Fasting in the time of exams: Plan it right to beat the odds
Some students have said taking exams during Ramadan really tests their discipline.
By Sarwat Nasir
Published: Mon 13 May 2019, 11:00 PM
Last updated: Tue 14 May 2019, 1:54 PM
While most adults have shorter working hours during the holy month of Ramadan, students in the UAE have an additional responsibility with fasting - prepare for final exams. Exams for the Indian curriculum schools may be over, but in other schools, year-end tests are either ongoing or coming up at the end of the month.
Khaleej Times spoke to students, as well as parents, about the routine they have adopted to ensure that they do well in their exams as they carry out their fasts.
Some students have said taking exams during Ramadan really tests their discipline, but it also gives them the determination to perform better than they ever did before. Others ensure they're eating proper meals during Suhoor and Iftar to energise their bodies and minds throughout the day.
Parents have also shared how they are helping their kids. Some are preparing wholesome meals for Suhoor so that the children can be prepared for their exams later in the day.
STUDENTS AND PARENTS SPEAK
GEMS Modern Academy
During the holy month of Ramadan, we undergo the grueling test of discipline and determination. Not being able to eat or drink from dawn till dusk is a challenging task in itself, and balancing school work with fasting creates a bigger hurdle for us to overcome. However, with a few simple practices, one can dodge this hurdle with ease.
When we wake up for Suhoor, we must ensure that we eat the right amount of healthy food, and drink enough water to stay hydrated for the day ahead. I would suggest students to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables as it will provide the body with the useful nutrients, which help the body to last without food for a long period of time. As we are supposed to wake up before dawn, the amount of sleep we get is altered drastically, affecting our sleep pattern in a huge way too. It is important for us to ensure that we get the required amount of time to sleep to rest our bodies after a long day. I make sure that I get at least 6.5 to 7 hours of sleep every day, sometimes when I am not able to sleep enough at night, I make sure that I sleep for an hour after school as it helps refresh my mind and body.
Focusing on schoolwork when at home may be a bit of a challenge as quite a bit of our energy has been utilised in school. It is advisable to come home and rest for a while before diving into homework and studying to avoid overexertion.
When it comes to exams, the main advice that I can provide would be to only focus on the task ahead, as focusing on one task will help distract us from the difficulties of fasting.
To sum it all up, the main lesson I have learned throughout the years is to always eat healthy food, drink a lot of water and most importantly, make sure that I sleep the required amount of time.
GEMS United Indian School, Abu Dhabi
Ramadan is a time of fasting and sacrifice. Over the years, I have observed that fasting is a great way of energising the body and mind. Discipline in thought and deed is much more refined during the fasting period. Therefore, control over body and mind can easily be achieved during the time of fasting. Coming to assignments and tests, I found it to be more useful, productive and focused as there are limited distractions and conscious effort to focus on the important details. I wake up at 3.30 in the morning for Suhoor. This is the time when I do most of my studying and completion of my school assignments and homeworks if I have any. The food I eat for Suhoor and my afternoon nap after school provides a good amount of energy to study. Hence, energy while I fast is more enhanced due to lack of distraction and a focused attitude.
GEMS New Millennium School - Al Khail
Although studying doesn't seem like a strenuous process, since it doesn't require much physical exertion, it can be exhausting on the mind as it entails that the students focus their concentration on the task ahead of them. Studying for an exam can tire the brain.
It is hence essential that we keep our brain energised to be able to learn consistently. In order to do so, I made sure to take regular intervals that provided time, for concepts to be retained in my memory. In my experience, having sufficient hours of sleep at night, before the day of the examination or on days that I'm going to be studying, has a positive influence in increasing stamina of the mind. I am able to focus longer and with an active frame of mind. Good sleep is also important for developing good concentration abilities.
Lastly, one of the most important tips I kept in mind was to keep myself surrounded by understanding individuals who are both reliable and encouraging. A positive circle of influence plays a vital role in ensuring an environment that encourages me to do better and to work harder. My friends and family played a huge part in helping me maintain my psychological and mental strength because without their constant motivation and support I wouldn't have been able to come so far.
Asifa Ali, parent
My daughter is 16 years old and she's in Grade 11. To help my daughter remain energised for her studying and exams during Ramadan, I make sure I prepare helpful meals for her during Suhoor and Iftar. I make paratha, which she eats with honey, butter and milk. I also give her some nuts and dates. During Iftar, she has fresh fruit juice and dates. We don't make it heavy, because soon after that we have a proper meal (dinner). I try to mostly avoid all oily foods. Then there is chana chaat with yogurt. The dinner dish is usually something with meat.
She studies on her own, always. So that part is up to her. And she doesn't really mind it all (fasting with exams). The only thing is that the routine is a little disrupted. But otherwise, she's doing good. It doesn't stress her out. Normally, she doesn't stress over exams, so I guess that's part of the reason too.
Iram Rizvi, parent
My 12-year-old daughter is very particular that she observes fasting in the holy month of Ramadan. As a parent, I need to ensure that her diet is supplemented and her routine is adjusted in a way that neither her health nor her academics get affected.
I take care that she eats properly at Suhoor - I prefer food which belong to the "slow-burning" category because they keep one feeling full and energetic for a longer time. Some of her favourite items are - oatmeal porridge with chia seeds, honey, nuts and fruits, homemade bran and raisin muffins, baked beans on brown bread, avocado on bread, peanut butter smoothie, eggs and dates. I also ensure that she drinks an adequate quantity of water and stays away from sugar-loaded drinks which provide empty calories without nutrition. Since she finds it difficult to go back to sleep after Suhoor, she utilises that time to study.With exams fast approaching, it's imperative that time is utilised wisely in order to maximise the learning. Of course, if regular studies have been a norm throughout the year, then the final exams are less stressful and there's no need to spend long hours frantically studying or staying up late.
A tip which I give my daughter is to utilise morning time after Suhoor for study purposes. Researches have shown that the brain's retention abilities are considerably higher during the morning hours and ensuring that all school work, revision and studies are done after coming back from school (before Iftar). After Iftar, I advise her to study for a maximum of one hour and go to bed at a time that allows for adequate sleep and wake up early for Suhoor.
Smart study strategies for exam preparation
(Fatima Martin, Principal, GEMS New Millennium School, Al Khail)
With the rising standards of education in the UAE, especially Dubai, students are no longer studying because they have to take up an examination. Teachers have been working towards developing students' learning skills so that students are enthusiastic and take up a stronger responsibility for their own learning in sustained ways. They are being taught to focus well and reflect on their learning to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses accurately.
The trend shows that students are developing strategic studying skills right from their early years. This is far different from the usual re-reading and highlighting practices, which are now considered primitive. If students are not aware of these different smart-study skills, they could be studying all the time under the illusion of studying adeptly, but actually with limited progress. Yet, given the competitive nature of university acceptances and the aspirations that students nurture to enroll at the top universities, they have to work both smart and hard to score well in examinations.
Here is a list of 'What Works' in three compartments that I have listed as study strategies when preparing for an examination.
1-Metacognitive Study Strategies: Metacognition is thinking about thinking and learning.
It is important that students think about the ways they learn best. Epistemologically speaking, one could learn best by:
>Thinking aloud: Speaking to friends and collaborative learning often allows tough concepts to be assimilated faster. It also helps retention, as we typically don't forget conversations with friends. Conversations through asking questions and retrieval mechanisms often sink in the learning with ease. Most of all, who doesn't love studying with people who make us feel comfortable.
>Graphic organisers: Most of us would have used mind-maps and other visual tools to break-down tough concepts. It is a good strategy for visual learners to use mind-tools, such as the fish-bone analyses, Venn-diagrams, spider maps etc.,
>Mnemonics: This is my favourite method for remembering content. Be it the first 20 elements of the periodic table, or even the difference between oxidation and reduction.
An example is LEO the lion said GER (LEO: Loss of Electrons is Oxidation and GER is Gain of Electrons is Reduction)
2-Planning your study leave: It is important that students have a study plan that allows for all subjects and topics to be covered with an appropriate allocation of time. There are plenty of planning templates that are available on the internet, and it is important that students use these templates to devise a forward-thinking strategy.
Interleaving is an excellent way of using a planning template. Instead of studying a subject or a topic all day long, it is effective when students study at least two or three different topics during the day. This also allows the brain to develop cross-curricular connections and longer retention of content.
3-Create the Goldilocks zone for studying: A student's environment needs to provide enough catalysis for staying in the study zone, especially before examinations. Music that is uplifting, calming and motivating, people who are positive and food that is energising and revitalising, can make the difference between distraction and destiny.