Reverse Engineering and Combinations for the Board Exam Review

videokeman mp3
Step by Step – Whitney Houston Song Lyrics

(Take the board exam Step by Step and turn up the speakers while reading this. LOL)

Honestly, I am still hibernating, but I feel so bad not having updates especially for those who subscribed for the board exam tips. So I am posting this very important board exam review tip for those who will be taking multiple choice questions, in particular. I think it works more for Math-related questions than concepts, but just the same, it will do you a lot of good to know that this technique is something that most passers and topnotchers do during the board exam to save time. The idea was not mine originally. I still thank our sensei Dhax for actually giving us this tip, although our review instructors in Review Innovations have been just as generous in training us in doing this thing.

This might not be a new concept to most people. But for those who do not know what this is, I will use a simple example to illustrate how it works.

Suppose you have memorized a formula for getting a value of something. I am going to use a very basic math formula, the Pythagorean theorem. I leave it to my reader to find how this will apply to his particular situation.

The correct formula is this:

a² + b² = c²

Problem: Given that a=3 and b=4, what is the value of c?


a. 8

b. 10

c. 12

d. 14

Supposedly the answer is 5, right? And it’s not in the choices. I am not saying that it is like that in the actual exam or that it always happens. But the main point of this post is this: watch out for the worst case scenarios and know how to deal with them.

Here is the thing about exams and pardon my crude language: shit can happen. A typo error may pass by unnoticed and at the examinees’ expense, most of the time. You don’t want to suffer all that. Your goal is to pass, and be proactive while you are at it.

You can do three things in such a scenario:

One, wail and panic and lose all your momentum in answering the remaining questions. Tsk tsk tsk.

Two, approach the test proctor and tell him or her that something is wrong with the question.

Number two is actually good. But it will not help you save time. The proctor will just eat up the precious minutes that you could have spent on solving other problems. It is not like in the university where you can raise the questions and your classmates will chime in: “Bonus question!” There are no bonus questions in the board exam. Remember that.

Finally, you can simply WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE. And forget whose fault it was that the question had no correct answer. You can whine and all, but the clock continues to tick anyways.

For the example I gave, you can, for one, try to do stuff with the original formula.

If in case you tried using 2a + 2b = c instead of the original formula, you will actually arrive at 14, which is choice letter D.

And write D for your answer.

Crazy, right? But it can happen, and it is a skill you have to master. Trial and error with troubleshooting a wrongly typed formula is just one of the many instances where you work your way backwards to get to the right answer. It’s like finding the key that fits.

It can happen, you never know. It is best for you to prepare yourself by using what you have. At least, you will not return a blank sheet of paper at the end of the exam. In cases where you need to guess, GUESS intelligently.

And this is where the review centers come in handy. They will give you questions that may have intentionally wrong choices in them so that you learn to work with what you’ve got. You will not be able to do that easily on your own.

They call this reverse engineering because you use the answers in the choices and you work your way back to the given. Aside from using it to troubleshoot problematic word problems, it can serve as a good check or when you forgot a formula of something. Forgetting a formula will require you to either DERIVE (read: time consuming!) or to IMPROVISE. It’s up to you to choose which it will be during the exam.

Combinations occur when three to five items in an exam are linked like a chain. Suppose the example I gave earlier had three follow-up questions. These are VITAL for passing or topping. You need to get the combination of problems correctly. If you lose the first item in a complex problem, you lose all the succeeding items linked to it.

So when you are stuck in one item, MOVE. Better to spend your time with the problems that are worth more. It’s like in life, a short resource we all have. It is useless to spend time on the worthless stuff. You need to assess immediately which questions are worth giving time, and devote yourself to them.

I am sure more people have their own shortcuts and mnemonic devices to get through their respective exams, but I hope these things help. I have said enough about them already.


I am also taking this time to share why I am so open about these techniques I used for the board exam. For one, the information has been freely given to me and I see no reason holding it back for people who really aspire to do well in the board exam. If you are really determined, you will not just be feeding yourself from my tips, but you will make your own strategies that will work more specifically for you.

One more reason why I share these things so openly is that I have seen so many broken dreams, disheartened exam takers and unpromoted (but technically competent!) people because they do not have their license. I have seen really excellent people passionate about their course but unable to pass their board exams. If you have seen them, met them and studied with them, you actually feel so bad even when you have succeeded in passing the difficult exam. You will want to help them with whatever you can give, regardless of affiliations or whatnots. So I give my readers what they deserve: true information and tips that actually work.

Even when I have a job as an editor and I want to become a writer, I still have this inner obligation to use my course during weekends, at least. Because only 37% passed the board exam for our course last year, and I was one of the lucky few. Even if I am not totally in love with my course, I feel bound to practice it because 63% of the exam takers would have done so if they were in my place.

I often find some intellectually elite people scoffing at the board exams and not taking them, and I understand them. Board exams are sometimes hyped too much, just like the cum laudes in the universities and colleges. Or the high IQ societies, for that matter.

Just because you topped the board exam does not mean you are better than everybody else in the whole industry itself. Sure, for that exam, you are the best. But it takes a lifetime to prove that you are worth that license. It takes a lifetime of practice for an engineer by title to be an engineer by deed. I said that to keep things in check, lest some ambitious folks might be so consumed by the thought of being better than everybody else through this.

I am not afraid to admit that I am still quite new to the practice. And I am open to learning from people, licensed or not, for as long as I can see that they are really good and passionate about what they do. That matters more than any title that can be bestowed to an individual.

I hope many people can be helped by the tips. That’s the goal, really. So feel free to share these tips to those who might have use for them. And you can only thank me and the people who helped me succeed if you pay everything forward in the common good cause of helping the country have more professionally licensed people in title and in deed. 🙂

12 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering and Combinations for the Board Exam Review

  1. Interesting. Kaya lang indi talaga ako magaling sa Math. I Used to love Algebra. Yun lang. The rest naku mababa talaga mga grades ko, Trigo, Calculus, Differential, Statistics, etc… wahehe.Pero Uncle ko magaling sa Engineering. He was a topnotcher,ranked third, in Mechanical Engineering sa Mapua in the 60’s. Indi me nag mana sa kanya. 🙂

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