Exam Survival Guide
The bane of every student’s education life: exams. Even though some of us genuinely enjoy learning, exams suck the fun out of our quest for knowledge. The sad truth is that it’s unavoidable; our future teachers of higher institutes and even employers just have to see if we’ve fully understood what we’ve learnt…or at least have the memory power to memorise and vomit all the content 🙂
Here are a few tips to help you survive the dreaded end of each level of your education…
Way Before Exams:
#1 Know Why You’re Putting Yourself Through This
We all know our goal should be to gain as much knowledge as we can, of both the Deen and the “academic” subjects we are studying, so as to become useful members of the Ummah, capable of helping the Muslims in different ways. The education system is not necessarily the best way to do this, however it’s just something we have to go through for now inshaa’Allah because this is how the society is structured.
I don’t particularly like the categorisation of knowledge into “Islamic” and “academic” because all knowledge belongs to Allah, but for discussion purposes we’ll have to make to with such an arbitrary distinction.
The “Islamic” knowledge is what we need to learn in order to know how to live our life while the “academic” knowledge is what we need to learn in order to earn a living and survive in this world. But what would be the point in surviving if we don’t know how to live? No matter what “academic” field of study we are in, we cannot afford to neglect learning about the Deen.
“…It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah…”
Surah Faatir Ayah 28
All of the following tips will only be helpful if we really put in the effort to get closer to Allah. Reading, learning and applying the Qur’an is of the utmost importance. I hope I don’t sound like your mum J But really, if our relationship with Allah and His book is solid, we’ll finally understand how awesome this Deen really is and why we are Muslims. Just try it.
#2 Find Your Pace
I find it a bit strange when some people ask me how they should study. You’re the best person to judge your own capabilities and weaknesses, so you would know best what course of action you should take during your preparation for the final exams. Some things you should determine are:
-Your studying style:
Do you prefer learning every topic thoroughly before moving on, or do you prefer having a brief look at everything first then diving into the details?
If you’re the kind that prefers mastering each topic before moving to the next one, don’t be afraid of lagging behind your classmates if your school is pressing along quite fast with the syllabus. Remember, your goal is the final exam. If you fail a test or two, don’t get demotivated- stay focused.
-When you study best:
Is the morning or night more conducive for you? I wouldn’t recommend staying up at night unless it’s the only time you are able to study without distractions as Allah created the night for rest.
“It is Allah who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein…”
Surah Ghafir Ayah 61
Plus, sleeping at night would enable you to wake up at the last hours of the night to talk to Allah during Tahajjud, something that all Muslims should strive to do, no matter how few the units you may pray are J
“Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud prayer) is very hard and most effective and good for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah).”
Surah Muzammil Ayah 6
Whichever study time suits you, stick to it. It can take some time for you to condition yourself, but inshaa’Allah you’ll get used to it.
-How you study best:
Some people prefer studying alone in a quiet place without distractions while others prefer group study sessions, where there’s a lot of interaction. If you’re the kind that likes group-studying, make sure you find like-minded friends and don’t drag your friend who can only study in a quiet place along with you. Your friend may be too nice to say “no” to you, but have a heart man; while you may benefit from the session, your poor friend would be worrying about when she’s going to be able to catch up with her work!
#3 Print Your Syllabi
Many students, especially O Level and A Level students, don’t realise the benefits of having your own copy of the syllabus. Teachers may slip up once in a while and forget to mention some details that you need to know, so it’s always handy to double-check. For math subjects, formulas you need and do not need to memorise have been clearly stated. Also, some of the definitions required have been nicely typed out for you exactly the way your examiners want it. Go and print it right now if you haven’t already done so!
#4 Summary Notes
Personally I found that making summary notes of each chapter helps, especially during your exam period. The day before or on the day of your exam itself, you would have some time for revision, but there’s definitely NO time to be going through your textbooks or lecture notes.
You need to compile summary notes that highlight the most important things in the topic like specific formulas, diagrams and definitions that are needed, as well as the kinds of questions you ALWAYS mess up.
For me, I hated Physics as I couldn’t understand many of the topics. I tried hard to understand at the beginning, but when I saw that it was of no use closer to the exams, I resorted to memorising the question types and their model answers. This was my LAST resort. Always try to find someone who can explain your confusion to you early.
#5 Topical TYS
The good thing about these exams is that the question types seldom change. There’s like this big library of past exam questions the exam setters have, and they pick and choose questions from there every year. This is where your ten year series books come in very handy. As you complete each topic, make it a point to try out the exam standard questions from your TYS, it helps you get used to the kind of questions you will be facing inshaa’Allah as sometimes our schools supply us with practises that are either too easy or way too hard for our level.
#6 Face Your Fears
I made quite a big mistake by avoiding trying to understand my two worst subjects, Additional Mathematics and Physics, early back during O Levels. Since I kept putting it off, I ended up having to really stress and spend hours upon hours in my last few weeks before the exams just trying to get the hang of it. I don’t recommend you do the same. Save yourself the stress zits, the white hairs and the exhaustion. Whenever you run into some difficulty in any subject, don’t be afraid to bombard your teachers with your questions, you’ve got to understand it before it’s too late. Not only that, many of the topics to come are interrelated, so it’s best you attack your problems early.
Just Before Exams:
#7 DON’T FREAK OUT
The stress is on, and it’s highly likely that you feel like your head’s gonna explode. It’s normal to cry a number of times under the pressure. Just don’t let the anxiety take over your whole life. When things get really tough, try to remember that Allah may have set your return date back to Him on the day before your exams! No one knows when our expiry date in this world is, so we gotta try our best not to forget about our other duties and relationships, especially to our Creator. It would be of no use if we manage to pass these exams if we end up failing this life’s test.
Our prayers and family still have the same importance as in any other time. Never, ever skip your duties to Allah, and try not to skew the acts of worship you normally do down either. You never know, maybe through your extra effort, Allah will grant you ease and success from places you never expected.
“…They were afflicted by hardship and suffering and were so shaken down that the prophet, and those who believed with him, began to say: ‘When the help of Allah (will come)’? Behold, the help of Allah is near.”
Surah Baqarah Ayah 214
Sometimes some students step up the ibadah close to the exams, begging Allah to help them get a good grade -.-“
“And if We give man a taste of mercy from Us and then We withdraw it from him, indeed, he is despairing and ungrateful.”
Surah Hud Ayah 9
Consistency is key. The best of deeds are those that are done consistently- no matter how small.
The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are the most consistent of them, even if they are few”
Al-Bukhari no. 6464 and Muslim no. 2818
It’s time to cut out all the unnecessary activities from your life, whether it be in school, with your friends, and maybe even with your family. If you are able to be excused from extracurricular activities that are not crucial for your final grade, then GET EXCUSED. There’s absolutely no time to waste!
Plan your revision, sort out the subjects that need your attention first. If you still need help from your teachers, alert them early and book consultation slots with them so you can get their undivided attention. Last minute Q&A sessions along the corridor are not helpful, it just adds to your and your teacher’s high blood pressure.
#9 Yearly TYS
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. By right, you should do the yearly TYS twice in order to be ready for the exams. If you’re taking your O/A Levels in November this year, it’s good to complete the topical TYS once by June. Then June onwards you can start going through the yearly TYS, training your brain to get used to the exam formats and durations. Sometimes the models answers given are not accurate, so be sure to double check with your teachers.
#10 Show No Fear
You may find yourself in sticky situations during your examinations that sound off the “HARAM!” or “ASTAGHFIRULLAH” alarms in your head. Don’t ever be afraid to stick by the Deen. Sometimes you may be forced to go against the teachings of Islam by the exam board’s “rules and regulations”.
For example, you may be forced to sit right beside a non-mahram even after you request to leave a chair’s gap, or if you’re a girl and you cover your face, you would be forced to uncover your face during the whole duration. If so, stay strong, Allah knows what you’re going through, and everyone will be held accountable for what they do, including those on top. If your intentions are sincere, Allah will make the situation easy for you. Keep talking to Allah and asking Him for help, you’ll feel better J If Allah’s got your back, there’s no one on this planet who can ever bring you down.
A Sincere Appeal to the Muslim Authorities and Madrasahs
Though it is still unclear to me where the mandate had come from to ban the girls from covering their faces in all the Islamic schools where we are recently, I sincerely appeal to those who had passed the law here and around the world to lift the ban. The covering of the face is part of Islam, and was practised by not only the wives of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam wa radiyallahu anhunna) but also the believing women of the time.
Narrated Aishah (radiyallahu anha): “May Allah bestow His Mercy on the early emigrant women. When Allah revealed: “And to draw their veils all over their Juyubihinna (Surah An-Nur Ayah 31)- they tore their Muruts (a woollen dress or a waist-binding cloth or an apron) and covered their heads and faces with those torn Muruts.”
Sahih Al-Bukhari 6/4758 O.P.282
Even if one takes the position that covering the face is not compulsory but optional (sunnah/nawafil), who would dare to come between Allah and His slave and prevent her from covering up, especially since it’s an Islamic school? No one would dare to stop or prevent someone from praying two nawafil rak’aats of the Duha prayer, but it seems like we have the courage to stop a believing woman from maintaining her khimar.
If it is the sister’s identity that people are worried about, go ahead and check her ID every day in school, but allow her to keep her face covered during school hours and within the school compound as well as she will be in the presence of non-mahrams.
During the national examinations the sister needs to mentally prepare herself early that the moment she steps into the examination hall, she must uncover her face on her own. I understand the Muslim authority bodies are worried that the sister could be barred from the examinations, but I have been through it myself, and the invigilators are understanding. As long as you uncover when you take your seat and remain uncovered until the paper is over, they do not have a problem with it.
May Allah reward all of you for supporting the sisters in practising the Deen more, and may He ease any difficulty that may arise from lifting this ban.
#11 Remind Yourself of Your Goals
It helps calm the nerves when you remember why you were studying all this while when you’re entering the exam hall. Bismillah, put your trust in Allah, and give it your best shot. If you were sincerely seeking knowledge for His sake, then you’ve got no need to worry, no matter how hard the questions seem.
#12 Attack the Questions Strategically
As you begin the exam, time is of the essence. You need to be both fast and accurate. When you hit difficult questions, and you’ve tried to answer it once or twice but you still couldn’t get the answer, SKIP IT! Try to get as many questions that you can do done first, so as to pocket as many marks as you can. If you have the time, you can come back to the questions you were unsure of earlier.
#13 Get Some Good Rest
Be warned, you’re brain’s going to feel like it’s been fried. I remember after my last exam I had a long list of things that I wanted to do and also had to do, so I wasn’t able to catch up on my sleep and let both my body and my mind rest. The result wasn’t very good as for the next three months or so I felt terrible. Overall I just didn’t want to do anything at all and nothing interested me anymore. I guess it’s different for everyone, but still, make sure you sleep properly so you can lose the zombie look you got during the exam period.
#14 Get a Life, Do Something Productive 🙂
I know I said to rest, but I didn’t mean that you should become a dead weight at home. Help around the house, play some sports, learn a new skill, but most importantly reconnect with Allah again. Many of us put off seeking knowledge of the Deen and trying to do as many good deeds to earn some points in our final life exam during the exam period, so it’s time to get back into gear.
It’s not necessarily something “boring”…there are so many ways to learn about Islam and so many different things you can do to serve His Deen. We’d need countless issues to list down all your options. For the learning part, you can read eBooks or real books, watch YouTube videos from various Islamic channels, download some audio talks by different speakers or go for classes. Just do something.
Some helpful websites:
If you’re stuck, your textbooks are of no use and your teacher’s not around or equally unhelpful as your books, make use of the fact that you’re in the 21st century J
Don’t laugh. I’m serious. I know it’s very general, but you can really find almost all your answers through these websites. If you’re totally bored of reading your textbook, you can watch YouTube videos pertaining to the topic. Recently I’ve been watching videos by “mjmfoodie” for Economics (zzz…), quite easy to understand and entertaining because a lot of cartoon drawings are used.
Again, videos from this website can be found on YouTube. Nevertheless, if you need some extra guidance on subjects like math, biology, chemistry, physics, humanities…practically any subject, you can check out this virtual classroom.
The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the path to Paradise. The angels beat their wings in approval of the seeker of knowledge, and those who are in the heavens and on earth pray for forgiveness for the scholar, even the fish in the water. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like the superiority of the moon over all other heavenly bodies. The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets, for the Prophets did not leave behind dinars or dirhams, rather they left behind knowledge, so whoever gains knowledge has gained great good fortune.”