On the Top of the Heap

As a young boy, Rob Jeremiah Gotengco Nuguid’s fascination with chemistry began by dabbling the rigors of an apprentice’s Alchemy, in his parent’s basement, mixing all sorts of things he could get hold of – water, palm oil, baby powder, petroleum jelly – well, you get the picture. So long before he even knew what chemistry is, he had known that he wanted to become a Chemist. Asking him now on what he wants to be, he stated that he would like to become a research scientist. However, he is still undecided as to which field of chemistry he would venture into because he loves every branch of Chemistry equally.

One moment, he’s got his eyes on…

(and 60 seconds later, a full-pledged Analytical Chemist)

Topping the chemist licensure exams, as he put it, is purely an offshoot of studying hard while having a tad fun along the way, and of course, prayers. Rob would take multiple-choice examinations after a hectic review each day. If he reached his target score, he would reward himself by watching a movie, slouching to watch a TV show or finish a chapter in the novel he was reading.

Devoutly attending novenas on Wednesdays to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Thursdays for St. Jude Thaddeus and Fridays for the Black Nazarene and Sunday masses that would not be missed kept his spiritual core calm.

Rob enrolled at an off-campus commercial review center in tandem with the in-house review offered at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. These review sessions gave a big boost to refresh his memory on basic concepts and helped him pinpoint the specific topics that need extra attention. For those aspiring to reach the top posts in the licensure exam, Rob suggests that you should design your own study regimen and timeline and set certain bounds critical to your review — which subject you should review first, how often you would review, etc. The following might be helpful:
• After graduation, take some time off to relax before facing the rigors of review. In my case, I declared the whole month of April as my rest month. I started reviewing in May.
• Start your review by mastering the basic concepts in General Chemistry to allow you to take on the more advanced topics. The next subject should be your Achilles’s heel (a.k.a., Physical Chemistry, in my case) so that you would have ample of time to learn its concepts before finally moving on to the advanced topics (e.g., harmonic oscillator, HSAB theory, etc.) as these may also be included in the exam.
• Read at least one textbook per subject and take notes. The rule of thumb is to use any book as long as you’re comfortable with it. Make sure that you understand all the things that you read.
• Try to solve numerical problems by directly inputting the data on your calculator instead of writing them first on a scratch — this is a great way to save time. Know every trick (e.g., the SHIFT-SOLVE method) that your calculator hides and use all of them to your advantage.
• Practice multiple-choice type questions. There is no clearer way to track your progress other than taking exams. There are many examinations available online. These are usually arranged by topic so you can immediately take an exam corresponding to the chapter that you’ve just studied. Additionally, you may also purchase practice exam books such as AP Chemistry, GRE Chemistry, GCSE Chemistry, etc. are available from Booksale at a discounted price. The board exam is in multiple-choice format so it’s best to practice with questions having the same format. I have compiled for your use some of the multiple-choice exams that I’ve answered online (Note: These links are case-sensitive):

General Chemistry: http://bit.ly/GENCHEM
Inorganic Chemistry: http://bit.ly/INORGCHEM (advanced)
Organic Chemistry: http://bit.ly/ORGCHEM
Biochemistry: http://bit.ly/BIOCHEM
Analytical Chemistry: http://bit.ly/ANALCHEM
Physical Chemistry: http://bit.ly/PHYSCHEM

• Relax and have fun. Sounds cliché but reviewing for the board exam really is stressful. You may even find yourself cramming during the final weeks before the actual exam (been there, done that). Celebrate every small victory (e.g., getting a perfect score on a chapter quiz) by rewarding yourself to do anything that you want — a movie or a trip to the mall perhaps — because these steps, however small, are not negligible and serve to indicate that you’re moving towards your goal.

And pray. After all, what can be impossible with Him?

“Taking the licensure exam is the pinnacle of undergraduate academic endeavors. Ergo, study hard and give everything that you can give because when you’ve done your best, you will feel fulfilled regardless of the results.”

Strategizing the Board Exam

Graduating college with honors doesn’t just mean one gets a special rope for your graduation robe. Completing a chemistry degree from the University of the Philippines (Diliman) in 2012, with no “laude” attached to it, did not somehow deter John Ephraim Esperas Torres to push his way to top 3 spot in the chemist licensure exam September 2012. A bit of an irony because John’s original plans did not have Chemistry in it.

BS Accountancy and BS Chemical Engineering are the two courses John wrote in his UPCAT Application Form. Both courses are in-demand that time, causing him to not qualify though his UPCAT result is DPWS (degree program with available slot). He chose BS Chemistry instead and decided to stay put and finish the course and not shift course, along the way.

His original career path spells a keen interest in business. He quipped “I want to combine Chemistry and Business. My ultimate dream is to establish my own chemical manufacturing company. It may sound crazy but I’m serious. But of course, I have to work first and learn everything about the chemical industry, how manufacturing businesses work and operate, and then I will pursue my ultimate dream.

In December 2011, John prepared all his review materials including chemistry notebooks, books and college handouts. The original plan was to start reading chemistry books by January 2012 but failed because of the time he allotted to do his research thesis. In addition, he cannot study well in his dormitory because all they would do is talk, laugh and jam. For these reasons, after graduating last April 2012, he decided to rent a solo room and isolated himself to these distractions until board exam month.

His routines would include waking up early in the morning and study all day until dawn. Review class starts at 4:30 in the afternoon and he will continue to study even after the review classes has ceased. The only break time he would have is when he’d eat lunch, dinner or snacks or when stressheadaches start thumping its way to his head. This was his daily routine.

Certainly sounds exhausting, but John is bent to get used to it, after a while.

John would head back home on Saturdays and spend almost the whole day in his church on Sundays. Weekends and Mondays (Mondate, as he calls it) are his rest days. Enrolling in a review class helped him a lot in knowing his weaknesses, stimulating the actual exam pressures and answering techniques. Most importantly, he knew his rank in every mock board exam which had the over-all percentiles and per subject. That is apparently what he was after in a review center. However, one needs to work hard on your own and not just depend on the review center. He advised that if you want to top the boards, a review center is a big factor. These are John’s tips for the next batch of board takers:

Have a strategy: You need to manage your time. You cannot study everything in five months and you must be strong in all subjects, and so scheduling is vital. I used my phone’s calendar to make a monthly plan. The chapters I will study and the exercises I will answer for the day are noted in my calendar. In general, my plan is one subject for one month, so a total of 4 months which coincides with the schedule of subjects in the review program. The fifth (last) month is devoted for sample exams and exercises.

Three words- Practice, practice and practice: answer as many questions as possible (exercises and sample board exam questions); don’t focus on reading your book, too much reading will just waste your time. Analogous to body building, but reading stuffs about building muscles and not actually doing the physical exercises, is futile.

And, pray until something happens…

Gusto ko tagalog naman dito sa last part. Medyo korni ‘to. Minsan lang sa buhay ‘tong boards, sineryoso ko na talaga, binigay ko na lahat ng kaya ko para walag regrets pagkatapos. Mahirap yung magsisisi ka, “sana pala ginalingan ko o sana pala pinilit ko mag-top kaya ko pala.” Basta ibigay n’yo na lahat. Wag n’yong isipin na cool yung hindi masyadong nag-aaral tapos papasa pa rin sa boards. Careerin nyo nalang ‘tong boards kahit tawanan kayo ng iba nyong kaklase. Sa mga gustong mag-top, lahat gustong mag-top syempre sino bang may ayaw. Pero hindi lahat willing na mageffort ng todo. Hindi naman kailangan sobrang galing ka, hindi kailangan nerd. Hindi naman magpapasolve ng Schrodinger Equation dun. Ako nga as in hindi talaga marunong nun seryoso. Basic lang questions sa boards, yung kaya lang sagutan within 3 minutes. Mas kailangan ng common sense, diskarte at dedication syempre. To God be the Glory!