Taking Exams during the Pandemic


March 25, 2021


Writers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Eula Mei Labordo
Researchers: Angelica Jane Evangelista, Azie Marie Libanan, K Ballesteros
Creatives: Bee Fukomoto, Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo
Moderators: Eula Mei Labordo,  Ian Stephen Velez, Krystle Mae Labio


The Philippines garnered additional 1,234 physicians as the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) released the list of passers for the Physician Licensure Examinations last Friday, March 19, 2021 (Lalu, 2021). The resumption of the licensure examination administration was a response to the lack of healthcare workers to combat the rising number of cases of COVID-19.

However, the shortage of manpower isn’t exclusive to healthcare workers. The limitations imposed by the pandemic, coupled with the cancellation of licensure examinations in 2020, caused major disruptions in the Philippine labor market. From July to October 2020, 2.23 million Filipinos dropped out of the labor force (Punongbayan, 2020). Furthermore, the labor force in the working-age population (Labor Force Participation Rate) plunged to 58.7% in October 2020 (Punongbayan, 2020). Part of the decline in the Labor Force Participation Rate may be attributed to the Department of Education’s (DepEd) K-12 program, the free college tuition law, and the onset of online learning (Punongbayan, 2020). 

Last September 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that there were nearly 1.6 billion learners affected worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic (World, 2020). Despite the easing of pandemic restrictions, issues on online and modular classes remain. These problems have spilled over to the conduct of licensure exams, as the PRC canceled several licensure examinations due to the effects and uncertainties caused by the pandemic (Summit, 2021). 

An abrupt change in learning delivery modality

In the Philippines, education has taken a sharp turn as the pandemic started. Through their website, DepEd issued a learning continuity plan guided by the main objective to protect  “the health, safety, and well-being of learners, teachers, and personnel, and preventing the further transmission of COVID-19” (Department, 2020). DepEd acknowledges that the high volume of contact in school could cause the transmission of the virus. Thus, to ease the problem on hand, school closures and the use of learning delivery modalities such as online distance learning, printed modules, and home-schooling were implemented. 

Likewise, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) issued a COVID-19 advisory dated April 13, 2020, regarding the prevention, control, and mitigation of the spread of the virus. According to the advisory, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) shall continue to “exercise their judgment in the deployment of available flexible learning and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of on-campus learning if they have the resources to do so” (Commission, 2020). Degree programs that require internship and clinical duties, meanwhile, are given flexible electronic and non-electronic learning methods, modules, self-directed learning activities, etc. to supplement program requirements (Commission, 2020). This change in learning delivery mode has detrimental effects on students and teachers alike. 

With the continuation of online and modular learning, students’ outcry surfaced on social media with the trending topic #AcademicFreezeNow last September 2020. This trending topic brought up students’ struggles discussing pertinent issues in the implementation of the learning modalities this pandemic. Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) conducted protests to address problems in the learning modality proposed. This prompted the DepEd and other HEIs to delay the opening of classes to October 2020 (San Juan, 2020). 

As the COVID-19 crisis continued, it continuously affected the education sector. With the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks (Magsambol, 2021), the uncertainty in education and the future of board examinations that supplies the workforce continues. With the pandemic still around us, students are likely to defer their studies until restrictions are lifted (Nair, 2021).

From paper to PC: the shift to online examinations

Accompanied by the shift to alternative learning modalities, institutions likewise shifted to online examinations to evaluate their students’ performance. Colleges and universities have adopted the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle, and Schoology to conduct online examinations.

Government institutions conducting professional examinations such as the PRC, Civil Service Commission (CSC), and the Supreme Court are also preparing to shift from the traditional pen-and-paper to the modern online examinations for licensure examinations, career service examinations (CSE) and the bar examinations. PRC chairman Teofilo Pilando Jr. said the commission is eyeing the use of “more technology-based examinations” (Galvez, 2020). CSC Commissioner Aileen Lizada confirmed that the online CSE is now in the works (Medenilla, 2021). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is ironing out preparations for the country’s first-ever localized and online examinations for new lawyers by holding a mock bar exam (Ramos, 2021).

While there are advantages to online examinations, the drawbacks that stem from technological difficulties, and poor access to affordable and stable internet connections have caused additional strain on students and teachers alike. Cloud and server outages have been a major cause of disruption to the use of online services. For instance, the technological giant Google suffered a massive server outage last December 14, 2020 (Monckton, 2020). In the Digital Quality of Life Index 2020, the Philippines ranked 82 out of 85 in the Internet Affordability index while it scored 77 out of 85 in the Internet Quality index (Esquire, 2020). These factors heighten the stress already experienced by students from their academic load and the pandemic.

Exam anxiety – it exists

Aside from the uncertainty of the situation, students often experience exam anxiety, which can hinder students’ concentration while studying. There are two types of exam anxiety: rational anxiety, which arises because of incorrect study habits, and irrational anxiety, which occurs when a student becomes nervous about taking the exam (India, 2020). Grove (2016) classified students with high and low anxiety. Students with high anxiety showed immediate reaction towards the stressor, meanwhile, students with low anxiety experienced slight nervousness on an upcoming exam while remaining focused while studying. 

The negative feedback that the students receive from previous exams contributes to this anxiety. There will be moments when students doubt their abilities because of the negative information that they received in the past after taking examinations (India, 2020). Meanwhile, there are instances that student beliefs about their personality affect exam anxiety. But how do we know that we have exam anxiety?

Physiological indications such as digestive discomfort, insomnia, sweating, and muscle aches occur. Furthermore, health issues such as hyperacidity and eating problems arise due to anxiety (India, 2020).  Individuals with high exam anxiety perform worse than expected in evaluation situations (Grove, 2016).

Overcoming exam anxiety

Exam anxiety is a prevalent problem even before the pandemic. The additional stressor that is caused by the uncertainty of the situation and economic and financial impact made it harder for students to cope with anxiety. 

Acknowledge the distress. One important way to alleviate anxiety is by acknowledging the distress. Sharing your concerns with your family members and friends can help you alleviate the stress that you are experiencing. This could also take form through writing down in a journal (Castrillon, 2020).

Create a routine. A routine can help students stay on track. Creating a time study-table can help ease the anxiety that one is experiencing about examinations. Research has shown that setting up a similar environment where we will take the exams can help us remember information (SpunOut, n.d.).

Control your thoughts and don’t be too hard on yourself. This is easier said than done. There are multiple times that we want to control our thoughts, but overthinking will always be present. Through changing negative thoughts into realistic thoughts, we are able to overcome this (India, 2020).

Learn the art of surrender. As the pandemic hit, we are aware that there are things that are beyond our control. Listing down things that are beyond our control can help us let go of the fears that are outside our bubble (Castrillon, 2020). 

Licensure examination and its importance 

The PRC was created through Presidential Decree No. 223 last June 22, 1973. The commission performs the functions of “conducting and administering licensure examinations to aspiring professionals”. As a government agency, PRC also “regulates and supervises the practice of the professions in the fields of health, business, education, social sciences, engineering and technology” (Professional, n.d.). 

Without a commission that regulates the practice of professions, there would be no standards for a profession (CLARB, n.d.). PRC protects the public through enforcing standards through the Professional Regulatory Boards (PRBs). Currently, there are 43 PRBs for fields of knowledge which include accountancy, engineering, and psychology. These PRBs were created to “prepare contents of licensure examinations, recommend measures necessary for advancement in their fields, and adopt and enforce a code of ethics for practice” (Professional, n.d.). Thus, professional licensure examinations provide a sense of security for members of the public, assuring us that the professional they encounter is knowledgeable and ethical in their practice. 

Shortage amid surplus: the lack of licensed professionals in the country

The estimated number of youth in the labor force slid by 15.9% from 7.7 million in April 2019 to 6.5 million in April 2020 (International, 2020). Furthermore, the proportion of youth who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) with respect to the total youth population grew to 25.3% from 18.7% in 2019 (International, 2020). This discrepancy may be attributed to the growing number of examinees reviewing for the board examinations and the cancellation of most of the 2020 board examinations.

Iligan City Rep. Frederick Siao on December 6, 2020, called for the resumption of the  PRC board exams “soon” in a bid to prevent manpower supply disruptions and to get more people working to revive the economy: “[o]ne year of suspended board exams is understandable and would have minimal impact on the supply of licensed professionals. However, two years of having no board exams would have an adverse impact on the workforce, companies, and the economy,” he said (Araja, 2020).

In 2020, the PRC was also only able to conduct 11 exams last year compared to the 83 exams conducted in 2019 (Araja, 2020). Despite the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to allow the PRC to facilitate licensure examinations (Punzalan, 2021) and the efforts of the PRC to conduct board exams, cancellations ensued.

Furthermore, human capital flight–or the substantial emigration or migration of individuals seeking favorable professional opportunities in other countries (Investopedia, 2020)–has been a persistent problem in the Philippines. In 2015, the Economic Insight Report published by the Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) noted that the country lost an estimated 10% of its population to work abroad, including many highly qualified professionals (ABS-CBN, 2015).

Despite the surplus of Filipino college graduates looking for a job, the hurdles of the cancellations from health risks and logistical problems brought by the pandemic, the abysmal passing rates from the previous years and the persistence of human capital flight are major contributing factors to the lack of licensed professionals in the country. 

Career uncertainty: A dream delayed is not a dream denied

Taking and preparing for a licensure examination is stressful. The uncertainty of the situation that we are currently facing contributes to the rise of mental health needs. Anderson (2020) stated that there is a growing crisis among college students struggling with mental health problems. The struggle of navigating through the school year poses concerns on students: some have been struggling with online classes,  feeling of separation from the classroom, and lack of hope (Schroeder, 2020). 

For graduating students, career anxiety persists. Most graduating students feel overwhelmed. This is because humans, in general, crave certainty. There are a lot of things that are outside of their control including “the severity of the pandemic, duration of social distancing measures, economic and financial impact and government policy” (Castrillon, 2020). 

Remember that, “a dream delayed is not a dream denied”. For students who will graduate this school year, you may feel the uncertainty growing. It is okay to take your time and decide whether you will take the licensure exams or not. For students struggling and experiencing exam anxiety, remember that failure has a silver lining. It is an opportunity to grow and learn from your mistakes.

As we take a glimpse on education and the issues surrounding it, join us on #UsapTayo this Tuesday, March 30. Study and let’s make the world a better place, champions!

#UsapTayo Questions

  1. How does the pandemic affect how you study and take examinations?
  2. What are your fears in taking exams (licensure exams, final exams)? How do you manage these fears?
  3. What advice or words of encouragement do you have for struggling students and board examinees?

Works Cited

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Anderson, G. (2020, September 11). Mental health needs rise with pandemic. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/09/11/students-great-need-mental-health-support-during-pandemic 

Araja, R. N. (2020, December 6). Resume PRC board exams soon. Manila Standard. https://manilastandard.net/news/national/341375/resume-prc-board-exams-soon.html 

Castrillon, C. (2020, April 15). What to do when faced with career uncertainty. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2020/04/15/what-to-do-when-faced-with-career-uncertainty/?sh=3e41f0db4d81 

CLARB. (n.d.). Why licensure is important. https://www.clarb.org/learn-about-licensure/why-licensure-is-important 

Commission on Higher Education. (2020, April 13). Guidelines for the prevention, control and mitigation of the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in higher education institutions (HEIs) [Press release]. https://ched.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/CHED-COVID-19-Advisory-No.-6.pdf 

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Galvez, D. (2020, October 1). PRC eyes online licensure exams amid COVID-19. Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1342587/prc-eyes-online-licensure-exams-amid-covid-19

Grove, C. (2016, October 30). How to overcome exam anxiety. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-to-overcome-exam-anxiety-67445 

India Today. (2020, February 10). How to manage mental health during exams: Top tips from a psychiatrist. https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/how-to-manage-mental-health-during-exams-top-tips-from-a-psychiatrist-1644936-2020-02-10 

International Labour Organization. (2020). COVID-19 labour market impact in the Philippines assessment and national policy responses. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—ilo-manila/documents/publication/wcms_762209.pdf 

Lalu, G. P. (2021, March 19). 1,234 of 1,927 examiners pass physician licensure exams. Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1409075/1234-of-1927-examiners-pass-physician-licensure-exams 

Magsambol, B. (2021, March 17). Octa Research: Metro Manila experiencing “serious surge” of COVID-19 cases. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/nation/octa-research-metro-manila-experiencing-serious-surge-covid-19-cases-march-2021 

Medenilla, S. (2021, February 8). CSC to conduct online career service examinations this year. Business Mirror. https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/02/08/csc-to-conduct-online-career-service-examinations-this-year/ 

Monckton, P. (2020, December 14). Massive Google Outage Takes Millions Offline. Forber. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulmonckton/2020/12/14/massive-google-outage-takes-millions-offline/?sh=1dbe223360ad 

Nair, P. (2021). Reimagining higher education in the Post-Pandemic world. Transforming Curriculum Through Teacher-Learner Partnerships, 9. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-6445-5.ch001 

Professional Regulation Commission. (n.d.). History. https://www.prc.gov.ph/history 

Punongbayan, J. C. (2020, December 7). [ANALYSIS] Pandemic pushes Filipinos out of labor force, especially women. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/voices/thought-leaders/analysis-pandemic-pushes-filipinos-out-labor-force-women 

Punzalan, J. (2021, January 22). IATF allows licensure exams in January-March. ABS-CBN News. https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/01/22/21/iatf-allows-licensure-exams-in-january-march 

Ramos, M. (2021, January 10). SC prepares for first online bar exams. Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1381671/sc-prepares-for-first-online-bar-exams 

San Juan, A. D. (2020, August 15). Colleges, universities not required to delay school opening — CHED. Manila Bulletin. https://mb.com.ph/2020/08/15/colleges-universities-not-required-to-delay-school-opening-ched/ 

Schroeder, R. (2020, October 1). Wellness and mental health in 2020 online learning. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/online-trending-now/wellness-and-mental-health-2020-online-learning 

SpunOut. (n.d.). How to handle exam stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://spunout.ie/news/covid-19/how-to-handle-exam-stress-during-the-covid-19-pandemic 

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Young, J. (2020, September 29). Brain drain. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/brain_drain.asp 

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