By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
A throng guarded the gate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine along Manila’s Pedro Gil Street last Sunday afternoon, August 4.
Many of them had been standing there for hours. Some took a break at the neighboring Robinsons Mall and had returned, only to learn they had to wait a few hours more.
Others eschewed the crowd and looked on from St. Paul University across the street. At times, the glass door of the school’s auditorium opened, letting out a blast of cool air.
Two women passed by. The older one asked aloud, “Ano’ng meron? May artista ba?”
There were no celebrities, she was told. “Exam lang po para sa UP.”
The bystanders were parents and siblings, friends and companions of senior high school students attempting to get into the country’s national state university.
Passing the UP College Admission Test or UPCAT was their way in, and 83,000 were taking it this year–its biggest number of examinees yet.
Sunday was the second and final day of the exam. The turnout was far from the long lines outside Palma Hall in the UP Diliman campus on Saturday, but it was as tense and suspenseful for the hundreds scheduled this day.
Test-takers were assured that the exam for academic year 2014-2015 would extend just below the four hours and twenty minutes of last year. And it would discard the wildcard essay question that surprised takers then.
The exam at UP Manila started at 12:30 noon. By 3:30, the guards at the gate were saying the examinees would be done by 5.
But the crowd did not see their loved ones come out of the Felipe Calderon Hall until 30 minutes after. The students later said they were lined up before they were allowed to leave.
There were hardly cheers or applause like for those departing from the bar or board exams. Mostly there were silent sighs of relief. Others who took the test with school mates were chatting excitedly with them, releasing pent-up sentiments after hours of near-silence.
The students were met with questions as they walked away: how was the test, did you answer it all, but more so, were you hungry?
A mother asked her daughter: “Hindi ba pwede kumain habang nag-e-exam?” “Pwede po.” But it turned out only a few got to sneak bites from their packed snacks.
Soon, some took to skewering eggs fried in batter or “kwek-kwek” at a mobile food stand near the gate. Others trooped to a fast food outlet close by.
Another girl told her mom: “Naka-three-fourths pa lang ako ng test, ten minutes na lang natira.”
A motherly figure was reassuring her two wards—a boy and a girl: “Buti na-review niyo lahat.”
One taker was telling his companions, “Hindi ako maka-move on.” But it was less about the exam than about someone he met before taking it.
He had taken some time inside the campus before leaving the gate, hoping he could catch the fellow-examinee again. Maybe he could put a name to the face and a number or social media account to the face. And maybe they might meet again should they both pass.
But like the test results which are five to six months away, his meeting the mystery girl was still uncertain.
Only about 14,000 (or less) are expected to be admitted to the university next year. Even then, their experiences taking the UPCAT are but the start of many others they will encounter as Iskolars ng Bayan.