Hours and hours of studying in the library, all-nighters and group study are activities all of us do in order to prepare for our exams or quizzes. All of us prepare for the exams at the end of the semester in a very systematic way; we calculate the number of days left and the amount of work left and then set targets for ourselves and then try to meet them. In this way, we are pretty successful in tackling the towering workload in a few days. Additionally, we all know that in order to get a good GPA, we have to be performing consistently well throughout the semester; even a little bit of idleness at any time during the semester shows up in our GPA at the end. Therefore, we spend a pretty calculated semester with a persistent headache of “saving the GPA”. Yet there is a process that we all go through but which all of us have not quite hacked.
All of us would agree that if we want to ace an exam or quiz then that process comprises of four simple steps:
Step 1: We completely understand what we study.
Step 2: We memorize what we understand.
Step 3: During the exam, we fully understand the questions and retrieve from our memory precisely whatever the correct answer to that question is.
Step 4: The instructor is benevolent.
We have to work out each of these four steps the right way in order to ace an exam/quiz. Some intelligent students might have already realized that none of these steps is in our control.
Careful examination of each of these steps and a knowledgeable and clever analysis reveals that it is not in our control to work out any of these steps for ourselves. Starting from the first step, it is not in our control that we completely understand what we study. Let alone completely understanding, it is not even in our control to partially understand whatever we study. Some students have a problem that they cannot grasp for example, mathematics. No matter how hard they try, they simply cannot comprehend a particular topic. But the same students are very good at understanding and learning other subjects for example literature, philosophy and other various subjects in which the students good at mathematics have a difficult time getting along. Even if we limit our analysis to a class where all the students sitting are extremely interested in a particular subject and feel that they have the right aptitude for it, we will find some students in that class who understand that subject better than the rest of the class. No one can help himself or anyone else in understanding a particular subject if they naturally lack the right aptitude for it.
Secondly, it is not in our control to memorize whatever we understand. All of us face the problem of forgetting a part of what we have consciously and carefully understood and learned. Some of us retain fifty percent of what we have learned and some of us retain around sixty to seventy percent and some retain more than that but none of us can help him/herself or someone else to retain more than he/she naturally can. One cannot control how much one retains of whatever one has studied. All of us study hard and all of us walk into the examination room loaded with information, formulas, concepts etc. to our full capacity. By the time we start the exam we have retained only a set of what we have learned and to ace the exam/quiz it is necessary that the portion we have lost does not contain anything that is relevant to answering the questions that have turned up in the exam/quiz. There are students who study very hard but they find out that the exam/quiz did not test the portion on which they spent most of their time and what they thought was less important turned out to be very important to the instructor when he/she made the exam. It is pretty obvious that no one can manipulate what he/she retains and end up retaining all that will turn out to be useful in the exam and forget all that will turn out to be irrelevant to the exam.
The third step on the checklist is that you understand the question completely and recall from your memory precisely whatever the correct answer to that question is. This includes recalling the correct answer from all that you have retained and avoiding all that is similar to the correct answer but is not quite the answer. Some people know stuff and have memorized it but in that very moment when they are experiencing an adrenaline rush, they just cannot recall sufficient detail which is required to ace the quiz/exam. This is also clearly not in one’s control to recall the right information at the right time.
Lastly, we do not even need to go into any detail to conclude that it is not in our control that whether the quiz/exam is going to be marked benevolently or not. There are some grey areas in every quiz/exam where it is not clearly defined as to what falls in the category of the right answer or the wrong answer, hence it is up to the checker’s judgement or at times maybe his/her mood too. Furthermore, we also know that there are some instructors in our university who assign a very low grade at the mean and some are very benevolent in terms of grading. That is surely not in our control. Sometimes we can do nothing to avoid taking courses from instructors who are strict graders.
But we all know who really is in control. The One who has given us our aptitude and our memory, The One who knows what is awaiting us in the future exam/quiz and the One who can inspire us and cause the right information to enter our consciousness at the right time controls all that is discussed above. Allah (SWT) has control over everyone’s heart. It is within His authority to fill any checker’s heart with kindness. It is He who controls everything. All we can do is to try. We can only try to understand what we study, only try to memorize what we understand, try to recall the right thing at the right time, hope that the marking is benevolent.
Like in every aspect of our life when we know that a certain person is in control then we go to that person and request him/her to do whatever we want to get done by him/her. Similarly, we know that Allah (SWT) is in ultimate control when it comes to our GPA. So He is who we should call upon if we want to get a good GPA. We have to make du’a. We have to beg for it in front of Him and then try to make an effort to do all that is required to get a good GPA and hope that He helps us in every step.
But unfortunately whenever we hear the call to prayer, we fear that our time is going to get wasted which we can utilize in studying or elsewhere. Out of twenty four hours, we are not willing to take out even five minutes for a single salaat. Unfortunately we can wake up at around five in the morning to study but we cannot do the same for Fajr salaat. What we are not able to grasp is that the time we spend in salaat is actually the time we are spending in making our grades. That is the actual time we are devoting to get a decision made, in our favor, by the One in absolute control.
Indeed there are some people who do not pray and still score excellent grades but the reality is that they also are not in control of their own grades as discussed above. Like every normal human being they also can never control their own grades. It is just that Allah (SWT) has predestined excellent grades for them. They should thank Allah (SWT) for that. It is Allah’s (SWT) decision which is responsible for their grades. Likewise we can make du’a to Allah (SWT) to make a decision in our favor and that is what matters. The time we spend studying is just to try on our part. The result will always be whatever the decision Allah (SWT) has made for us.
Once we know all this, it should be clear that the time we spend studying is not unimportant. It is just not the actual determiner of our grades. It is very important to spend a lot of time studying as we would get nowhere if we did not spend time studying. It is necessary for us to try to understand what we study, try to memorize what we understand etc. It is necessary to give each subject the time it demands. It is necessary to do justice with each subject. But at the same time we should be clear inside our hearts that this is not what determines our results as the decision of our results is made by Allah (SWT) and it is He who is in control of all the process to get good grades, even in control of how productive our study time is.
By Hassaan Ahmad Usmani