Some students calmly take things by their stride and wouldn't let the impending examinations take over their life. Whereas some are completely overwhelmed by it, worried that they might flunk and consequently getting very tensed-up.
This is the typical life of a student when examinations are just around the corner. No matter how traumatic your experience of preparing for an examination might be, I'm sure we cherish such moments. Especially those who have gone through the university life phase and are now on their respective career path.
Likewise, I will definitely miss the times when I had to prepare for my examinations. My final year as a medical student in the University of Sheffield, to be more precise. What made the experience even more profound was the fact that I not only had my final examinations to deal with, but I had cancer to battle against too.
Looking back now, I can only thank Allah, that by His Will, I managed to obtain my medical degree amidst all the sheer difficulties I had to endure for the last 6 months of my studies.
Success is a journey, not a destination...
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma back in December 2008, I only had roughly 5 months left before my finals, better known as OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). I had to weigh my options; should I postpone my studies, having gone this far, so that I can focus on my treatments, or soldier on. The seemingly less arduous path was obviously to take some time off my studies. The representatives from JPA, the governmental department who sponsored my studies were also of the same opinion, ie to postpone my final year studies. It was a difficult decision to make, but I had to decide.
And I decided not to choose the primrose path.
I was definitely not trying to be a hero by doing the mission impossible, but deep inside me, I believed that I had the strength to reach the finishing line. Not only that, I was worried that I might just lose the will to continue my studies once I finish my treatments. I also pondered, that if things don't go well with my treatment, I will then need more time off for further treatment, thus further delaying the completion of my studies.
And I can only thank Allah, as I felt that I made the right decision, insha Allah.
My circumstances were clear then. I had roughly 20 weeks before my OSCE. During these last 20 weeks of my studies, I will undergo 12 courses of chemotherapy every fortnight. For each chemotherapy, it is expected that I will need a whole week to recover from its side effects. Thus in truth I have 10 weeks less than my colleagues to prepare for my finals.
Will I have enough time to prepare?
I must admit that at the beginning, I almost believed that this was indeed, just a step too far. The pressure just seemed too much for me to bear. But just before I crumbled under the immense pressure, I reminded myself of Prophet Muhammad's sayings,
“The strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allaah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive to attain that which will benefit you and seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless.” (Saheeh Muslim, hadeeth no. 2664)
There are clearly 3 important steps the Prophet has taught us in the aforementioned hadith that we should take heed from during times of difficulty.
1. Strive to attain that which will benefit you
- It's true that I have been disadvantaged by my circumstances, but I shouldn't waste the precious time I have left for my examinations by crying about it.
- I might have lost a great deal of preparation time due to my treatment arrangements, but I told myself to look at the benefit of such plannings. The benefit was clear -- I had the opportunity to become more focussed and disciplined during my revision times.
- Thus I strive to attain such opportunity, and I didn't fail. I was definitely procrastinating less, and optimized every little time that I had to revise. In the end, I made good use of the study times that I had, without having to affect the period that I needed to recover from my chemotherapy sessions.
2. Seek the help of Allah
- Even when things are plain and easy, we should never forget to seek for Allah's assistance. What more in my circumstance. Of all the things one can do in preparing for an examination, you can never do wrong by asking for Allah's favor.
- Whilst seeking for Allah's help, we should also try to avoid committing actions that displeases Him. Common sense teaches us that if you want to ask for something from someone, you would be nice to the person and would avoid doing anything that might offend him/her. Ironic isn't it, that one performs Solat Hajat (wish prayer) to ask for excellent results but at the same time abandons the obligatory prayers, not being concerned with looking after his/her awrah, or to continually speak bad of someone else?
3. Do not feel helpless
- Even when things look extremely difficult, I told myself to never feel helpless. I questioned myself, what might happen if I decide to confront my difficulties by feeling that there is nothing I can do about it. Will the problem be solved, or is the burden any lesser?
- I know that I don't have to face this battle all alone. On top of revising my medical notes, I also spent some time practicing my clinical examination skills with my fellow Muslim colleagues. I made it clear to them that I needed their help, and they were keen to lend a hand.
Having adopted all the 3 approaches as above, I entered into the examination hall with the belief that I couldn't have prepared myself any better given my circumstances. Thus all I had to do by then was to put all my knowledges into practice during the OSCE, and eventually leave all matters to Allah. Alhamdulillah, when the big day came where our results were posted on the medical school's announcement board, I could muster a smile and tell my parent over the phone,
"Mom, your son is now officially a doctor. Alhamdulillah."
To all my dearest friends who will be facing their examinations not long from now, I wish you all the very best. May Allah ease all your affairs and that you will stroll through your examinations with flying colors.
In the end, if you believe that you have put as much effort as you could but things still don't go as how you wish it would, then do not fall into despair. Avoid saying, "If only I had spent a bit longer in the library..", or "I should have listened to such and such's advice", for such actions are merely meant to find the scapegoat in your failure. Rather, keep on trying until you eventually succeed, as the only real failure in life is the failure to try.
“If anything befalls you, do not say, ‘If only I had done such and such.’ Rather say, 'Allah has decreed and He does what He wills.’ For saying ‘if only’ opens the door for the Shaytaan.” [Saheeh Muslim]
And Allah knows best.