The 101 on how to survive an admission test

Published: February 26, 2012
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Where do the brightest and the best in Pakistan go?

Overheard at Regent Plaza last Sunday…

“These pagals who give the Scholastics Aptitude Tests (SATs) and get their 2400s,” said girl A, “Bar bar daytay hain, aur phir LUMS Common Admission Test (LCAT) ka grading scheme mess up kar day tay hain”

(they take the test over and over again and mess up the LCAT grading curve).”

“I swear yaar…,” said girl B.

That was the weekend the Karachi Literature Festival kicked off at Carlton Hotel while a rally was taking place at Mazar-e-Quaid to protest against India, drones and everything in between. It also happened to be the weekend that the Opal Hall, Crown Jewel and several other hotel halls were packed with teenagers getting ready for the LCAT.

For the next couple of months, these girls and many others will be worried about the same thing the grading scheme, the bratty students who give their SATs and mess up the grading scheme.

It all starts in the car, when you are going home with your friends. One of them will fret about how the clueless college counsellor sent off the application to Montreal instead of Toronto. Another friend will want to know how much her father makes and if she qualifies for financial aid. As the questions fly back and forth, there will be one friend in the backseat who will mumble because he feels left out.

This friend is going into medicine. The visa and essay questions are not for him nor are the constant guilt trips of swiping your parents credit cards to pay this many dollars for that application.

His options are – Aga Khan University Hospital, Dow University of Health Sciences, Ziauddin University and maybe King Edward Medical College. He wants the answers to: How many seats are reserved? Does King Edward take students who don’t live in Punjab? And the most important question of them all – how do you pass the test?

This admission test is a curious thing. As you get the hang of university applications, you (or people you know) start to spot things – who likes grades, who likes sports, whether you should come off as the physics geek or use the ‘if you don’t take me I will get married because that is what happens to girls in my country’ (quite a common angle these days).

Tweak, then tweak again and then tweak some more.

But the one place you don’t tweak is in your home country. For all the talk about the well rounded personalities – do our universities attract enough of them? Where do the brightest and the best in Pakistan go? Is there room for offbeat personalities? Who knows? There is something comforting in the idea of one test determining your future. No fiddling around here – no making yourself look good – that is all reserved for the interviews, if there are any. Nope, here it is just the old-fashioned and simple percentage cut offs and how well you did on a test on a particular Sunday morning in February.

It makes sense, if there was only one admission test. Other countries have their versions – USA’s SATs, Brazil’s Vestibular, South Korea’s CSAT. But here, every single college has their own admission test. Which leads to round one of the urban rumour mills.

AKUH’s English sections aren’t that tough (but study for it all the same, you never know with these colleges). Ziauddin just wants you to pass the Biology section and DUHS is just difficult. For the Lahore University of Management Science, they suggest that you crack open the Princeton SAT book and go through the grammar part, to know what you will have to face. English is easier. According to one student, we’re desi na, we’ve done harder math sums than these American high school students. Others wonder whether A-Level students have a disadvantage in giving the test. One of them heard that if you got 1,900 in the SATs you’re exempted – or was it 2,100?

“Can there be no standardised doctor in Pakistan? Dude, forget this doctor shoctor,” said a student.

“I’m going to the University of Karachi and doing something in linguistics.”

Another one will say, no, it’s too close to the parents, why do you think I’m not applying to the Institute of Business Administration?

We could be interesting people poised on discoveries and ground breaking research, excellent jugglers and wonderful singers, brilliant conversationalists, but unless we don’t make it through an admission test after school, there is no way a Pakistani college is going to take us in and that’s a fact. And not one standardised general indicator of the average intellect of a Pakistani student – the test that determines that yes, this Pakistani teenager is fit for college.

Oh no.

This is free fall take a test and hope it does not clash with your school exams.

Just pass the test, and all of this will be swept under the rug – and all you will remember is how, for a while, your education system and college tests completely messed with your head.

Read more by Meiryum here.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.