Ramadan and exam season
This year, a large number of students have had to face the unfortunate moment when they received their exam routine and saw that Ramadan, a month that is supposed to be filled with festivities and devotion, has been imbricated by exams. Although the spirit of this holy month can never truly be suppressed, the extra pressure of having to rigorously study while you fast has its own set of complications.
It is very much true that the more active our brain is as we go on to solve question papers and memorise formulae, the more it becomes hungry for nutrition.
Studies have shown that when individuals fast, their cognitive performance can be impaired, especially for tasks that require sustained attention and working memory. However, the effects of fasting, at its core, depends on the individual. A lot of participants in a study done on university students of the Muslim faith report that they are better able to focus when they fast. It has also been said to improve long term memory and prevent cognitive disorders.
Eahsan Abedin, a recent graduate from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School says, "Fasting helped me focus in some respects as you had more time to concentrate on studies rather than making or helping to make a meal. However, the main problem for me was never food, it was feeling dehydrated during exams, as I was obviously nervous."
The problem does not just stem from the rigid timings for fasting and meals, but also from the content of said meals, especially the iftar since most students opt to study at a long stretch in the time between iftar and sehri. Food offered in traditional iftars are usually filled with saturated oils, refined sugars, and processed items, all of which are known to make people feel more fatigued.
Samin Ibteda Chowdhury, an A level student, claims "Oftentimes I think I'll have a lot of energy after I break my fast so I will sit down to study then. But the contrary happens. I end up losing out on more energy after meals and feel too bloated, which hinders my focus on books."
Growing up, my mother would always stock the pantry and fridge with various snacks and fruits when our exams were near. Before my O level exams we had also gone on a grocery store spree.
Thousands of students choose to fast around this time of the year, and there are many ways in which they can adapt their routine to suit the needs of their academics while managing the traditions of the month.
Firstly, you can tweak your diet to your advantage while fasting. Cut down on the traditional fried food during iftar and opt for more nutritionally rich meals by including simple carbohydrates and a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated. Introduce nuts into your diet, as they are rich in fats and allow you to store energy. Walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are also known to increase brain function and memory power.
Furthermore, it is crucial to manage your time wisely. You can plan your study breaks around prayer times and during iftar to reduce the need for breaks through the rest of the day and allocate more hours to studying. Switch the topic you are studying every hour or so, since fasting can impair your ability to fixate on one subject for long periods of time.
Showering more often is a lesser known hack to keep ourselves cool on the heated summer days while also maintaining productivity, especially when feeling tired and low on energy from hunger. If needed, create a nap schedule and stick to it. Let your family members know about it in case the sound you set for your alarm somehow incorporates itself into your dreams and you oversleep.
In terms of environment, there are a couple of changes you can bring about to make your surroundings more equitable. Avoid studying in your bed, and see if you can set up a study space away from your bed. You feel tired more easily when your sleep schedule is shifted, and the temptation to sleep will be greater than ever. Don't let the comfort of an empty bed get to you. Try to study at dining tables, which should be unused throughout the day before iftar, or at a station that is not in a bedroom.
Clean up your space before Ramadan begins as you will be less motivated to tidy things up once you start fasting, a cleaner workspace makes for increased productivity by decluttering your space and reducing distractions.
It is also wise to join an online study group at this time so you can hold yourself accountable, along with the others in the study group for your study schedule. However, be wary not to let the endless sessions on Discord turn into a hub for spilling more gossip than getting work done.
The communal side of Ramadan in our culture is one that is unlike any other. It brings a heightened sense of community and togetherness amongst students as well, which leads to greater number of social activities.
Fasting every day for 30 days, or at all, can become tiring and extremely difficult for students who also have to sit for exams during this season. Coupled with having to wake up early in the morning, the lack of replenishment depletes a lot of people's energy and compromises their health, for which, they might opt out from fasting during Ramadan. They might also be concerned about their performance in the exams as board exams, especially international ones, often tend to take place around Eid. Therefore, we must remember not to make anyone feel pressurised or get coerced into fasting.
1. Department of Internal Medicine, NBU (December 2022), Effects of Fasting on Student Performance in Exams
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