10 Steps to Ace Your Exams

Part Two

Editor’s Note:

This is the second part in a 2-part series where the author tries to extract gems from traditional Islamic sources that would be of benefit to students struggling to revise for their exams.

Read part one

6- Story Time

“Indeed in their stories are lessons for people of understanding….” (12:111)

How do you turn your revision from a passive coloring-in-my-book activity to an interactive experience? How do you prevent your mind from forgetting everything you’ve revised in the actual exam itself, let alone months or years afterwards?

Turn your list of facts or theories to remember into stories – that’s how.

Stories are one of the best ways for us to understand, remember and as a result, convey a message – for life. In fact, they’re also an incredibly effective way to act upon what we’ve learnt as they serve as verbal simulators – translating what can be abstract concepts into practical examples to be followed.

For this, and many other reasons, stories are one of the communication mediums of choice in the Qur’an – wherein Allah (swt) has perfected the art of storytelling and thereby provided us all with the best example to follow when dealing with messages, whatever shape or form they may have.

It doesn’t matter what topic we’re revising – whether it’s anatomy or economics – if we do steps 4 and 5 properly, we can easily turn our revision into boredom-free, procrastination-free, interactive story telling process and pass our exams with flying colors!

7- Sharing Is Caring

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Convey from me even if one ayah (verse) for it may be that the one being informed will comprehend better than the one listening (at present).” (Sahih Bukhari)

If we did step 6, then 7 is the next natural step. If stories are an awesome way to convey a message, then it doesn’t make sense to create a story and not share it. By sharing our stories, and in general our knowledge, with others, we are not only following the Prophet’s (PBUH) command, but we are following in the footsteps of God, who out of His Mercy, “shared” knowledge with us (though in reality, all knowledge belongs to Him) – the Qur’an being a perfect example of this. Again, we find that by heeding God’s instructions, He (swt) takes care of us partly by instilling in us habits which enhance our learning.

As the hadith above alludes to, sharing knowledge is not only the best way to see whether we’ve truly understood what we’ve learnt, but it also encourages others to share information with us and so we are able to learn and gain new insights from others too.. Those of us who fear that our own grades will suffer, even if we spend the slightest amount of time helping others, should renew our intentions, and remind ourselves that “the outcome of everything is with Allah” (31:22).

Results only come from God, not from our own efforts. Let us therefore direct ourselves towards Him and follow His commandments, and start sharing what we’ve learnt with others, even if it’s just one fact.

8- Testing 1, 2, 3….

‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) said, “Take yourself to account before you are taken to account, weight your actions before they are weighed and beautify yourself for the ultimate presentation. On that day, not the slightest secret will be hidden.”

As is clearly evident from the Islamic tradition, many of the companions, scholars and activists took themselves to account on a daily basis, and 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’s important that we test ourselves from the get-go before it’s too late.

9- Body, Mind and Soul

“….He has set the balance so that you may not exceed in the balance.” (55:7-8)

The Prophet (saw) 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 realize our goals, we must strive to be balanced in all that we do, as God commands.

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 the responsibility that our friends or our hearts have on us, by being balanced, we help ensure that God instills plenty of barakah into our revision and 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 it.

10- Start Now

“Hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a Paradise whose expanse rivals that of the heavens and earth. It has been prepared for the God conscious.” (3:133)

“Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and commands you to do foul deeds, but God promises you His forgiveness and His abundance: God is limitless and all knowing, and He gives wisdom to whoever He will….” (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 till tomorrow.”

Most of us delay starting on their revision because we feel that we’re at 0% and we somehow have to hit 100% in the space of three weeks. But that simply isn’t true. Even if we feel that we have “done no work” the entire year, we can’t deny that we haven’t 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’re actually at 30% or 45%, maybe even 60%! In which case, rather than trying to “start” our revision, we should just realize that we had already started months ago – even if we weren’t 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 that we already have and to reach even greater speeds and efficiency in our revision.

First published: May 2014