Education & Science

10 Steps to Ace Your Exams: Test Yourself, Stay Balanced and Start Now! Abid Mohammed

10 Steps to Ace Your Exams: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

This is the fourth and final article in a series of articles entitled “10 Steps to Ace Your Exams,” where I hope to extract gems from traditional Islamic sources that would be of benefit to students struggling to revise for their exams. 

  1. Testing: 1, 2, 3…

`Umar (radi Allahu `anhu—may God be pleased with him) said, “Take yourself to account before you are taken to account, weigh your actions before they are weighed and beautify yourself for the ultimate presentation. On that day, not the slightest secret will be hidden.”

It is surprising to see that for many of us, our actual exams are the first time we are testing what we’ve learnt. This could be because we either did not intend to test ourselves beforehand, or because we were procrastinating assessing our knowledge until we had completed our entire revision. Whatever the reason, as `Umar (ra) eloquently pointed out, this approach is fundamentally flawed. Why wait until the ultimate presentation to be assessed, when it is too late to do anything about your shortcomings or weaknesses anyway?

As is clearly evident from the Islamic tradition, many of the companions, scholars and activists took themselves to account on a daily basis. If we are to reach the same lofty heights they did, in this life and more importantly in the hereafter, then we must adopt this mentality in every sphere of our lives – including our revision. Whether it’s using past papers, sitting practice exams under timed conditions or even focusing on our exam technique, it is important that we test ourselves from the get-go before it’s too late.

  1. Body, mind and soul

“And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance, that you not transgress within the balance.” (Qur’an, 55:7-8)

The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “Do not overburden yourselves, lest you perish. People before you overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found in hermitages and monasteries.” (The Musnad of Abu Ya’la, cited by Ibn Kathir in his tafsir)

Imam Al Muhasibi said, “Make your spare time a source of enrichment.”

Though we must never be moderate in our ambitions or our determination to realise our goals, we must strive to be balanced in all that we do, as God commands. The Lord of our revision and exams is also the Lord of our entire lives—it does not make sense to obey Him while revising but not with regards to everything else in life.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what tends to happens for most of us, and it is precisely why many of us find a severe barakah (blessing) deficiency in our revision. We retreat to our hermitages and our monasteries to focus solely on our revision and nothing else. Our physical health is damaged by eating fast food (because we don’t have time for good food), drinking Red Bull and not exercising or getting enough sleep. Our family lives are neglected because we simply do not have time to help our parents around the house, even for a few minutes. And overall, our general well-being plummets as our spare time is reduced to checking Facebook and surfing YouTube.

Cutting out distractions is a good thing, but our friends, family, physical health and spiritual well-being are not distractions—they are integral parts of our lives. By neglecting them, we not only neglect God’s commands, but yet again, we introduce procrastination into our revision. The mental dreariness of “all work and no play makes Hamzah a dull boy”  will only make us put off doing any work until we absolutely have to. By ensuring that all of our responsibilities are seen to—whether it’s our responsibility to our friends or to our own hearts—we ensure that God instills plenty of barakah in our revision. By being balanced, our body, mind and soul do not burn out; rather they are continuously alert and invigorated to perform any task that is laid out in front of them.

As Imam Zaid Shakir said, “Fill every moment with an action that will be the source of some lasting good. God reminds us, ‘…the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope.’” (Qur’an, 18:46.)

  1. Start now.

“And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous (Qur’an, 3:133).”

“Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorailty, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. He gives wisdom to whom He wills…” (Qur’an, 2:268-269).

Imam Al Muhasibi said, “If you are motivated to do some good, hasten to it.”

Arabic adage: “Do not put off today’s work until tomorrow.”

Most of us delay starting on our revision because we feel that we are at 0% and we somehow have to hit 100% in the space of three weeks. But that simply is not true. Even if we feel that we have “done no work” the entire year, we cannot deny that we have picked up bits of information here and there. We have done the odd assignment. We have even attended a lecture or a tutorial here or there—if not many lectures and tutorials. And so in reality, we are actually at 30% or 45%, maybe even 60%! In which case, rather than trying to “start” our revision, we should just realise that we already started months ago—even if we were not necessarily in “revision mode”. Our task is now not to take that first step on what may seem like a never-ending journey, but to continue the forward momentum to reach even greater speeds and efficiency in our revision.

Of course there will be obstacles along the way. And while there will be times when we feel things are going a bit slow, we should never allow Satan’s fear-filled promises of “not enough time” or “too much information” to overwhelm us or cause us to fall into despair. Time and time again, he will threaten us with humiliation should we fail and cause us to question our own self-worth and our ability to succeed. But we must realise that these are empty threats and promises and that our mental energies are better served focusing on the words of Imam Ali (ra), who said, “Do not fear anything except your sins. Do not long for anything other than your Lord. Let none of you lacking knowledge be too shy to ask until he learns. Do not let one who is asked something he lacks knowledge of refrain from saying, ‘I do not know’”. Let us start now and hasten to our home in the hereafter.”

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