How are you going to ace your exams during these most stressful days of your life? By extracting gems from traditional Islamic sources, you will be inspired to have ihsan and do your best.
1- Aim Higher
“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.”The Prophet (pbuh) (Muslim)
If you are a student going to sit for an exam in the near future, here’s 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.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed like the sky was the limit to what we could achieve.
But by the time it comes to exams, we have successfully convinced ourselves that the limit has already been met!
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!
Recognize your abilities and aim them at the highest point
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.
Aim to do our best every time and seek expert advice on 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 want to “pass” or become “top of the year,” with God removed from them desiring either.
Some say they want to “revise or pass their exams for the sake of God”.
With this goal, the details of how they plan to use their exams as a “vehicle” for 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.
What intention looks like
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 revisions easier. Specifically, we will adopt habits that are not only more conducive to our learning but will also reinforce our sincerity.
For example, we will no longer feel shy about participating in group revision sessions or seeking help from others.
Nor will we feel the urge to waste our time 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 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 on 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. 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 bear.
5- Keep it simple
It’s difficult to remember a thousand different facts with no apparent relationship to each other, so let’s try to 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 makes things easier for us. These core messages provide the foundation for further details, just as the five pillars provide the foundation of our faith.
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 reviewed in the actual exam itself, let alone months or years later?
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 a 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 step 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 that 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, 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 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’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.
By ensuring that all of our responsibilities are balanced, we help ensure that God instills plenty of barakah into our revision and that 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.
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 our revision because we feel that we’re at 0% and 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%!
We just realize that we had already started months ago, even if we weren’t necessarily in “revision mode”.
Our task now is not to take that first step but to continue what we already have and to reach even greater speeds and efficiency.
This article is from our archives.