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Surviving the UPCAT and what lies ahead

Dressing up faster than The Flash and skipping breakfast.

Those were two of my more vivid recollections of that special time when I surprisingly outwitted myself by defying my own personal “gravity”.

I took care of business that day – a feat I considered as one of the most important yet frighteningly stressful missions of my teenage life ever.

Surviving the UPCAT

The University of the Philippines College Admissions Test (UPCAT), one of the most feared and dreaded scholastic entrance exams in the Philippines during our time (and to this day), was being administered then in a UP campus nearby and I was one of the many hopefuls who took the challenge in our noble pursuit of obtaining the best quality education there was, there is and ever will be and needless to say, of becoming a future maroon-tinted “Iskolar ng Bayan”.

So Little Miss Notoriously Late for Anything and Everything also known as myself showed up on time that morning in the “sacred” grounds of UP along with hundreds of other high school graduates and applicants – largely young, wide-eyed and nervous, secretly sizing each other up perhaps and silently reciting the same mantra over and over and over.

“I (or WE if you’re not selfish) will pass the UPCAT.”

I remember wearing my favorite shirt - the one I borrowed from my older sister - the same shirt I was wearing in the passport photos that I hesitantly handed to our examiner. The facial expression of the jolted examiner upon seeing my pictures and the identical image smiling in front of him was priceless.

I took my seat next to a guy who was wearing a wrinkled shirt and faded jeans. He was wearing glasses, seemed quite focused, very quiet and not very sociable. His genius demeanor made me anxious so I did my best to ignore his presence and concentrate instead on my enormous task at hand.

Surprisingly, I took the UPCAT with less difficulty than I anticipated.

After a few crucial minutes of finding a balance between my fears and my trust on my own capabilities, I breezed through the test just like I did in any of the final exams that I previously took in high school.

The Verbal section of the test was relatively easy but my brain cells took quite a beating when the Quantitative portion of the test was served to us – not in a silver platter, I must say.

When the test was over, I didn’t believe for one second that I would pass but I didn’t feel bad either.

As I walked through the sun-filled hallways of the College of Arts and Sciences building of UPLB that day, I felt more than satisfied knowing that I gave my darn best to answer all the questions to the best of my ability, hoping to one day receive the key to unlock the opportunities waiting for me in my most coveted university of choice.

A few months after I took the UPCAT, I found myself dazed but not confused - walking in the “fields of my dreams”, happily enhancing the punch lines of the upperclassmen - as a new “Iskolar ng Bayan” in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

Looking back, I don’t think there is a clear cut formula to pass the UPCAT as that accomplishment is highly dependent on a person’s mental aptitude, degree of knowledge, level of preparedness and ability to overcome the jitters.

But the good news is there are ways to survive the drama, the hoopla and the emotional anxieties that come with taking the UPCAT. The key words are commitment and responsibility which equate to being prepared academically, physically and emotionally.

If you were not born a genius like me and almost everyone else in this planet, there are ways to survive and even succeed in passing a written test including the “reputably” ultra competitive and dreaded UPCAT.

Be On Time

If there’s one day in your life that you need to show up half an hour early than your appointed schedule, this is the time. Who cares if your socks are mismatched or your shirt does not match your belt or your shoes have holes in them? Almost everybody in the testing areas will have jitters to deal with than spend time analyzing your silly fashion sense.

No Distractions

You can either eat breakfast or skip it. Do whatever works for you and your little tummy. Remember, the test will take more than four hours and you have to be physically prepared to last the testing period without passing out or going to the rest room.

Leave your drama at home or where they’re supposed to be, at least for the moment. The test papers do not care if you’re sniffing your way through. The last thing you want is to be overwhelmed by concerns that do not need to cloud your mental faculties as you’re battling for the right answers to the questions in front of you.

Don’t worry about your Facebook status updates and tweets and what others are posting. Set aside your social media fondness for a few hours. That’s one thing that our generation did not have to bother ourselves with during our UPCAT days.

Knowledge is Power

You don’t go to a battle without being armed or equipped for survival. In the same way, you don’t come to take your UPCAT without studying and preparing for the test. If you’re an independent person who can study on your own, do so at your own pace but if you need extra help from others, engage in study groups or enroll in review classes if you must.

Know what you need to bring for the test – pencils, erasers, sharpeners, test permits, and everything else listed when you received your confirmation to participate in the UPCAT.

If you can visit the testing center before your testing date to familiarize yourself with where you’re taking the test, do so. It will save you time and stress on the day that you need them the least.

Do not have calculators and electronic devices on your desk during the test. If you have them in your bags or purses, turn them off.

Do not cheat. It’s not worth it.

Let It Go

Whatever your reasons are for taking the UPCAT, they’re good to have but on testing day, you do not need to think or worry about them.

Let go.

The fact that you’re taking a shot at pursuing higher education is indication enough that you are on the right track. Just follow the road and enjoy the journey.

The UPCAT is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger challenge lies beyond the test results. There will be more struggles and reasons to overcome what blocks your path along the way. But do not stop pursuing your dreams because, as everyone else will tell you, that is your ticket to success.

When I took the UPCAT a long time ago, there was enormous pressure for me to pass the test because my older siblings and cousins and aunts who took the test years ahead of me did. If I failed, I would have difficulty looking cute during family gatherings.

But I didn’t let that little drama in my life get in the way.

I took my cue from what my wise father - who was never an UPCAT taker, by the way – always told us. That if we wanted to be who and what we hoped to be someday, we have to work hard and as sure as a little bird learns how to fly by spreading its wings when thrown in the air for the first time, we will achieve our dreams.

I most definitely did.

After all the hard work and much soul-searching, I passed the UPCAT, went through the more difficult test of mental and emotional endurance during my four years in the university - surviving the daily beatings of the UP brand of education that we so embraced – and eventually graduated.

For those who will take this year’s UPCAT, I wish you the best of luck.

Remember, hard work pays off. Everything you’ve invested to survive this feat will have a positive effect on your future.

And if you do pass the UPCAT, always remember that your test results are more than just a badge to flaunt among your peers and families or to over nourish your inflated ego.

It is a commitment to serve the people with honor and excellence.