A Teacher's Life · Teacher Voice

If I’d answered the UPCAT essay questions

This year, for the first time ever, UPCAT exam takers were asked to answer an essay question. A student asked me the day before the exam if he should read about current events. “Huwag na,” I said, after a couple of seconds’ thought. I was thinking then that UP was probably going to ask a personal question, something observable which requires critical thought, like the “defining moment” Ateneo essay question. I was also thinking that the UP examiners probably wouldn’t read all 70,000+ essays anyway. (Although, who knows — they’ve got months to go before they announce the results, after all.)

I should say this, though: only UP can pull off those questions.

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My lesson this week is on paragraph development — finding the topic sentence, the modes of paragraph development, unity and coherence, and those things we’ve been learning since Grade 3 and still couldn’t quite understand 20+ years later. So I tried to make the lesson a little interesting by giving my students answers to those UPCAT essay questions.

(If I were grading these answers, I’d probably write “Weh!” on the margins. Several times.)

“Write about something you do a lot.”

I do a lot of talking in my head. In my head, I have come up with entire conversations I can never initiate. Here, I have written pages and pages of love letters. I have answered my teacher’s discussion questions in full detail, with examples.  I have apologized to my parents for wrongdoings from when I was young. I have backpacked in Nepal, conversed in Farsi, crossed Antarctica, and time-traveled to the time of Christ in my head. I have also fed, educated, and built houses for the poor of the Philippines, and I have found the cure for cancer to prolong the lives of my cancer-stricken relatives. In my head, I have become Mark Zuckerberg, and I have gone and lived as one of a poor woman’s nine children.  All of these, of course, are mere imaginings—but the power of imagination, of empathy, has shaped my opinions and dreams. In talking to myself, I become infinite, and it leads me to believe that I can be infinite in real life too.

“What is your favourite study tool?”

My favorite study tool is the Mongol #2 pencil because I find it to be the most versatile item in my school bag. Its wide-ranging functions—from drafting the isometric view of an object, to taking an exam such as the UPCAT, to poking my sleeping seatmate—cannot be exhibited in full by other writing implements, e.g. a ballpoint pen. It is also a testament to how I have grown as a writer, as I have been using a Mongol #2 even as I started inscribing the downward strokes of the letters of my name. Finally, unlike other writing tools, the Mongol #2 easily erases my errors on paper—an apt metaphor for my fallibility and power as a human being: in spite of how I err, day by day, I can always begin anew as a better person.

“If your crush says that he/she loves you, will you say you love him/her, too?”

At this point in my life, I have come to believe in what the Roman poet Horace said centuries ago: “Carpe diem.” Some would probably say that love takes time to take shape and to have meaning. I disagree. Who is to say what love is? Who is to know when love is ripe? There have been so many moments in my life that still get me asking myself, “What if I’d done this thing instead of waiting?” I have learned my lessons. Therefore, to answer the question: if my crush tells me that he loves me, then I will sure as heck say that I love him too.

“Narrate the conversation when you encounter an alien.”

The alien was bug-eyed and had a weird buzzing sound emanating from somewhere between his ears, but otherwise, he looked positively human, albeit wearing a coat and fez in 34-degree weather. I asked where he came from; he opened his mouth and made a bzzt-bzzt sound. Then, after rolling his eyes around, he answered,  “I’m from UP Diliman.  Aren’t you going there?”

I froze; I didn’t know how to react. Then he went on: “Someday you will be like me.”

Strangely, I feel like I can’t wait.

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It’s been a dozen years since I took the UPCAT, but I can still remember some details: the 3:30 AM wake-up call on the first day of the exams (this was after a grueling CAT session the day before), the hole on the ceiling of the UPIS Old Building classroom, the ten items in Math that I “shotgunned” once I finished the Reading part, the slight fever that I started having in the middle of the test, my mom waiting outside with an umbrella to shield the rain.

Those were good times, and I had nothing but optimism going for me.

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