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My UPCAT horror story |

Young Star

My UPCAT horror story

UNWRITTEN - Maria Jorica B. Pamintuan -

For many high school seniors, the clock is ticking. The days until graduation are flying by. More importantly, the time to make important decisions for the future is inching closer and closer. It’s college entrance examination season, starting with the mother of all tests: the University of the Philippines College Admission Test, more popularly known as UPCAT, in the first weekend of August.

My brother and cousin are just a couple among thousands (maybe millions) of students who are confounded by the magnitude of the decision that rests on their shoulders. For some, the task is made easy by parents who dictate what their children will do.

But for many teens, the choice is completely theirs. This front-and-center view I have of the college application process brought to mind my own journey to tertiary education. It wasn’t the most clear-cut of adventures, and perhaps by sharing my experiences, I’ll be able to spare some poor, suffering girl (or pimply boy) out there from encountering the difficulties I did.

Three years ago, I took the UPCAT on a Saturday morning in August. In line at the testing center, I was flanked by two girls. I don’t remember their names, their faces... actually, I don’t remember them, period.

We came from different schools in different provinces, and had chosen different courses (or so I remember). But the three of us had one thing in common: we were all hoping to make it into UP.

At 5 a.m., we formed a long line of nervous-looking kids clutching bags and test permits like we were worried about being mugged. Many stifled yawns; it was still dark. Hours before the start of the exam, the queue to the entrance of the test center had already wound around the building. I guess all of us harbored fatally optimistic hopes that getting into the country’s premier university would be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Standing there, staring at all the people who passed by, I talked to my temporary friends. I was only half-listening (which may be the reason why I can’t remember them anymore). My mind was chewing on something one of my high school teachers had said a few days before the UPCAT.

“Class, you should apply in other universities. Don’t pin all your hopes on UP, Ateneo, La Salle and UST. Not everyone will pass, and you don’t want to find yourself without a sure school,” she said. It was a harsh piece of advice — one I did not heed.

Most people say I was overconfident in taking only two college entrance exams — the UPCAT and the ACET of Ateneo. I respond that I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Truth be told, I was just too lazy to apply to other schools.

With that attitude, one might think I probably prepared for the UPCAT like my life depended on it, right? Well, not really. For one, I never kept track of deadlines. I almost missed the deadline for filing the application form. Secondly, I didn’t really pay much attention to fixing my application — my father did all the legwork, while I just filled up the forms (haphazardly at that).

One more strike against me was the fact that I didn’t take any review classes. While all my high school batchmates were toiling at their summer review centers, I was at home, watching TV and DVDs.

In my defense, I did have some reviewers (not that I read them, but they provided a convenient security blanket and, hey, it’s the intention that counts!).

So, there I was, an hour before the exam, suddenly regretting not going to a review center and wishing I could turn back time. My head was swimming with would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves. I wanted to throw up the McDonald’s McMuffin sandwich I had had for breakfast, so I would be taken to the infirmary and have an excuse for not passing the UPCAT.

But, for better or for worse, my digestive system staved off the acid reflux. And sooner than I expected, I was making my way up the stairs of Bocobo Hall (the UP Law Center) to take a test that would make or break my future. With only a few minutes left to mentally prepare, I did the only thing I could — I prayed. I sincerely hoped God could hear me over the prayers of all the other applicants around me.

The exam room was freezing. I had an aisle seat. I had no food. And before I could fully comprehend what was happening, the proctor had finished giving her instructions and all the stragglers had been given seats. It was time.

I felt like an unarmed soldier charging into battle. Only the basic training I received and a dogged perseverance and desire to make it through kept me going. I plowed through. Or, perhaps the better term to use would be “plodded through.” All I know is that the only constant thought in my head at the time was, “Please let me pass!”

It didn’t help that the room was so, so cold (did I say it was freezing?). After the first hour, I could barely feel my fingers. That helpless, numbing feeling, as numb as my phalanges — when you think failure is on the horizon — crept up on me. I struggled through the remainder of the test.

And then, as quickly as it began, it was over. I had frostbitten hands and an empty brain and stomach for battle scars. My erstwhile friends became, well, erstwhile; we didn’t even say goodbye. Once the exam was over, I suppose we stopped being friends and started being competitors vying for what could possibly be the same slot in the university.

It was when my dad and I were leaving UP that the hardest part of the test really started: waiting.

The months flew by, and most days, I kept my mind firmly on the present. But there were moments when regret and guilt clawed at my conscience. I hoped, feverishly wished that I would pass the UPCAT, but wasn’t convinced after my dismal performance that I would actually join the ranks of our family’s alma mater. Still, that fear was not enough to drive me to apply at other universities. At some subconscious level, perhaps I clung to the expectation that if I didn’t consider any others, fate would be kind enough to give me what I really wanted.

In the end, I did get what I wished for (act of God, or act of man, I’ll never know). However, I could have saved myself a lot of grief had I just taken the time and effort to fully prepare for the exam. Confidence is a good thing, overconfidence not so.

Now, with my brother and cousin all set to create their own college admission test experience, my ordeal should serve as a handy idiot’s guide. Being the college-entrance-test guinea pig may not be all that bad.  

Now, I get to sit back and watch the high school seniors study their eyes out in preparation for the future. As for my brother, aside from the usual horror stories about these tests, I get to tell him, “If you think the UPCAT is hard, just wait for what lies ahead when you pass!”

I say it as a challenge, and a promise of good things to come.

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