Perhaps the thing that Ateneo applicants dread the most, next to Mathematics, is the prospect of writing an essay. Unfortunately, if you’re interested in an Ateneo education, you’ll be eating essays for breakfast lunch and dinner. The time to start preparing for that is right now—before you even take the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET).
To help out, I’ve included a sample ACET essay for you, coupled with some notes and guidelines for study. Please note that you do not have to write your essay in exactly this way; this is just a reference to help you get started. You will naturally have your own writing style and approach to things.
The Sample Essay
The following sample is a treatise on the topic of frustration—something you’re likely to experience at least once when you’re interacting with peers from all walks of like in an academic institution known for its high standards. I’ve also included some footnotes on points I felt I needed to emphasize:
Coping Effectively with the “F” Word
A wise person once told me that oftentimes, it’s not the big problems that trip us up the most, but the many, many little annoyances that come in battalions. It’s because of the fact that they’re “little” that they often escape our immediate notice—at least until they pile up and grate on our patience.
Fortunately, I’ve experienced frustration enough times that I’ve learned to deal with it more effectively than before, or to at least minimize its damaging effects. Perhaps the following guidelines may help you, too.
The Three-Minute Rule
Chances are, the first thing that pops into your head when you’re frustrated is not the right thing to do or say. That’s why it’s very important to take some time off for what is known as the “Three-Minute Rule.”
The rule basically dictates that when you start to feel frustrated, back off or at least three minutes to get some much needed perspective on the situation. Take the time to pray and to seek guidance and wisdom.
Note that three minutes is an arbitrary span time. It may be three minutes, three hours, or three days. The important thing is to let your emotions cool down sufficiently to the point where you can think clearly again, and then act.
Look for the Unorthodox Alternative
A story is told of Alexander the Great undertaking the challenge of untying the Gordian Knot. The knot was said to have been tied in such a complex manner that no one was able to untie it.
The shrewd Alexander, however, simply drew his sword and cut the knot, effectively untying it. Since then, the expression “cutting the Gordian Knot” has come to mean solving a complex problem using unique and ingenious means.
Like Alexander, see if you can find another way to solve your problem instead of pursuing a course of action that just doesn’t work. For example, if you can’t get through an obstacle, perhaps you can go around it somehow.
The Need to Let Go
One question that inspirational speakers and writers like to ask themselves is if something will still be worth fussing over ten, fifty, or even one hundred years from now. Chances are, the thing that’s causing you so much frustration right now may not even be important next year. If so, are you perhaps giving it more attention than it is really worth?
One lesson that the late inspirational writer Richard Carlson left me is the choice of being right or being happy. We mistakenly think that we will only be happy if we prove ourselves right and everyone else wrong, or if we nail that difficult problem and show everyone what we’ve accomplished.
Some things are simply not worth your peace of mind. Sometimes, it’s better to swallow your pride and to make a strategic withdrawal instead of forcing the issue at the time. As Dr. Harold Sala once quipped, “Any bear can easily whip a skunk, but it’s just not worth it.”
A Final Word
The essay I’ve included above is just one example of many. You can find more examples and guidelines online if ever you need more reference material. Here is a short list to help you get started:
Xavier School High 4 – This blog contains a sample essay and some excellent pointers
Ateneo Tribute Essays – While not exactly application essays, it may also help to study the essays on the Ateneo site. The ones here deal with the passing of former President Cory Aquino.
A Winning Contest Essay – Here’s the essay that won the “Rizal na, Europa Pa,” essay contest for Mr. Joaquin Carlos de Jesus.
Peer Papers – If you have some money to invest, try reading the essays on this site. You’ll notice the names of some famous Ateneans here, too.
Finally, remember that essay-writing is an applied skill—like all skills, it may be developed through constant practice. The good news is that the more you practice creating essays, the more you’ll be able to refine your technique and develop a unique style and a voice all your own.
 The title is the first thing your readers will look at, so try to make it catchy and hook them in with it.
 It helps to start off your essay with something attention-grabbing. In my case, I opted for “a saying of the wise.”
 If your essay is fairly long, using captions or headings to break it up into segments helps.
 Whenever you mention something that may be unfamiliar to your reader, take the time to explain it. Don’t leave your readers scratching their heads in confusion.
 Stories are great for getting your point across in an engaging manner. Besides, people love them.
 If you’re going to tell a story, choose one that’s somehow related to the message you’re trying to communicate. That way, it’s easier to link your story to your point.
 Quoting, paraphrasing or simply drawing stuff from famous personalities can help lend credence to your essay.
 If you start your essay with a bang, end it with a bang as well. Audiences tend to recall the beginning and the end of your presentation most clearly, so save your best for first and last.
If you’ve applied at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), then you already know that the application process involves essay writing. Love it or hate it, it’s all par for the course as far as ADMU school life is concerned.
In fact, the institution’s very own entrance exam—the ACET—requires test takers to write essays under time pressure. If this sounds like a daunting task to you, fear not. I’ll share a few tips with you that can help increase your chances of acing that essay portion of the test.
Writing Well Under Time Pressure
Doing anything while the clock is ticking is an acquired skill—writing is no exception. I cannot fully emphasize how important it is to get enough practice well before the ACET rolls around.
Here’s a suggestion: ask a friend to help you out. Have him or her give you an essay question about any topic. Make an outline first, and then start writing. Give yourself twenty-five minutes to finish the essay, and then have your friend review your work and give you feedback.
If the essay isn’t exactly up to snuff, keep practicing. If it is, repeat the process, but this time, give yourself twenty minutes instead. Repeat the process again, but limit yourself to fifteen minutes this time, and so on.
Keep doing this over and over and I can almost guarantee you that you will become adept at it. Pray to God for help and keep practicing. When the big day arrives, the essay portion of the ACET won’t look so formidable anymore.
Some Essay Question Examples
This may strike you as strange, but don’t expect essay questions on narrowly-focused topics. People who have taken the ACET recently have reported that the questions can range from the broad to the vague to the weird.
For example, the ACET people may ask you to discuss how useful computers are in today’s world. You may also encounter an essay question asking you to explain how children cope with the reality of living away from their parents.
If you’re wondering why those questions were chosen for the test, I must confess that I’m as clueless as you are. Before you scratch your head or break out into a fit of laughter, please note that the essay questions aren’t meant to be relevant to the ACET at face value. The people behind the test are looking for something else entirely.
The Whole Point
While you’re intensely focused on that pressure cooker of an exam, your first priority is to be able to put your thoughts down on paper and to make yourself understood. Never mind if the topic doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem meaningful to you—just express yourself as clearly and as concisely as you possibly can. That, my friends, is the point of the entire exercise.
There’s this joke going around that Ateneans can give you a good discussion on just about any topic under the sun, even if that topic is absurd or pointless. Don’t worry; you’ll get plenty of essay training later when you get into the college. For now, consider the ACET essay questions as a means of getting your feet wet in the wonderful world of self-expression.