This is the first part in a-2-part series where I hope to extract gems from traditional Islamic sources that would be of benefit to students struggling to revise for their exams.
1- Aim Higher
The Prophet (PBUH) said,
“Allah has made excellence (Ihsan) obligatory for everything, so when you sacrifice, sacrifice excellently and when you slaughter an animal then perform the slaughter excellently and let any of you sharpen his knife and let him put the animal at ease.” (Muslim)
If you are a student who is going to sit an exam in the near future, I have a simple exercise for you. Ask yourself – how well do you want to do in your exams? I’m sure everyone will say “good” but just how good is “good”? And why not “great”, “amazing” or even “stupendous” (thank you thesaurus). Sometimes we can get complacent and start lowering our standards.
Claiming to have a “realistic” outlook on life, as opposed to tainting our lens with self-pity, which is in fact what we are actually doing. At the beginning of the year, it seems like the sky’s the limit when it comes to what we can achieve, but by the time it comes to exams, we have successfully convinced ourselves that the limit is in actual fact the sky.
Islam however is telling us something quite different. In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) said that Allah (SWT) commanded us not only to raise our standards and expectations but to fix them right at the top! For Muslims, the sky’s not the limit! Paradise is. That too, not just any level of Paradise, but as the Prophet (PBUH) instructed us to ask Allah (SWT) – the highest level of Paradise, al-Firdous al-‘Ala!
We must realize that just as it is an obligation to pray five times a day, to be respectful towards our parents and to be truthful, it is also an obligation to try to do everything – including our revision – to the best of our actual ability. I emphasize the word “actual” ability, because striving for excellence entails finding out what we are actually capable of, by aiming to do the best every time and seeking expert advice in overcoming any perceived “limitations” to our overall ability.
True sincerity as a whole is a difficult goal to achieve (at least without expert help) in the short time period that many have between now and their exams. There are certain steps that can be taken however to enable us to be more sincere in our revision.
2- Your sincerity
“Whoever directs himself completely to Allah while he is one who does Ihsan [excellence] has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, for the outcome of everything is with Allah.” (31:22)
First, let’s talk about our intention. Four approaches can be used. There are those that just want to “pass” or become “top of the year” with God not having much to do with them desiring either. Some take this a step further by saying they want to “revise or pass their exams for the sake of God”, but with this goal, the details of how they plan to use their exams as a “vehicle” to God are missing.
Others yet attempt to be more specific by saying, for example, “I want to pass my psychology exam so that I can try to develop a groundbreaking new form of psychotherapy. Thereby, I’ll fulfill my function as a member of the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), for the sake of God:
“You are the best of all nations that have been brought out to bring benefit to humanity..” (3:110).
The ideal intention however would be to combine sincerity with the specifics and not leave it as an afterthought. Being specific shows that you’re serious about being sincere, combining the specifics with sincerity will help ensure that you are actually being sincere to God and will continue to do so while traveling towards Him.
If our intentions are truly renewed, then we will see clear practical results in our revision. This doesn’t just mean that we will generally find our revision easier, but specifically we will adopt habits that are not only more conducive for our learning but will reinforce our sincerity. For example, we will no longer feel shy to participate in group revision sessions or seeking help from others nor will we feel the urge to waste our time in trying to “show off” our knowledge to those around us. This is because our revision is purely for God’s sake – it doesn’t matter whether people think we are dim-witted or intelligent.
3- Placing your trust in your rope?
Ibn ‘Ata Allah Al-Iskandari said,
“A feeling of discouragement when you slip up is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.”
He also said,
“Relax from being obsessed with your plans; what someone else has undertaken on your behalf, do not burden yourself with it.”
Having trust in God is easier said than done when it comes to revision. Everyone and everything around us is telling us at every single moment that our results are only as good as the amount of work we’ve put in and so if we haven’t done “enough work”, “we’re going to fail your exams”.
While Islam puts emphasis on the importance of tying one’s rope, it also stresses that we must never put our “faith in deeds”. Our reliance should not be upon our own actions, but solely on God.
4- Putting priorities
“…My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties that I have made obligatory upon him; and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory work such that I love him…” (Sahih Bukhari)
There is a difference between getting ready for our exams and becoming experts in the subjects that we will be tested on. Unfortunately, many students, in their quest to “aim high”, fail to distinguish between the two.
Putting first things first is a law that God has instituted for those wishing to draw near to Him, and just as it is applicable for praying your obligatory prayers before performing any supererogatory works, it also applies to our revision. Let us therefore strive to pinpoint exactly what we need to know for our exams and not expose ourselves to the inevitable onslaught of despair and procrastination that comes with shouldering information that we did not need to bear.
5- Keep it simple
It’s difficult to remember a thousand different facts with no apparent relationship with each other, so let’s try make life simple for ourselves. Are there any core messages that we can identify in our revision? If there are (and I guarantee there are), then it make things easier for us, because these core messages then provide the foundation for further detail to be added, just as the five pillars provide the foundation upon which our faith can be established.
The second part is soon to come. Stay tuned..