Tried and tested: Entrance exam strategies

Angel Britanico

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Tried and tested: Entrance exam strategies
Here are some helpful tips for psyching yourself up for that crucial entrance exam

Many students fail to realize – at times, until it’s too late – that preparation for entrance and board exams begins as far back as their very first day of school.

Academic performance, however, is not the end-all-be-all of the admissions process. No one can go back in time to improve their grades, but the persistent and well-prepared stand a fair chance of passing admissions and board exams. (READ: Tips for UPCAT Takers)

Whatever way you choose to prepare (if at all) for such exams, here are some tried and tested exam strategies to make the most of the experience:

Before exam day:

  1. Know your study style. There are those who learn best when reading aloud, drawing figures, discussing with others, writing songs or conducting their own experiments. Try out different approaches and adapt what works for you.
  2. Research. Get exam pointers from teachers, relatives, friends and web forum posters who are alumni of your desired schools.
  3. Tour your testing center. Ask a graduate of the school to show you around and to share valuable information like alternate routes, directions to nearby eateries and test tips. Draw or download a map to your test center, or save the route on your navigation app.
  4. Prepare your things the day before. Make a checklist and pack on your own to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, especially your all-important test permit.


During exam day:

  1. Believe in yourself. If underpreparation is the enemy, fear is its sneering sidekick – and it’s up to you not to let either bring you down. Avoid talking about the exam or reviewing with fellow examinees. You already probably know everything you need to know about the subjects by this time.
  2. Bring the necessary accessories and requirements. Set your watch 15-20 minutes in advance. Use a pencil case to keep all supplies in one place.
  3. Leave the house early. Exam days notoriously cause traffic jams that go on ’till kingdom come. Note the travel time from your house to the test venue, and leave one to two hours before. Prepare to walk or run to your test center to avoid the build-up of vehicles within the school.
  4. Plan your pre-test meal ahead. Eat within the area or just bring your own meal. There are too many things that could go wrong if you gamble to commute from a restaurant to your testing center.
  5. Bring fuss-free snacks. Many test-takers become so preoccupied answering that forget to eat snacks. But if you do bring food, the last thing you’d want to worry about is dusting off junk food bits from your test paper or ignoring the smell of adobong pusit in your snack bag.
  6. Take that restroom break. You may not think you need it at the start of the test, but your bladder might change its mind just when you’re struggling to convert grams to moles.
  7. Use scratch paper wisely. Write down important formulas. List down the letters of the alphabet and their corresponding number equivalents (i.e., A = 1, B = 2, C = 3 and so on) for faster analysis in abstract reasoning subtests.
  8. Manage your time well. For each subtest, divide the number of questions by the number of minutes allotted, and estimate how much time you should spend per item. If you’re stuck, just proceed to the next and return later.
  9. Shade circles lightly or partially, then fill them in only after you’ve answered all questions. The idea behind this is to finish all the questions and answers in less time. This is crucial because after the proctor instructs everyone to proceed to the next subtest, examines are forbidden from returning to unanswered or unread pages.
  10. Narrow down your choices. Unsure about a certain number? Partially mark the two closest choices. Scribble important details and possible answers on scratch paper, then refer to these notes before finalizing.
  11. For reading comprehension tests, begin with the end in mind. Read the test questions first then skim through the passages for the answers.
  12. For essay tests, keep answers straight to the point and grammatically correct. Clarify whether the essay writing part has its own time limit, or if it is included within the time limit of a subtest. Read all essay questions first to anticipate the time it takes to answer each. Stick to 2-3 important issues or arguments per topic, and make a graphic or linear outline (not a written one!) before you write down your final answer.
  13. Leave no blanks.When in doubt or when you’ve ran out of time, take a guess even if the test has a right-minus-wrong policy. You have 0% chance of earning a point if you leave an item blank. But if you take a guess, you have a 25% fighting chance of being right – and sometimes a little chance is better than none. 

After the exam:

  1. Ask the proctor all your questions regarding the release of results. Confirm the school’s official information channels (i.e., hotlines, website, social media) with the proctor. Ask for the month and week when results are usually released.
  2. Check your belongings. Make sure to bring your review materials, especially if you have other forthcoming tests or if you know someone from younger batches who may need them.
  3. Unwind and treat yourself! Pat yourself on the back – there goes a milestone in your academic life! No need to spend or leave the house to celebrate, though. Something as simple as eating your favorite home-cooked meal, reading a book you’ve set aside during review or binge-watching your favorite series will do the trick.
  4. You win some, you learn some. If the universe conspired to get the outcome you wanted and needed, congratulations! You’ve just earned an excuse to burn all those review materials (no, not really).

Celebrate the passing of the hurdle, but don’t be complacent. After all, it’s one thing to be admitted into a school – but graduating from it is another ordeal entirely. Ditto for passing a board exam and for the long, often bumpy road to being an excellent and responsible practitioner. 




“Whatever the outcome of the exam may be, all that you are and all that you know is so much more than an exam score.” 




Don’t lose heart if the results were not as favorable. Apply to other schools if you’re an incoming high school or college student. Hit the books again for your second run of review if you’re a graduate seeking licensure. You’re human and it’s perfectly natural to be hurt, hysterical, disappointed and embarrassed – even angry – when things don’t go our way.

But in the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Whatever the outcome of the exam may be, all that you are and all that you know is so much more than an exam score.

Written tests and shaded circles can only tell us so much. The true test of character is how big we’re willing to dream, how much we’re willing to give up and how far we’re willing to go when what is worth having doesn’t come easy. –

Angel Britanico was once a chubby-cheeked high school senior who covered her eyes with both hands when she saw the Oblation for the first time. She graduated from University of the Philippines Diliman in 2013 and passed the entrance examination for the UP College of Law and the Ateneo Law School that same year.

Six years after her UP College Admission Test (UPCAT), Angel is now a chubby-cheeked, 21-year-old marketer by profession and wordsmith by passion. 

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