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Engineer Topnotcher Buried His Best Friend Before the Board Exam

Engineer Topnotcher Struggles in Life. Lost his scholarship, family in financial turmoil, and his best friend died

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Engineer Topnotcher



This engineering topnotcher shared his emotional relationships with his troubled family, financial problems, loosing a friend and unjustifiable low grade that derailed his scholarship.

We all know that life is never fair. But this shouldn’t stop us from reaching our goals.

Engr. Edward Jan Bacalso (supplied photo)
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Just take it from Edward Jan Bacalso, who encountered several challenges in life but kept fighting for his dreams until he became the November 2019 Chemical Engineering board exams’ Top 5.

Ever since he was in grade school, Edward had always liked studying science.

Engr. Edward Jan Bacalso with his friends (supplied photo)
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He would often be seen reading lots of encyclopedias and related illustrative books out of fascination and curiosity.

This habit of his continued until high school, where he met his chemistry teacher. Her method of teaching made Edward love the subject more, and he eventually realized how much he had become attached to Chemistry.

So when choosing a course for college, the young teen from Davao City was set on taking up BS Chemistry.

His parents supported his decision, too, although they were also pushing him to enroll in either BS Biology or BS Secondary Education.

However, during his enrollment at the University of Mindanao, he and his mother learned that the university wasn’t offering a BS Chemistry course.

The attendant then suggested that he take up BS Chemical Engineering instead as she believed that it was just the same thing as BS Chemistry. That simple suggestion changed the course of Edward’s life.

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Fortunately for him, although he wasn’t able to enroll in his first choice course, Edward was offered an academic scholarship, thanks to his valedictorian award in high school.

The university would cover his entire tuition fee and miscellaneous fee, given that he didn’t acquire any grade lower than 85.

For his first three semesters, the aspiring engineer did just that. He studied diligently to maintain his grades and keep his scholarship. However, life wasn’t easy on him.

He experienced problems at home as his dad had vices that would often start fights with his mom. He and his siblings often had to endure the domestic verbal arguments between their parents.

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On top of that, Edward’s family also struggled financially despite having both parents work.

In fact, he shares that his mother barely had enough income to send him, his twin sisters, and his youngest brother to school.

But instead of being discouraged by his family problems, Edward strived harder to graduate on time so that he could help his mom right away.

He went the extra mile and busied himself with student engineering organizations and extra-curricular activities, as well.

But come the end of his fourth semester in the university, the young teen was surprised to see that after all his hard work, he still got a 3.0 (equivalent to 80%) on one of his subjects.

He tried contesting the grade to his professor, but it didn’t really change anything.

In the end, Edward had to accept the grade and bid his academic scholarship goodbye.

He was disheartened at the thought and was worried that he wouldn’t be able to enroll for his third year, but fortunately, God didn’t abandon him.

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A generous family decided to fund Edward’s schooling for the rest of his college years, and he couldn’t thank them enough.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity, he immediately went to work to recover from the shock of his 3.0 grade.

He said to himself that he wouldn’t let that single grade define him in the future, so he did better and strived harder to avoid getting another failing grade again.

All his efforts were finally paid off in October 2018 when he finally graduated with flying colors, taking home a Magna Cum Laude medal.

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But Edward’s journey was just starting from there as he still had the licensure exam for chemical engineers ahead of him.

However, since he really wanted to help his family first, he decided to postpone taking the exam and work as a call center agent in Davao immediately after graduating.

After six months, he finally enrolled in a review center in Manila to prepare for the board exam for November 2019.

It was pretty challenging for Edward at first, but he knew that it was all about time management and efficiency of studying.

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So he started a strict schedule that he religiously followed. Every day, he would study late and sleep early in the morning.

His afternoons were dedicated to his review center classes, and upon arriving home, he would immediately prepare for late-night study.

Despite his schedule, though, he still made sure that he got enough sleep and nutrition to keep him going.

He also shared that he found it easier to retain information if he associated them with unforgettable moments like when he studied while drinking with friends or eating out.

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When asked what important tips board exam takers should keep in mind, he said that solving around 100 problems a day and improving his guessing skills helped him a lot.

After months of preparation, Edward could tell that he was quite ready to conquer the board exam. However, life decided to challenge him once again.

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Just a month before the licensure exam, he unexpectedly lost one of his best friends. He was a ChE graduate like Edward and was studying for the boards in Manila, too.

The event left the aspiring engineer and his peers heartbroken and depressed. They were starting to think twice about taking the board exam, but deep down, they knew that they still had to do it for the sake of his pal. They wanted to make him proud.

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So Edward, along with his friends, decided to push through and continue their preparation.

One week before the actual board exam, he accompanied his mates in doing several “good luck customs” like visiting churches, attending the mass for nine days, and purchasing red socks, undergarments, and handkerchiefs, all so he could take his mind off his friend and ease his anxiety.

On the day of the exams, he was a bit nervous, but his preparations significantly helped him answer almost all of the questions with confidence. By the end of the third day, he knew that he would pass the boards.

However, he still had doubts about whether he would make it to the Top 10.

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Life surprised him two days later, though. Not only did he pass the Chemical Engineering board exams, but he also made it to the Top 5 with a rating of 83.90!

Edward congratulated himself for the job well done and immediately thanked his sponsors and family for their financial and moral support.

To date, he is currently working, all while supporting his younger siblings in their studies and inspiring them to take the course they know that they will love doing in the future.

Just recently, he managed to squeeze in a Facebook interview with me, where he shared pieces of his life and board exam experience.

Here is the full transcript of the interview.

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Student Life

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

I took up BS Chemical Engineering because there was no BS Chemistry offered that time in the University of Mindanao.

The funny thing was an attendant told me and my mother who was with me during enrollment that “Gang, why not enroll BS Chemical Engineering, I think it’s the same with BS Chemistry”.

And that lady’s suggestion changed my life since then.

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On a serious note, my high school chemistry teacher really molded me to become inclined with the sciences, especially with Chemistry.

She is the best Chemistry teacher ever.

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

During my entire study of ChE, I think I loved and hated some allied engineering subjects and chemical engineering majors.

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To name a few, my favorite math subject is engineering economy and I liked least the probability and statistics.

For majors, my favorite fields are computer applications for ChE and plant design economics.

My least liked subject is organic chemistry.

I need my review seatmate’s brains for this.

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?

When I was in my 2nd year in engineering, I had my lowest grade given to me.

The subject is all about Safety Management.

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I got really frustrated and I lost my academic scholarship because of the 3.0 grade (equivalent to 80.00) I received.

Those were the days that failures were no option for a newbie engineering student.

I tried to contest it with my professor, but in the end, nothing happened.

I just accepted it.

I told myself I’ll just do better next time, and I won’t let this grade define me in the future.

I never received another failing grade again.

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What are your most difficult and most painful experience during college life? What are your greatest struggles while in college (death, money, relationships, work, ideology conflict, etc…)?

Like everyone else, I had challenging and often difficult experiences during college life.

My father had vices then that is the root of his disputes and fights with my mother.

My mother barely had enough income to let me come to college, while my three siblings are in high school and elementary.

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With the financial problems we had, coupled with domestic verbal arguments between my parents, I tried and focused on my studies.

I had in my mind that once I finish, I’m going to help my mother to provide for our family.

I lost my academic scholarship, but then God’s graces reached me through a family who decided to fund my schooling.

They are very blessed and I really thank them for giving me the opportunity I couldn’t have achieved because of them.

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Any topnotcher study tips or tricks that you think others should emulate from you?

Write what you read. Read what you think you do not know. Study hard but play harder.

What I mean is, do not forget to socialize or to do your hobbies whilst studying.

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

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One, engineering is never spoon-feeding. Do an extra mile. Two, engineering entails commitment.

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Proper time management is key to accomplishments without delays. Three, find your space, your circle of acquaintances, and your best friends.

Get involved in student engineering organizations and extra-curricular activities and be active even if every once in a while.

Four, set your goal clearly and realistically. If you want to finish college within five years, do so, and you know what to do.

Five, have an outlet when you are stressed and a motivation or inspiration to keep you going.

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Board Exam Experience

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

I had to be disciplined in terms of study time, leisure time, play time, and time for relationship.

It’s all about time management and efficiency of studying.

I had to prioritize studying over quarrels. I had to prioritize what’s more important in every moment I had to choose between leisure, play, or relationship.

A week before the actual board exam, we had to do these “customs” such as visiting churches, nine-day mass visit, purchase of red hankies, red socks, red undergarments, and more.

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I think the rationale behind these is in order to ease up the nervousness, the anxiety, and the tense feeling that the board exam is just a few more night’s sleep.

I think most of us were very uneasy and anxious then. A lot of what ifs ran through our thoughts.

A month before the board exam, we lost one best friend. It was really depressing and an emotional challenge for us to continue the fight for our licenses.

Nonetheless, we had to really take up the board exams and make him proud. We had to do it for the sake of our best friend as well.

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

I enrolled into a review center where I can save in terms of review costs.

I recommend doing so because there are a lot of information one can get during review sessions, information previously acquired during undergrad, and new information such as board exam trends and training and study techniques.

I reviewed in Manila Review Institute Inc. (MRII) and took up some refresher in Apex Advance Review.

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

In my opinion, the Nov 2019 ChE board exam was relatively average compared to our mock board exam in UM.

But, if I had not taken any review preparations, I will rate the exam as difficult.

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?

After the third day of our board exam, I can remember myself saying I am sure that I am going to pass the board exam.

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But, I had the uncertainty whether I will be placing a spot among the topnotchers or not. I never believed myself I am going to make it, but my friends and some of the people I had known in the review told me I will make it to the topnotchers list.

I was praying for everyone else to pass though.

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

I said to myself congratulations. I did it. I thanked God, I thanked my relatives, I thanked my sponsors. I informed my family.

Thereafter, I checked whether my friends passed the board exam as well.

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Who do you owe your success to?

I owe my success to all the individual who are integral in my journey from review to board exam.

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

The University recognized me and gave us topnotchers cash incentives.

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Share your most effective study habits.

I study late and sleep early in the morning.

I go to the review center in the afternoon, and when I get home, I start setting up for late night study.

I make sure I sleep enough and eat right.

I retain information easier when I associate with core memories or unforgettable moments, such as studying while eating good food, or studying while drinking.

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

Study wisely.

Know the trends of the board exam.

Practice solving more or less a hundred problems a day.

Improve guessing skills.

Learn the art of reverse engineering.

Family & Love Life

Describe your family, parents, siblings 

We are six in the family before my mother passed away. Both my parents were working before I finished college.

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After I graduated, I worked in a call center and earned my first salary. I was very eager to help my family.

My mom would smile back then every time I give her a portion of my earnings. My father lost his job when I was already working.

He never tried looking for a permanent job after losing his previous job with reasons I cannot understand.

He currently settles for part time driving services. My sisters are twins, both incoming college students.

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I’ve got to convince them to take a course they find amusing and they’d probably love in the future. Our youngest sibling is confidently finishing his elementary studies with our support.

Right now, as a working individual, I provide for the bills in the home and for the other needs in the house. I wish my mom were still alive. I bet she’d be guiding me now in my career.

Did your parents encourage you to study engineer?

No. They wanted me to take BS Chemistry, BS Biology, or BS Secondary Education.

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Are you in a relationship? Or it’s complicated?

No. For now, I really enjoy being single. No strings, no chains, no arguments, just chill.


Describe engineering in one word.


Why engineering is important in our society?

Engineering is as important as any applied science.

Engineering makes human life easier.

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Engineering addresses problems from environmental to health.

Engineering seeks out the optimal ways of making things cost less in terms of energy, materials, human resource, and time.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I see myself working in a manufacturing industry with a managerial role.

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Engr. Marinel Sigue
Electronics Engineering graduate whose first love is writing. She is obsessed with anything pink and dreams of living the van life in a renovated school bus.


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