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Back into the nerve-shredding mill of university admissions

About a year ago, a friend of mine was busy helping her daughter get to admission exams, as she attempted to land a seat in her dream university. "It's so complicated. My advice to you is, don't ever try to understand anything now," she advised me at the time. "Wait for your daughter's turn and start studying the process then as things may yet change again."



Wise words, as it turned out.

Her warning resurfaced in my thoughts now that two kids in my household are studying "hard", each competing for one of a limited number of university seats. Both are suffering the same anxiety level as my friend's daughter was, and as countless others in Thailand who have gone or are going through the same admissions attempt.

Forget about my generation's nationwide entrance examination, and the more recent A-NET exam, cancelled in 2010 - today's kids have to wrestle with cute names like the GAT (General Aptitude Test), PAT (Professional Aptitude Test), and O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test). There's also a whole bunch of faculty-specific tests, but, believe me, you don't want to know about these.

A big change these days is that candidates can apply directly to universities but maintain their place in the centralised admission process until they get a direct offer of a place and confirm it with the university. That explains why my friend and her kid had to run around, applying at various institutions. "It is basically a good idea," said my friend. "In this system, universities can screen for the best candidates, while students get more chances."

I agreed with her that the system is designed to give students a second chance. Let's say a student fails in her direct admission attempt. She then goes and competes with others via centralised admissions. But it's far from perfect. "The system might seem to offer everyone an equal opportunity, but the truth is that city kids are at an advantage. The parents of kids in Bangkok are more likely than those upcountry to be able to pay for more tests and afford the transportation," I told my friend.

She nodded and agreed my observation had some truth in it.

A year has passed, and her point about changes to university admission has proved correct.

Though the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS) still goes on about the GAT, PAT and O-NET, many universities have altered the scores from tests taken by students, including the GPA. As a consequence, students and parents must constantly recheck the results.

But don't ask me to explain the details of the GAT. I'm in the dark. I do know that students are required to find and explain the connections between separate words or phrases. There is even a code for each kind of relation. The GAT is in English and Thai. Students must read passages and figure out how parts are related. It is not an English or specific subject test per se.

Funnily enough, most schools don't coach kids on how to tackle the GAT so a lot of students rely on tuition schools. "My friend went for special tuition and could eventually get top scores on the GAT. But at Bt3,000 it costs too much," said my daughter.

Her school has never taught for or held special tuition on the GAT and the best my daughter could do is to buy a book, a compilation of old exams. She also studied it on YouTube. I glimpsed at the screen and thought, what the heck is it?

However, some schools do teach students how to do a perfect GAT.

There are so many other potential hurdles to university admission, that I hesitate to go into details and give even non-student readers a headache. For example, did you know that Thammasat University won't let you in to study business unless you know SMART 1? And there are so many other tests waiting to trip up the unwary student.

But, if you are one of those ordinary folk who don't have to bother with uni admissions, lucky you.

Enjoy today and avoid the traffic - schools near your home will be holding admission tests.

If you do get stuck in traffic, stay calm and count your blessings. At least you're not in one of the many other cars carrying nervous passengers to GAT/PAT exams.

Good luck everyone.


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