How to Top the Engineering Board Exam According to This Topnotcher-Review Instructor

Engr. Onde, who was a topnotcher in the CE Board and now a mentor in a review center, shares tips. Note: he did not graduate with honors.


If you are an engineering student in the Philippines and pursuing a profession which is regulated by the government, the odds are that you are already thinking about whether or not you could pass the board exam after graduation. This is a common mindset since it is not really the college diploma that is the ultimate measure of being an engineer in the country, but the engineering license which is earned after conquering the board exam.

While some are seeking to meet the bare minimum, i.e. to pass the board exam and get the license, others dream of becoming topnotchers. For the glory and prestige that comes with it.

More often than not, the cream of the crop are the ones expected to have this ambition because of their capacity. But let me tell you this: you do not need to graduate with Latin honors to become a topnotcher. You, who is an ordinary engineering student who finds difficulty in studying engineering and fails from time to time, could achieve the same success.

Take for example Engr. Francisco Onde Jr., who is known as France to his friends. He marched for his diploma in civil engineering in April 2014 at Cebu Technological University (CTU) – Main Campus without an honor sash, only to place second in the topnotcher’s list for the CE Board Exam a month later.


Photo via Facebook

That’s because he prioritized learning far more than getting good grades. When asked about which study tips that engineering students should emulate from him, Engr. Onde mentioned about studying for knowledge, not for grades.

With that kind of learning principle, it is no wonder that he was very successful as a quizzer in various civil engineering competitions. Here are some of his major recognitions below:

Champion:

  • 5th ASEP Struct-Whiz Challenge (2014)
  • UP ACES National CE Quiz (with Chad Java) (2013)
  • 31st PICE National CE Students’ Quiz (NCESQ) Grand Finals (2012)
  • 31st PICE NCESQ Regional Elimination (2012)
  • CTU’s first Search for the Mathematician of the Year (2011)
  • CTU’s CE Quiz Elimination (2011)

1st Runner-Up

  • JPICE-LNM PICE Students’ Quiz Show (with Chad Java) (2014)
  • MTAP 3rd Regional Math Count (2012)
  • UC PICE Chapter-Interschool Quiz (2011)

2nd Runner-Up

  • UPLB Executives’ Challenge 9 (2014)
  • 1st CASIO-MTAP MATHalino Challenge (2012)
  • UC PICE Chapter-Interschool Quiz (2011)

Ambassador of the years 2013 and 2014, Recognition of Merit (PICE and GERTC)


Engr. Onde (left) during the National CE Quiz 2013. Photo via UP ACES

Of course there was pressure in him to ace the board exam being a champion quizzer. And as mentioned, he delivered.

Engr.  Onde got a rating of 94.9%, which is a point away from the first placer in the board exam. Still, he is grateful.

Right after he topped the board exam, he served as a review instructor in Gillesania Engineering Review and Training Center in Cebu which was his training ground as an aspiring civil engineer. The 25-year-old engineer keeps the same job as of posting.

According to him, he finds so much delight in his work. While to prepare the reviewees for the board exam is a struggle at times, Engr. Onde feels that it is his calling to turn dreams into reality. So far, he has mentored thousands of engineering reviewees who are now registered civil engineers.

I came upon Engr. Onde and asked him questions about his life as an engineering student, a reviewee, and a review instructor. This exchange transcribed below is for all who need tips on not only preparing for the board exam, but on how to become a topnotcher just like him.


Photo supplied

Student Life

Why did you choose this course? Who or what was your inspiration?

I first wanted to be an architect. But CTU (which has the cheapest tuition-fee in Cebu) was not offering the course, so I chose BSCE, same as what my older brother had taken.

It was my TLE teacher during my second senior high year who inspired me to be an architect or an engineer.

What are your favorite subjects in your entire engineering study? How about least liked subjects?

I became a math lover after I experienced a failure during my first senior high year. So since first year college, math subjects had been my favorite subjects.

Aside from being a math enthusiast, I also love structural design subjects. I was not attentive to minor subject lectures especially the Spanish class. Haha!

Have you had any subject failures or disappointing academic performance to the very least? If yes, what did you do about it? How did you cope?

I had a struggle with Geotechnical Engineering and even got a 3.0 or 75% grade. I was too focused on preparing for quiz bowls by studying late. It made me miss my classes until I can’t cope up anymore.

Prior to the board exam, I gave most of my time in focusing on it even from the basic principles to understand the more complicated topics. Because of it, I got a high score in the subject, which is my highest score among the 3 board exam subjects.

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Do you have any study tips or tricks that you think others should emulate from you?

For engineering students, especially for working students like I was, be diligent in your studies. Give more time in studying even if there is no major exam coming. Study for knowledge, not for grades. Lessen time for pleasures, but enjoy college life at the same time. Be principle based, not formula based or at least understand where the formulas come from and when and how it should be used.

What is the best engineering school advice that you can give to other students?

Be resilient in different kinds of teachers you could encounter. There are tough ones, there are also boring ones but to any of them, listen to their lectures. Learn from them.

Board Exam Experience

What were the greatest struggles that you experienced while preparing for the board exam? What did you do to overcome them?

Aside from the Geotech, I had a struggle in our Project Study. For us to take the May 2014 board exam, we had to graduate on April 2014. So while getting in the review class in the morning, we had to go to school to attend the classes and to finish our study and prepare for the panel defense.

It did not end well, but got a passing rate, just enough to march on April’s commencement exercises. I also had to represent the school to compete against other great universities in quiz bowls. I missed many review days because of these.

After the graduation, I only had one month left to prepare. During these days, I focused on the most probable problems that may come out. I dedicated most of my time in solving the past board exams using the CE reference books by Engr DIT Gillesania.

There were nights that I can’t sleep and my mind was full of questions and doubts. I did have nightmares prior to the exam. It did go on every night until my fellow Christian, Kuya Enoch, prayed to God for peace on my mind. He quoted the bible verse from that day on which became one of my favorite bible verses.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).

From that day on, the restless nights turned to nights full of His peace and assurances that He is with me and will never leave me.

Did you enroll in a center for your review? Do you recommend doing so? Which one did you go to?

Yes. I did and I do. It is in review centers where you can get guidance in what, where and how you should study. I went to Gillesania Engineering Review and Training Center. I also went to Review Innovations (a partner of GERTC) to take the pre-board exam and ask guidance from instructors there. But it was mostly Engr. Gillesania who guided me in the preparations.

How did you find the board exam? Easy, average, or difficult?

Difficult. It was the hardest exam I took since review. Aside from problem difficulty, the place and clothes I wore were factors for me to feel uncomfortable. Also, the number of pages of the questionnaires made me slower in solving the problems.

What were your expectations after you took the board exam and before the results were out? Did you have a feeling that you will be at the top?

When I was still taking the Math subject, I felt like I can’t top the board. I had many unsure answers and thought that many can get higher scores than me. Same as well when I was taking the Hydraulics and Geotech exam. I was so disappointed with myself that day and even did sleep right after I went back to my room.

It was during the Structural Engineering that I can say to myself that I have a big chance in topping the exam because most of the problems were discussed by Sir Gillesania in our refresher times. Yes, I did feel like my name will be among the list of top placers but not being within first to fifth but among the rest.

What did you do the first minute you discovered you topped the board exam?

I was speechless when a friend of mine called me to say that I got the 2nd place. My siblings, who were also waiting for the result, asked me if I passed or topped the exam. I calmly said I got the second rank and they yelled, rejoicing in my behalf, and called my parents right away to tell them the result. I was about to attend our church service that time. So, I did go to the church, praised and worshiped God because of that wonderful gift he gave me.

I felt a little disappointment that I was not able to get the first rank which would be possible by having at least one more correct answer from any of the subjects. But after thanking God through prayers, He made me realize that its more than enough. Even just passing the exam is more than enough as long as the glory goes back to Him.

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Who do you owe your success to?

God. Without Him I am just nothing. He was my source of hope, strength, and wisdom during that time and until now still He is. He made everything in order and he gave everything I need in His exact time. He was the one who brought people to help me in my review journey. He was the one who led me to people that would guide me. He has given me a family that supports, friends that also bear my burdens, and mentors in school and review center that were so selfless in helping me in that journey. So glory to Him and Him alone!

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

What incentives did you get from your university and review center (if any) after your board exam success?

  • 20,000 from CTU School Administration
  • 9,000 from CTU-Alumni’s Organization
  • 10,000 from CTU-PTA
  • Laptop from GERTC
  • 20,000 from Review Innovations

Share your most effective study habits.

Do not study hardly, but study wisely. The subjects are so broad but know the limits of the subjects, the boundaries from where they start to where they end. No need to study all but just the probable topics.

Understand principles well and understand where the formulas come from. Derive them as much as possible.

Have a consistent time in studying and enough time to sleep. Eat well and do not drink too much coffee. Have leisure times like playing basketball or any game that relaxes you from the stresses.

Listen and sing worship songs while practicing problem solving (It was indeed effective to me, praise God!).

Give 5 important tips (in bullets) for future board exam takers who aim to become topnotchers.

  • Study wisely. Know the range and the limit of each subject. Don’t waste time studying problems that are for sure won’t be given by the examiners.
  • Master the past board exam questions especially the recent ones. Aim to solve plenty problems a day like fifty, or even a hundred or more.
  • Learn techniques from review instructors and modify them or improvise them in your own way, in any way you are comfortable with.
  • Have proper time to study, proper time to rest. Have proper time to feed your stomach and your soul. Feed your soul with the Word of God.
  • Be humble to accept that you can’t do it in your own. Seek God and ask Him for guidance, wisdom and peace. Don’t rely on your own.

Life as a Review Mentor

What is the most challenging part of being a board exam review instructor?

Notes and exam preparations.

Providing them the exact questions or topics they must master. The problems that must be given must be updated as much as possible by analyzing the type of problems the recent examiners have been giving. Research what reference books the examiners are using.


Engr. Onde with his students. Photo supplied

Which part of the job are you most proud of?

Helping the students to reach their dreams knowing some of them have been struggling for at least 5 years just to be licensed engineers. With more than thousands of students I’ve helped and knowing the joy they felt when at last they become engineers, it motivates me more to help even thousands more of them that are to come.

How do you mentor reviewees who have failed their board exams in the past?

I motivate them not to surrender. For even great people who are known today also experienced failures in their lives. Many great men of God in the Bible had experienced failures.

Then I ask them what were the topics that made them fail. I guide them to focus to those topics and advise to be more diligent in understanding them. Help them allocate more time for difficult subjects and give less time to easier ones.

If there is one advice that you want your students to remember their entire life, what would it be?

Be engineers for God. Avoid being engineers who seek for own pleasures and greed like corrupt people. Let it be that your works glorify God and are pleasing to Him.

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;” – Colossians 3:23

You might also want to read:

This Civil Engineering Topnotcher Tells Future Board Exam Takers to ‘Master the Basics’. Click here

Being a Topnotcher is This Electronics Engineer’s Way of Redeeming Himself from Failures in College. Click here

Math Isn’t the Favorite Subject of this Filipino Civil Engineering Topnotcher. Click here

Filipino Civil Engineering Topnotcher Sirven Garibay

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Dion Greg Reyes
A young civil engineer finding his place in the industry. Pilipino.

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  1. This is NOT INSPIRING AT ALL for those who didn’t achieve latin honors when they graduated. The guy is clearly deserving of one but was just distracted by his quiz bowl competitions for him to achieve the minimum grades to be given an honor. this is a BS article. frickn’ waste of my time.

How to Top the Engineering Board Exam According to This Topnotcher-Review Instructor

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