well, you’ll have to write another one for the language proficiency section, besides correcting grammatical errors and completing sentences, that is.

The Write Stuff

In other articles, I mentioned the importance of time-budgeting, answering easy questions first, reviewing, solving practice tests, etc.  All of those guidelines apply to the ACET as well.  Another thing you need to sharpen, however, is your essay-writing ability, and the only way to really get good at it is to do it yourself.

Here’s a suggestion:  go to a bookstore or library or surf the Web for some good essays.  Study them to get a feel of what writing an essay is like, and then write an essay of your own in response to what you’ve just read.

I highly recommend constructing an outline first, especially if you’re not used to writing essays under time pressure.  If you have, say, fifteen minutes to write the essay, spend about three minutes organizing your ideas into a coherent outline, seven to eight minutes writing the actual text, and four minutes reviewing and correcting everything.

Make your time limit challenging but reasonable at the start.  Once you’ve mastered writing the essay within that specific period of time, up the ante by subtracting a minute or so from the timer and do it again.  Repeat the process over and over, in incrementally shorter time limits to improve your speed.  Better yet, grab a friend and have him or her time you and give you feedback.

Not Finishing Doesn’t Mean Failure

In the end, you may be wondering if you need to finish the ACET in order to pass.  The answer is a resounding NO.  At the time that I took it, I remember having left so many questions blank that I wondered if I’d ever make it into the Ateneo.  Thankfully, I did.

Remember:  the ACET will test your knowledge of academics, but it will test your psychological mettle even more.  Finishing the test isn’t necessary to pass; competing with and transcending yourself is.  That is something that teachers and school officials will be looking at as you spend the rest of your college life in the Jesuit University.

An ACET Sample Essay and Some Tips

Perhaps the thing that Ateneo applicants dread the most, next to Mathematics, is the prospect of writing an essay.  Unfortunately, if you’re interested in an Ateneo education, you’ll be eating essays for breakfast lunch and dinner.  The time to start preparing for that is right now—before you even take the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET).

To help out, I’ve included a sample ACET essay for you, coupled with some notes and guidelines for study.  Please note that you do not have to write your essay in exactly this way; this is just a reference to help you get started.  You will naturally have your own writing style and approach to things.

The Sample Essay

The following sample is a treatise on the topic of frustration—something you’re likely to experience at least once when you’re interacting with peers from all walks of like in an academic institution known for its high standards.  I’ve also included some footnotes on points I felt I needed to emphasize:

Coping Effectively with the “F” Word[1]

A wise person once told me that oftentimes, it’s not the big problems that trip us up the most, but the many, many little annoyances that come in battalions.[2] It’s because of the fact that they’re “little” that they often escape our immediate notice—at least until they pile up and grate on our patience.

Fortunately, I’ve experienced frustration enough times that I’ve learned to deal with it more effectively than before, or to at least minimize its damaging effects.  Perhaps the following guidelines may help you, too.

The Three-Minute Rule[3]

Chances are, the first thing that pops into your head when you’re frustrated is not the right thing to do or say.  That’s why it’s very important to take some time off for what is known as the “Three-Minute Rule.”[4]

The rule basically dictates that when you start to feel frustrated, back off or at least three minutes to get some much needed perspective on the situation.  Take the time to pray and to seek guidance and wisdom.

Note that three minutes is an arbitrary span time.  It may be three minutes, three hours, or three days.  The important thing is to let your emotions cool down sufficiently to the point where you can think clearly again, and then act.

Look for the Unorthodox Alternative

A story is told of Alexander the Great undertaking the challenge of untying the Gordian Knot.[5] The knot was said to have been tied in such a complex manner that no one was able to untie it.

The shrewd Alexander, however, simply drew his sword and cut the knot, effectively untying it.  Since then, the expression “cutting the Gordian Knot” has come to mean solving a complex problem using unique and ingenious means.

Like Alexander, see if you can find another way to solve your problem instead of pursuing a course of action that just doesn’t work.[6] For example, if you can’t get through an obstacle, perhaps you can go around it somehow.

The Need to Let Go

One question that inspirational speakers and writers like to ask themselves is if something will still be worth fussing over ten, fifty, or even one hundred years from now.  Chances are, the thing that’s causing you so much frustration right now may not even be important next year.  If so, are you perhaps giving it more attention than it is really worth?

One lesson that the late inspirational writer Richard Carlson[7] left me is the choice of being right or being happy.  We mistakenly think that we will only be happy if we prove ourselves right and everyone else wrong, or if we nail that difficult problem and show everyone what we’ve accomplished.

Some things are simply not worth your peace of mind.  Sometimes, it’s better to swallow your pride and to make a strategic withdrawal instead of forcing the issue at the time.  As Dr. Harold Sala once quipped, “Any bear can easily whip a skunk, but it’s just not worth it.”[8]

A Final Word

The essay I’ve included above is just one example of many.  You can find more examples and guidelines online if ever you need more reference material.  Here is a short list to help you get started:

Xavier School High 4 – This blog contains a sample essay and some excellent pointers

Ateneo Tribute Essays – While not exactly application essays, it may also help to study the essays on the Ateneo site.  The ones here deal with the passing of former President Cory Aquino.

A Winning Contest Essay – Here’s the essay that won the “Rizal na, Europa Pa,” essay contest for Mr. Joaquin Carlos de Jesus.

Peer Papers – If you have some money to invest, try reading the essays on this site. You’ll notice the names of some famous Ateneans here, too.

Finally, remember that essay-writing is an applied skill—like all skills, it may be developed through constant practice.  The good news is that the more you practice creating essays, the more you’ll be able to refine your technique and develop a unique style and a voice all your own.

[1] The title is the first thing your readers will look at, so try to make it catchy and hook them in with it.

[2] It helps to start off your essay with something attention-grabbing. In my case, I opted for “a saying of the wise.”

[3] If your essay is fairly long, using captions or headings to break it up into segments helps.

[4] Whenever you mention something that may be unfamiliar to your reader, take the time to explain it. Don’t leave your readers scratching their heads in confusion.

[5] Stories are great for getting your point across in an engaging manner. Besides, people love them.

[6] If you’re going to tell a story, choose one that’s somehow related to the message you’re trying to communicate. That way, it’s easier to link your story to your point.

[7] Quoting, paraphrasing or simply drawing stuff from famous personalities can help lend credence to your essay.

[8] If you start your essay with a bang, end it with a bang as well. Audiences tend to recall the beginning and the end of your presentation most clearly, so save your best for first and last.

Guide to Writing your ACET Essay

If you’re interested in writing for pay or passing entrance exams conducted by certain Jesuit-run academic institutions, you’ll have to deal with the reality of writing under time pressure.  Writing an essay while the clock is ticking can be a very stressful experience—if you’re not used to it.

The good news is that writers are made, not born.  Here are a few tips to get you started down the path of skillful essay writing.

Uncensored, then Organized

Let’s say you’re taking the ACET and you’ve been given a topic to write about.  The first thing you need to do is to spend a little time generating ideas.  Pause, think, and write down any and all ideas that pop into your head.  Don’t worry about how “stupid” or “ridiculous” they may seem.  The idea is to generate a lot of ideas without censoring yourself—save the editing for later.

Next, organize your ideas into a mind map diagram or an outline.  If you’re more of a visually-oriented person, having a diagram with the main idea of your essay in the very center will help you a great deal.

Toss out the ideas that do not support your main idea in any way, and subsume supporting, specific ideas under general ones.  Once you’ve arranged everything into a cohesive big picture, it’s time to move on to the next phase, which is…

Thesis the Police!  Open Up!

Remember that main idea I kept on mentioning earlier?  The statement that encapsulates it is your all-important thesis statement.  This is the point you’ll be making in your entire write-up, so start writing the body of your prose with it in mind.  Do not write it on your essay first; save it for later.  I’ll explain why in a little while.

Every sentence you write should develop and/or support your thesis statement somehow.  If you did your mind map or outline well, you should have no problems with run-on sentences (sentences that don’t support your thesis statement in any way).

The End of the Beginning

Remember how I asked you to save the intro and conclusion for last?  They are special in the sense that they can make or break your essay.  They can grab your reader’s attention and deliver much of your message’s impact, or utterly fail to do so.

If there’s only one thing you to take away form this article, take this:  audiences tend to remember the first and the last part of your presentation most clearly, so save the juiciest parts for first and for last.

There are many ways to go about writing your introduction and conclusion.  For example, you can do the orthodox thing and simply state your thesis plainly, or you can get creative and throw in a question or anecdote to spice it up.  It’s an arbitrary thing, depending on who you are and who your audience will be.

The Only Constant

Do remember to edit your essay.  A good rule of thumb is to proofread it at least three times:  the first time for correcting typos, the second time for double checking the flow of ideas, and a third time for fixing the format, if ever.

Finally, know that essay writing is a learned skill.  If you constantly practice the right habits, you’ll find that you’ve nowhere to go but up.

Increasing your Chances of Passing the ACET

pass the acet

ready, ACET, go!

It’s interesting how word travels fast regarding entrance exams.  For example, the Ateneo College Entrance Test’s (ACET’s) reputation as being an “unfinishable exam” has left a distinct impression among many test takers, both past and future.

Granted, the ACET is a challenging exam, but there’s no need to be intimidated by it.  To follow are some guidelines to help you beat that exam giant down to a more manageable size.

An Ounce of Preparation…


You may wish to brush upon your Mathematics and English skills, as you will need to draw heavily upon these come test time.  Whatever you do, DO NOT review the week before the exam, as cramming does not work.  If possible, review months (or even years) before to avoid the rush.

There are two things the ACET will require from you:  speed and accuracy.  If need be, seek assistance from a review service.  Doing so can help you get used to answering questions quickly; it can also help boost your self-confidence.

Remember to pack some water snacks for the break that will be given to you.  Brain food (such as tuna, nuts, fruits and vegetables) is a must during any heavy mental workout.  Also remember to bring your watch, as you will need it to help you budget your time effectively.

Make sure you relax on the day, (if possible, the week) before the exam, and leave your home early.  This is to allow for a ginormous volume of vehicular and human traffic en route to the testing room.

Attitude Determines Altitude

It’s a good idea to get into that “success mindset” while preparing for the exam.  Believe that you are excellent Ateneo material, as your beliefs will reveal themselves in your essay (yes, the ACET includes an essay portion as well.).

Months before the exam, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself in no uncertain terms “I am worthy of studying in the Ateneo.  I can pass the ACET and pass it well.”  It may sound like a crazy idea at first, but keep doing it everyday.  It won’t be long before you start believing in it yourself.

Divine Assistance


The very thought of taking the test may make you feel like Atlas, who bore the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.  It’s all right to feel that way – just remember that you aren’t alone.  Everyone else is going through the same experience.

Be sure to pray before and after the exam.  This is critical, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll be doing everything on your own strength.

Besides the obvious spiritual benefits involved, prayer also sets your mind in a more relaxed state and allows you to think more clearly.  In a pressure cooker exam like the ACET, you’ll need every iota of clear thinking that you can get.

Knocking ‘Em Dead

Take the time to read the instructions carefully.  Yes, I know you have to deal with time constraints, but it will be a HUGE waste of time and effort if you misunderstand the instructions and screw up.

Remember that watch you brought?  Use it.  Try to give yourself a little leeway in terms of time.  For example, if you’re given five minutes to complete one section, give yourself four minutes instead.  This is to give you time to go back and review your answers.  Studies show that students tend to change wrong answers into right ones instead of vice versa.

By the way, do note that the ACET is not one of those “right minus wrong” exams.  Go after the easy questions first – this will assure you of points and help inspire you to keep going.  Skip the more difficult ones and return to them later.

If ever you don’t know the answer to a particular question, take your best educated guess and answer it, anyway.  Who knows, you may end up writing the correct answer in the process.

The Paradox


As strange as it sounds, it may be paradoxically easier to get into Ateneo than some other schools.  The reason for this is that significantly fewer people tend to take a shot at the ACET than, say, the UPCAT or the USTET.  This eliminates a lot of your competition and increases your chances of getting accepted.

That doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels, though.  Just pray, prepare and give it your best shot.  That alone is behavior worthy of success, regardless of the outcome.

ACET Essay Portion Tips

ACET essay exam tips

If you’ve applied at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), then you already know that the application process involves essay writing.  Love it or hate it, it’s all par for the course as far as ADMU school life is concerned.

In fact, the institution’s very own entrance exam—the ACET—requires test takers to write essays under time pressure.  If this sounds like a daunting task to you, fear not.  I’ll share a few tips with you that can help increase your chances of acing that essay portion of the test.

Writing Well Under Time Pressure

Doing anything while the clock is ticking is an acquired skill—writing is no exception.  I cannot fully emphasize how important it is to get enough practice well before the ACET rolls around.

Here’s a suggestion:  ask a friend to help you out.  Have him or her give you an essay question about any topic.  Make an outline first, and then start writing.  Give yourself twenty-five minutes to finish the essay, and then have your friend review your work and give you feedback.

If the essay isn’t exactly up to snuff, keep practicing.  If it is, repeat the process, but this time, give yourself twenty minutes instead.  Repeat the process again, but limit yourself to fifteen minutes this time, and so on.

Keep doing this over and over and I can almost guarantee you that you will become adept at it.  Pray to God for help and keep practicing.  When the big day arrives, the essay portion of the ACET won’t look so formidable anymore.

Some Essay Question Examples

This may strike you as strange, but don’t expect essay questions on narrowly-focused topics.  People who have taken the ACET recently have reported that the questions can range from the broad to the vague to the weird.

For example, the ACET people may ask you to discuss how useful computers are in today’s world.  You may also encounter an essay question asking you to explain how children cope with the reality of living away from their parents.

If you’re wondering why those questions were chosen for the test, I must confess that I’m as clueless as you are.  Before you scratch your head or break out into a fit of laughter, please note that the essay questions aren’t meant to be relevant to the ACET at face value.  The people behind the test are looking for something else entirely.

The Whole Point

While you’re intensely focused on that pressure cooker of an exam, your first priority is to be able to put your thoughts down on paper and to make yourself understood.  Never mind if the topic doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem meaningful to you—just express yourself as clearly and as concisely as you possibly can. That, my friends, is the point of the entire exercise.

There’s this joke going around that Ateneans can give you a good discussion on just about any topic under the sun, even if that topic is absurd or pointless.  Don’t worry; you’ll get plenty of essay training later when you get into the college.  For now, consider the ACET essay questions as a means of getting your feet wet in the wonderful world of self-expression.

What to Expect from the Ateneo College Entrance Test or ACET

The Ateneo College Entrance Test or ACET is your means to an Ateneo education.  Of course, you’d also have to have money for the fees and tuition, but that’s incidental, he he he.  The ACET is the make or break exam that will determine if you will Pass Go or Head on to Jail (to people who are determined to study in Ateneo de Manila University, Jail and Other School are practically synonymous).

People tend to fear what they do not know or understand.  And yet, there are those who fear what they believe they know and (tragically) understand.  The Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET) belongs to this latter category.

You’ve probably heard all the ACET horror stories that are circulating around, perpetrated by those who’ve gone before.  Some of those stories are based in fact, but chances are they’ve been blown way out of proportion.  The mind does have a tendency to play tricks on us.

This article, however, will not.  “There is no knowledge that is not power,” so goes the old Mortal Kombat saying, so use this power to your advantage when facing the ACET.

The “Unfinishable” Exam?

Before you can cry foul, let me say this first:  “unfinishable” is not a word.  It’s only a term I’m using for this occasion to help me drive my point across.  There, satisfied?

There’s a reason why some people have dubbed the ACET as the “unfinishable” exam:  the time limit involved is somewhat tight.  Since you’re given only five minutes to answer certain sections, your mind will most likely panic unless you’re armed with some kind of plan.

The trick, of course, is to know what you’ll be up against before hand and to prepare in advance.  Having a watch with you will be of tremendous help – all you have to do is to note the time limit for each section and pace yourself accordingly.

One word of caution before we proceed:  if you’re going to bring a watch, make sure that it’s a real clock, not the watch on your mobile phone.  Otherwise, the exam proctor may bust you for suspected cheating.  (It’s actually happened to someone before.)

Now let’s take a look at the subjects involved.

While the ACET will throw in the standard issue Science, Math and English topics, expect your skills in the latter two subjects to be tested big time.  ACET takers have reported a lot of questions involving problem solving, statistics, conic sections (basically Maths 2 and 4 material).  Now, aren’t you glad you’re from a science high school?

There are also sections on reading comprehension and essay writing.  Yes, you read it correctly – essay writing.  Remember that essay question they threw at you when you first sent in your application form?  If you can manage that, then you should be able to manage the ACET English essay writing portion as well (insert screams here from those who have let other people write their admission essay, he he he).

In the essay writing section, explain things well but be brief.  You don’t want to pass an “excitingly and wonderfully profound masterpiece” that no one got or read because it’s not complete, do you?  It also won’t hurt your chances to put in a good word for the Ateneo de Manila University in your essay.  It may even help; believe me, ego-stroking still works in this day and age.

Expect some questions on current events as well.  I expect the powers at be in Ateneo de Manila University throw in these questions just to keep you on your toes.  You may wish to make a habit of reading the papers weeks before the big ACET day.

Exam Etiquette

One thing you should keep in mind is that the ACET is not the UPCAT or U.P. College Admission Test.

You:  “I know that, you dummy!  ACET has only four letters while UPCAT has five.” {I’m sorry; couldn’t resist ribbing you a bit, he he he).

In ACET, you can bring some snacks for when you take the exam.  However, unlike in UPCAT, the exam proctor won’t allow you to eat and drink during the exam.  Wait until the snack break to munch on your sandwich or sip on your bottled water.

Newsflash: If I were you, I’d steer clear of carbonated drinks.  In fact, you should steer clear of anything that has ever caused you a tummy upset in the past.  For instance, if you have lactose intolerance, you’d better bring only food and drinks that don’t have milk in them.  You don’t want to be running to and from the CR just when you’re getting all warmed up about the ACET.  For drinks, water is still best.

If you still have some time during your break, walk around and limber up a bit.  Your ACET session may take place in one of the covered courts, so feel free to explore, chat with friends (please, not about the exam – do you really need any more pressure?), and make new friends (uuuyyyy).

Lastly, don’t forget to take a quick trip to the “comfortable room.”  The exam is pressure enough; so be kind to yourself and get rid of any building pressure in your bladder.

Go and Do Likewise

Now that you know what to expect, the next thing to do is to apply it.  If you’d like more detailed suggestions on how to properly prepare for the ACET, I’ve discussed them in greater detail in Preparing for the ACET.

For now, just remember that you do not need to fear the ACET.  It is a difficult exam (and an extremely hard one for those who are not prepared for it), but with enough preparation, prayer and guts, it can also become a quite manageable college entrance exam.

To know the ACET Schedule, click here.