The 101 on how to survive an admission test

Published: February 26, 2012

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.

  • XYZ

    You either “write” a test or “take” a test. You cannot give SAT or any test if you are a student. A teacher can give a test to his/her students.Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    Students in the test obsessed nation only thinks about the test. Poor Pakistan

    Even with so many tests and certificates, USA and UK are still on 24th position where as Finland top the world ranking in education with almost none standardised testing.

  • Ralf

    My LCAT went really good! Prior to this blog I was oblivious of the ‘Bar bar SAT dainay walas’ who get great scores in SAT’s and ruin the grading scheme. Now I’m getting tensed.
    P:S I did not even give the SAT’s! NOOOOOOOooooooRecommend

  • Waqas

    hehe… I was about to say…Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    Then go and study for the tests. What are you doing writing these articles?Recommend

  • Umair Ahmed Baig

    In case u didn’t know Pakistan has its own version of SAT called “NAT” and most of the universities in Punjab have started to adopt it,so there is no need to give a separate test for every institution,it just needs to be implemented in all the four provinces,and yeah the standard might not be the same as SAT but with time it can improve,an example being India where indians who want to go to IIT give JEE which is now accepted world-over.Recommend

  • mahrukh

    i’m all messed up these days.attending tutions (prep of aptitude test and + college).a hell of a schedule and your post exactly says what i’m going through.Recommend

  • Ovais

    and we talk about a blog specifically dedicated to the superficial Pakistani youth when a child dies of hunger each day … and as the clock hand move slowly and swiftly so does the tears of the bruised and battered mother and somehow she is labeled as a whiner while this article may be classified as the best meiryam can write ..Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    To those reading this, the SAT is no accurate indicator of one’s intelligence, I messed up my SAT’s yet, I have managed to study at some of the world’s best universities on merit. The university I did my undergraduate studies from was ranked 36th in the World in the year I started, I do not know of its current ranking according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, where I am currently enrolled in Graduate School, the University is ranked number 6 in the world and no 3 in the UK just behind Cambridge and Oxford. Recommend

  • Ovais M.

    Less talk on the ‘survival’ aspect and more on the general scenario with admission tests. I like how you’ve kept the tone casual and light, but I think you could have touched on the issue of admissions tests and the lack of a standardized one in a little more depth than you did with this piece. Good-ish read overall, though you’ve done much better.Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    @Meriyum Ali and all

    I would suggest one other interesting blog

    Beyond SATs, Finding Success in Numbers By TINA ROSENBERG


    @ Ovais

    and we talk about a blog specifically dedicated to the superficial Pakistani youth when a child dies of hunger each day …

    how ignorant your comment comes across Mr Ovais even if it might be a well intended one. I put three simple questions to ease your anxiety about this superficial, posh and removed from reality blog;

    who be you to call a fellow citizen superficial for writing an informative blog?
    how dedicating this article to the youth of pakistan alleviates the suffering of our fellow brethern?
    why should a blogger from the affluent class be targeted for not doing enough for the country and what have you done for the country that makes you more equal than others esp considering the fact that the high income earning class usually contributes more to the tax coffers of the country.

    my best to you

    a pakistani who is as much of a pakistani as you areRecommend

  • Uzair Ahmed

    This university thing is wicked..
    and it only messed up your brains?wait till u start noticing hair loss,aging of hair,excessive headaches,loss of eyesight,depression,daily nightmares.Recommend

  • @IBA

    reminds me of my ‘testing’ phase… those bloody A-levels, SATs, what not…… Life is still good. Recommend

  • Also, SAT’ is no longer an abbreviation for ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test’. That was considered politically incorrect and dropped long ago. SAT is now just a trademarked name for this standardized test. Recommend

  • Dante

    “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.”

    A person who is destined for such glory, knows how to tackle all situations in life. This also includes admission tests. He would not whine about tough situations.Recommend

  • Amn

    for God’s sake you guys, why does everything have to revolve around crying mothers and children dying of hunger? i completely understand that those issues are important to us but if thats all you want to read about go look up another blog. some of us dont mind reading about LIFE in general. all of a sudden its like if you dont write about these sad problems our country faces, you’re a heartless person who just cares about buying expensive phones and looking good in your new Mercedes. you can’t judge the author of being like that, shes just talking about one of those annoying phases we go through at her age. GeezRecommend

  • Adeel Ahmed

    This is really a wonderful article.. While reading, it was reminding me of those days when I was passing through the same era.

    Entry tests.. trying to get admission in a top business school of Pakistan. Ugh..

    I have been Gone through LMAT (LUMS Management Admission Test) twice and finally got admission at Institute of Business Administration – Karachi in MBA. Graduated in 2011.

    Now I feel more comfortable but this article is awesome for the students who are suffering with the entry test fever. :) Nice initiative by the Author.Recommend

  • mrk

    Hmmm, any wonder why our country is doing so poorly?

    Go look up the following assignment:

    How much did Steve Jobs get on his SAT. While you are there, also find out how many university classes did Bill gates, whose PC you most likely are using, take?

    Then figure out what is happening to those who fill the admission test including SAT halls in Pakistan.

    It exercise will help you with your future research..Recommend