Beyond the test: stories of UPLB’s UPCAT 2013

by Paoloregel B. Samonte

Armed with just a single pen, a sheet of yellow paper inside her tiny bodybag, and a pocketful of determination, Beatrice Miguel, 15, a senior high school student from Biñan Secondary School of Applied Mathematics in Biñan, Laguna, left her house at 8 that fateful morning to fulfill her long-time life hope. She had dreamt of taking the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) and entering the prestigious University of the Philippines ever since she was a little girl, and that Saturday would dictate the realization of that dream.

Bea was just among the 5,843 high school students from all over Laguna and other nearby provinces who took the UPCAT last August 3 and 4 (Saturday and Sunday), at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

UPCAT 2013 Statistics

According to Prof. Myrna Carandang, University Registrar, this year’s UPCAT examinees are the largest batch of students to take the test. From about 75,000 last year, the number of UPCAT takers nationwide rose to approximately 83,000 this year – an increase of about 9.64 percent. Such, she said, is also the case in this year’s UPCAT in UPLB. From about 5,400 students from the previous year, UPCAT examinees this year rose to an additional more or less 400 students, or a percent increase of 6.91.

According to the Office of Admissions records, the average passing rate in UPCAT falls between 16-17 percent, or about 12,000 students for this year. With the increased number of examinees, coupled with a limited slot for the whole UP system, rivalry for a UP education has become even tighter.

UPLB Admin Preparations

While it is the Office of the Admissions in UP Diliman that is in-charge of the overall UPCAT coordination, UPLB, being one of the 82 testing centers in the country, also has its job of conforming to the policies to keep the local UPCAT right on track.

Prof. Carandang explained how UPCAT is being managed by the Office of the University Registrar (OUR). Before the UPCAT, says Carandang, the OUR requests the different units and colleges of UPLB if they can assign people who are willing to be proctors, examiners, and hall supervisors for the UPCAT. These people are all UPLB faculty, REPS, and admin staff.

“We request a list of names of those who are willing to be part of UPCAT. The OUR is also in-charge of searching for big classrooms conducive to the conduct of the UPCAT,” said Carandang.

According to Prof. Carandang, after all of these are settled, the UP Office of Admission will conduct a briefing and orientation for the proctors, examiners, and supervisors regarding the administration of UPCAT. After the briefing, the registrar will then orient the admin staff, which includes custodial workers, technicians, and security personnel, to ensure the success and safety of the UPCAT conduct.

“I am personally in-charge of orienting the admin staff for security and safety purposes. Along with this, we likewise request permits to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Community Affairs (OVCCA) regarding the putting-up of security and rerouting of vehicles to control traffic within the campus. We also ask the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development (OVCPD) to write a letter to NAPOCOR so that brownouts are prevented,” Carandang explained.

Prof. Carandang says that the UPCAT in UPLB does not usually experience problems, since the proctors, examiners, and hall supervisors, and the offices concerned with the UPCAT are already well-oriented with the process. The only problem that is encountered is when some organizations in the campus get permits to conduct activities in nearby examination rooms during the UPCAT.

“In areas near the testing rooms, there should be no any other activities conducted… This was a problem before, but this was already addressed,” Carandang elaborated.

When asked how the UPCAT went in general, Prof. Carandang said this year’s UPCAT was a success.

“The UPCAT this year was very good. There is an increase in the number of examinees… Also, there was no power interruption this year, and the rains are not that heavy,” Carandang said.

Student Reactions

While the University Registrar busied itself organizing for the UPCAT, some high school student examinees had likewise undergone extreme processes – from month-long reviews to crammed reading – in preparation for the exam.

On Saturday morning, emotions were roused and fusses are heard as the examinees queued in restaurants and fastfoods after the just-finished examination.

After about five hours of completing the exam, Cyrhys Payag, 16, from Jeremiah Montessori School in Cabuyao, Laguna, felt relieved and nervous at the same time now that the exam is over.

“The exam was really difficult but I’m just glad it’s over,” she said.

When asked why she chose to take the UPCAT, Cyril confessed that she still believes firmly that UP is the best university around the country.

“I want to study here in UP because it’s UP. Everyone knows that when you study here, the quality of education is good… It’s the best university around,” she explains.

This was also the sentiment of Khrysmin Villapanda, 15, from the Biñan Secondary School of Applied Academics, when she was asked why she took the UPCAT.

“UP is one of the best schools in the country… It has the highest quality standards in tertiary education,” she shared.

Parents’ Sentiments

More than the UPCAT takers, it is the parents of these students who are both excited and nervous about the exam.

Mrs. Susie Payag, 41, mother of Cyrhys, expressed her anxiousness and anticipation just as her daughter came out of the examination room. She, like many other parents around, believes that a great deal of their child’s future depends on entrance examinations just as this one.

“I am excited because during my time, I am not able to take the UPCAT. Now that my daughter took it, I am just nervous and happy at the same time,” Mrs. Payag explains.

Just like her daughter, Mrs. Payag likewise believes that UP education is the best one around.

“There is no doubt in UP education… If you are a UP graduate, no questions asked – you easily get accepted for any job,” the single parent of two said.

However, she expressed disappointment with the tuition fee hikes, and even the high price of the UPCAT itself.

“UP is a government school, but the UPCAT already costs around P500. How much more when my daughter studied here? Education here is supposed to be cheap,” she explained.

On the same note, Mr. Jun Gamboa, 47, a call center agent and father of an UPCAT examinee, expressed his disapproval on the current tuition payment scheme. He believes that the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program (STFAP) is a commendable tuition payment mechanism, but its evaluation system should be reviewed.

“The bracketing system (STFAP) is fair enough, so that people pay according to their financial capability. But the problem is the administration’s manner of screening. I know some families who do not report their actual income… This is unfair to others, and I think this should be reconsidered.”

Mr. Gamboa suggests that the administration improve their screening mechanism, such as sending people to check the households of applicants, so that they can actually verify the properties reported in the STFAP forms.

Security Issues

While Mrs. Payag and Mr. Gamboa’s concern was the tuition fee and payment mechanism of UPLB, Mrs. Lilia Legaspi’s major apprehension in allowing her daughter, Graziel Hannah, to take a chance in UPLB was the security of the campus.

“When I first heard of the crimes happening around in UPLB, to be honest, I became unsure if I still want my daughter to take the UPCAT and enter UPLB.”

The businesswoman from Cabuyao, Laguna admitted that she had to reconsider her long-ago hopes of having her daughter join the roster of the respected Iskolars ng Bayan after the news of deaths and crimes around UPLB circulated. But after a while, she said she realized that most of the crimes actually happen outside the campus, and that no one really has control over death.

“I believe that when it’s your time already, you can’t do anything about it. Everything is God’s will… But at the same time, I hope that the UPLB administration do their best to lessen the crimes happening in the vicinity of the campus.”

Mrs. Payag believes that apart from the UPLB administration, it is still the job of the local government to manage the safety and security around the campus.

Pencils for a Cause

On a related story, the University of the Philippines Society of Agronomy Major Students (UPhilSAMS), in partnership with the University Student Council (USC) and College of Agriculture Student Council (CASC) conducted an activity along with the UPCAT titled “Keep Calm, Ace UPCAT, and Donate your Pencils” at UPLB’s Carabao Park.

Now on its second year, the activity aims to collect pencils used by the UPCAT examinees during their exams so that they could be donated to less fortunate elementary schools around Los Baños.

“This project was actually an idea of our organization’s alumni, who is based in Mindanao. We only decided to adopt it here in Los Baños to cater to the needs of the poor school kids in the area,” Juan Rodrigo Vera Cruz, head of the activity, explained.

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