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A Fisherman’s Son Emerges as Topnotcher in Engineering Board Exam

From an ordinary island boy, to a math wizard, to a board exam topnotcher, this mechanical engineer inspires many.

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In the Philippines, if you are born in a family where fishing is the primary source of income, you are most likely to have financial problems all your life.

That’s because fishermen, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, remain as the poorest basic sector in the country posting a poverty incidence of 39.2% in 2012.  Three years later, this rate was lowered to 34%, still above the national average which was 21.6% at the time.

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This is a big problem since there are more than 2 million Filipinos employed in the fisheries sector. And more importantly, there are millions of families who depend on these hardworking Filipinos for a living.

Take the family of Rizalino Caratao for example. His mother is a plain housewife, leaving his father, a fisherman who catches in the seas surrounding Bantayan Island in Cebu, as the breadwinner of the family.

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“Life was hard,” he recalled. “I would join my father fishing at my young age.”

Now 23 years old, Rizalino is a registered mechanical engineer working as Duty Engineer IV in a famous hotel in Davao City. He is a topnotcher, placing seventh in the September 2015 board exam. And he is proud that he has reached this status despite that he is a son of a fisherman.

He beat all the odds by performing well in his academics. If he was not helping his father to fish, Rizalino was studying.

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This perseverance was rewarded by being a consistent first honor student in his grade school. He eventually finished as the top of his class, which he carried over in high school graduating as batch salutatorian.

His journey prior to college was not smooth sailing at all. He had to make sacrifices along the way, the most difficult of which is to live far for high school – he had to stay in a charitable institution called The Sisters of Mary School as its scholar and study there.

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But Rizalino believes that that was part of a grand plan. “I had no regrets,” he said.

“It has become the turning point of my life. I discovered my potential in mathematics there. I honed my analytical skills, with speed and accuracy, and won almost any interschool math competitions.

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“I graduated salutatorian, and the best of all, God has transformed me into a person who relies solely on Him, and a person who believes I can achieve anything with His help,” he shared.

Upon finishing high school, Rizalino confronted another challenge: finding money for college. He had to look for a way to be enrolled by applying for scholarships because his family could not afford to send him to school.

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Eventually, he found support from the Department of Science and Technology after passing an exam.

He enrolled for a mechanical engineering course in Cebu Technological University in Cebu City. There, Rizalino’s brilliance was esteemed – he got influential positions as a student leader and writer and garnered awards as a math quizzer.

I got to talk with Rizalino through e-mail and discovered a lot more about him. His story as an ordinary island boy to becoming a topnotcher is one that we could draw inspiration from.

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Check this full transcript below:

Student Life

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

I thought and wished I’d be a civil engineer because I’ve been trained on architectural drawings and designs during my vocational course in my high school, a charitable institution.

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But when I applied for scholarships, I realized the DOST Scholarship is the best, however the courses offered were limited and Civil Engineering was not on the list.

The only ones there are Chemical, Mechanical and Electrical. So I was forced to choose another.

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When I filled out the forms for course selection, I first chose BS Information Technology, submitted the form and I thought it was final.

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But on that same day on my way home, I was so troubled and bothered. I couldn’t explain the feeling, thought IT is boring, until finally I decided I have to change it.

My sister then told me I couldn’t change my choice because it has been finalized already. But still I insisted, called the office of DOST, and when I realized I can still change it, I leapt for joy and choose BS Mechanical Engineering as replacement because I love Physics most and excel in Mathematics.

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I believe those subjects are best found and needed in BS Mechanical Engineering.

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

I’d say my favorite subjects are Calculus and Differential Equations because my math skills are tested best in these.

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The subjects I hate most, if including minor subjects, are Filipino Language (Komunikasyon sa Akademikong Filipino), Physical Education. I’ll include Statistics because that’s when I feel really very lazy in class.

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 couldn’t very well remember. But one thing I’m sure is that when I get a bad score or rating on a certain subject, I’d double my efforts to make sure I’d do better in the next assessments.

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

I cannot suggest a really effective one. I have very poor memorization skills, and to address this problem, I had to analyze carefully the notes I’m memorizing, compare the definitions and obtain contrasts until I could write on my head the ideas I have to contain.

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

Success is not determined by how much you spend and invest for your studies but on how much effort and hardwork you exert to achieve it.

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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 finished college with the support of my elder sister, sufficed by a monthly allowance from my DOST Scholarship.

But with my scholarship benefits stopped, and my parents with meager income (my father is a fisherman and carpenter while my mother is a housewife), I had the most difficult financial struggle ever in my life.

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I was really determined to top the board exam and was desperate in my efforts to prove myself worthy, but I had to work.

I felt so sad that circumstances had made it harder for me to achieve my college dream of being a topnotcher, to bring honor to our university and to make my family proud.

So I applied for job and was hired last May 2015 as Design Engineer at Cebu Mitsumi Inc., an electronic peripheral manufacturing company at Danao City.

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I had to work and go home early to arrive at the review center which is at least 2 hours ride from my workplace. I was in a very difficult situation that time, but I just can’t let go of the dream which had been on my mind for 5 years in college, so I had to endure.

Things went this way until two months later when my performance in the review centre had evidently gone down.

It’s like I’ve become a normal reviewee, not a potential topnotcher. I felt so sad for days until I decided to resign because my desire to become a topnotcher is on the line and besides, I’ve already saved some cash during those two months that could suffice my needs for a month longer.

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Things went on, and I had 2 months left for an intensive and focused board exam preparation. I thank God I managed to cope up and recover.

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

I reviewed in PRIME Review Center for my board exam preparations, but I’ve been going to Alcorcon Review Center as well during my college days.

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

It’s average.

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Mathematics and Machine Design are not that difficult. What gave me the problem is the Power Plant Engineering category wherein there are at least 20 questions that could not be answered due to insufficient data, no air or steam tables provided.

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?

If the PPE category had been fair, I would have had high hopes of becoming part of the top ten. But at least 20 unanswerable questions? God’s will was the only determining factor.

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And I thank Him for not letting my efforts go to waste.

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

I called my parents, then my sister, told them I passed and made it to the top ten. I was in the internet café that time. I received lots of congratulatory greetings through Facebook. Their messages made me cry.

Who do you owe your success to?

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God has been in full control of my life and it is to Him that I owe all my successes. He is the provider of all the strengths I needed through all my years in college.

On the secondary, my family is my deepest source of inspiration and without their support and love, I couldn’t have made it.

Share your most effective study habits.

I can grasp more knowledge, lessons and formulas when studying after midnight until 4am. That’s when everyone is asleep, and nobody can disturb your concentration. And I always keep track of my study progress.

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

  • Always aim for the first place, because when you do, you will do everything to be in an advantage over the others, and eliminate the advantages other potential topnotchers have over you.
  • Keep track of your study progress. Be organized. List all topics by category and study them one by one. Do not jump from one subject to another.
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  • Do not use digital study materials, photo notes, pdf files and Android apps. Always take notes. You remember more easily the ones you once wrote than the ones you just photocopied.
  • Understand and analyze the formulas, do not just memorize them.
  • Before you begin your study schedule, remember God, acknowledge Him as the one who holds your destiny and that only with His permission and providence will you achieve your desire to belong to the top ten.
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Job as an Engineer

How did becoming a topnotcher give an impact in your present engineering job?

As a topnotcher, fresh graduate, my employer had high expectations on me, so my manager placed me on a position only experienced people are qualified to take.

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What is the most satisfying thing about being a working engineer? How about the hardest part?

The most satisfying thing about working as an engineer is the feeling of having solved the challenges you encounter in the workplace.

The hardest part is the boredom, when you had nothing to do but wait until working hours are over.

I think challenge and boredom are both present in my current job.

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Is there something that you wish you knew prior to this job?

My theoretical understanding on machineries are there but there are a lot of details for each type of equipment that I have not encountered yet. Perhaps I should have gone more detailed in understanding the concepts of operation of machines.

What is your long-term goal as a registered engineer?

My long-term goal is to become a highly skilled, talented and exceptional engineer that can solve almost any mechanical engineering-related challenges and qualified to manage and facilitate large-scale projects.

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Topnotcher Inspiring Stories

First Placer in Engineering Exam, Masters Degree, Summa Cum Laude at Age 21 – Here’s How I Did It

Rejected at Military School, Now an Engineering Topnotcher

He Failed the Exam 6 Times But Emerged 1st Placer in Engineering Licensure


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Engr. Amy Aguirre
Civil Engineer, fashion model & GineersNow TV host. Speaks Spanish, English and Portuguese fluently. Based in Melbourne and Manila. Follow me on Linkedin


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