As we enter exam season, many GCSE and A-Level pupils are in the process of preparing for one of the most crucial periods of their lives. Letters ranging from A* to C (unfortunately) have the power to decide the rest of a person’s life – it is a scary thought and I do not blame anyone feeling pressurised by this. As a secondary school teacher, I am often asked what the best way to revise is and my answer is always the same – I don’t know! Every person learns differently – audio, visual and/or kinaesthetic – so how you revise for your exams will depend on this (I am an audio/visual learner – tell me with your voice and show me with colour, I will remember). Nevertheless, here is some advice using Islamic teachings as a basis.
1. “Indeed, with hardship will be ease.” (Quran 94:6)
Mental preparation is the first step to success in exams. Tell yourself that the next two months are not going to be good and are not going to be enjoyable. If you prepare for this in your head and are ready for it, the duration of this time will become much easier to bear – Jesus Christ (peace be on him) said: “Verily you will never be able to attain that which you love until you are able to endure that which you despise”. I call this ‘long-termism’ and it is a way I myself keep sane. When I have a stack of 50 exam papers to mark, I tell myself ‘endure this, it will be over no matter how long it takes’. In the same way, you will have a summer holiday to look forward to once you have finished (very few feelings top walking out of your last exam) – what is two months in the context of your whole life? It is a drop in the ocean so sacrifice these two months with the knowledge that your input in this time will impact the rest of your life. The worst feeling one can have is to open their results envelope in August and have regret. Be the one that opens that envelope and, regardless of the result, is satisfied with the effort that was put in.
2. “Matters are secured [depending] on their own time.” – Imam Ali (peace be upon him)
Use your time wisely and be disciplined in doing so. I strongly believe God decreed certain acts upon mankind for more reasons than meet the eye. The five daily prayers are prescribed upon us at certain times during the day, what can we learn from this? Discipline. Do things at the correct time and then move on to the next task. Something many teachers advise, but is often dismissed by pupils, is to make a revision timetable. Pupils spend a long time making it, sticking it on their wall and then never using it. A revision timetable will structure your day and stop you going in different directions, however you must stick to it i.e. if it says ‘3.00pm-4.00pm: Maths Revision’ then make sure you start Maths at 3.00pm and finish at 4.00pm. You should also make your day realistic and healthy – being locked in your room for 12 hours is not realistic or healthy. You must take regular breaks (which I believe are equally as important as the study hours) and relax in those breaks. If you are living with your family, they will always ask you to take a break – listen to them, don’t be stubborn and make sure you spend time with them! They are not trying to sabotage your exams but are just trying to ease your mind. If they are offering to take you out for dinner, don’t respond with “I’m busy revising” – go with them. It will do wonders for your revision but remember to keep the ratio of revision to rest sensible.
3. “Write, for you will not learn until you write.” – Imam Jafar Sadiq (peace be upon him)
There are many narrations from the Holy Household (peace be upon them) on the importance of writing and the link between memory and the pen. The starting point for revision for most people is to make ‘revision notes’. This is fine but this must be done with a plan, otherwise it is a waste of time. The trick to cracking revision is to memorise as little as possible, right? Someone may respond and say ‘one or two years of content is not a little, it is a lot!’ Solving this problem is simple – there is a hardly a subject where you need to memorise EVERY little detail you learned about. Go through your classwork and textbooks and filter out what you need and don’t need for your exam (your teacher should help you with this). This will cut the content slightly but there still remains a lot – what now? One thing to do is to be strict and make notes on a single piece of A4 paper. This forces you to write down only the important things (because space is limited) and by the end, 5 units of work that you learned in a year are on 5 pieces of A4 paper. The process of writing this will help you remember and then highlighting key phrases and using colours will also help imprint the image in your head. When you sit your exams, everything you memorised on those few pages will come back and you are left to fill in the gaps by making links. This, in my opinion, is the best revision technique.
4. “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (Quran 20:114)
There are many supplications that you can find regarding studying, memory and knowledge. As a child, many of us would have been taught by our parents to recite the Islamic Creed, certain chapters of the Quran and the odd Naad-e-Ali before facing something difficult like an exam. This is fine but let us look at some of the simple, yet beautiful words of the Quran. God Himself tells Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) to ask Him for an increase in knowledge which indicates all knowledge we gain comes from God. When Moses (peace be upon him) had to confront Pharoah, one of the biggest tests endured by anyone in the Abrahamic scriptures, Moses (peace be upon him) eloquently asked God: “My Lord, expand for me by breast and ease for my task” (Quran 20:25-26). If Moses (peace be upon him) used such a simple prayer for such a monumental task, we should do the same. Use these gems we have from God, the prophets (peace be upon them all) and the Holy Household (peace be upon them all) with the full faith they will work and incorporate the recital of these in exam season.
5. “Trust Allah, but tie your camel first.” – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family)
In Islam, as always, your deed starts with a pure intention and with the realisation that any good that happens will depend upon God’s grace. You need to have faith that God will help you through this difficult period but this does not mean you do nothing and think ‘God will take care of it’. Combining a good intention (am I gaining an education for a reason that will please God?), trusting in God (do I really believe God will help me?) and putting in the work (do I want to put the work in to maximise my potential?) is a winning formula.
I genuinely pray for everyone who will be sitting exams this summer – I pray you get what you deserve.