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Articles / Applying to College / How to Ace the UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQS)

How to Ace the UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQS)

Brad Schiller
Written by Brad Schiller | Nov. 23, 2020
How to Ace the UC Personal Insight Questions


Tips for Answering the UC Personal Inquiry Questions

UC says it wants you to "show us your personality."


What they really want is to see if you've got what it takes to succeed at the University of California (any campus) and beyond.

The way UC susses out this potential is through eight "personal insight questions" (PIQs), of which you must write four. Each response is limited to 350 words. So, tip #1: Brevity is key.

How to Know What to Say in Your PIQ Response

To prove you'll succeed in college and beyond, you've got to show that you exhibit one of the five traits colleges look for in applicants:

  1. Drive
  2. Intellectual Curiosity
  3. Initiative
  4. Contribution
  5. Diversity of Experiences

You can learn more about why these traits matter in our short blog post. (Better yet, if you create a free Prompt account, we've got a quick quiz that helps you define your most salient traits.)

Once you know which of the five traits work best for you, you can think of concrete examples of experiences in which you exemplified them. Why not do it right now? Take 30 to 45 minutes, and brainstorm the experiences that show you've got UC potential written all over you.

(Want an easier way? Yet again, if you create a free Prompt account, we'll walk you through a brainstorming exercise that will leave you with a number of concrete experience descriptions that can form the basis of your PIQ responses.)

At this point, you might notice that we're asking you to do a fair amount of work without even having read the PIQ prompts. That's because you should read them after you know what you need to say. It's easy to let a question steer you off course. You need to stay focused not on particular wording, but on the larger goal of proving you can succeed.

If you've done your brainstorming, you're in a great place to read through the 8 PIQs. Armed with your most powerful experiences, start jotting down which questions allow you to tell those stories. This is the best way to select your four.

(We know we're getting repetitive, but if you create a free Prompt account, you'll gain access to yet another tool that matches your best experiences with the right PIQs. And walks you through how to structure each response. Alright. That was the last time, promised.)

How to Write the PIQ Responses (AKA The Easy Part)

Just two points here:

  1. Answer every part of the question (harder than it sounds), and
  2. Write so, so, so straight-fowardly (flowery turns of phrase are your enemy).

First, every part of the question. We did say you should select your topics before looking at the PIQs. That doesn't mean that, once you choose, you shouldn't examine the question carefully. Get to know that beast.

Why? Because it's a surprisingly common mistake to leave part of the prompt unanswered. And admissions officers hate that. The best tip for avoiding this error is to sketch out an outline that responds to each part of the PIQ. Build the rest of your answer from there.

Second, avoid all literary devices like the plague. Here's a little inside-baseball secret: The UCs don't view the PIQs as essays – they view them as questions. What's the difference, you may ask?

The difference is that they don't want you wasting words by "setting a scene," or using descriptive, flowery language. In fact, the UCs don't evaluate grammar, spelling or sentence structure(!) (We still recommend proofreading carefully.)

Instead, they're laser focused on content. That means they want clear answers: "I" statements, action verbs, the uncomplicated recounting of what you did, and what you learned from it.

Ultimately, your task is to show your UC admission reader you're going to succeed on campus, and in the world beyond. The way to do that is to put most of your time and energy into coming up with the right examples. Then writing them up straight-forwardly, honestly, and — 350 words really is extremely short — succinctly.

Written by

Brad Schiller

Brad Schiller

Essay Expert

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