3 ways to balance school and exams during Ramadan

Muslim female reading from a stack of textbooks
Muslim female reading from a stack of textbooks

The first week of Ramadan 2022 is well underway for Muslims around the world. But for many university students, so is the start of the study season as they prepare for upcoming exams over the next two months.

For Muslim students, this means balancing one of the most important religious practices of the year with what would, no doubt, be a full workload as end-of-year assignments and exam timetables continue to pile up. Depending on when the sun sets, some fasts can last up to 17 or 18 hours a day, which can make managing a full day of university and studies especially difficult. Still, for those who have no other option, this time of year often gives them a reason to get creative with their schedules.

Having moved from Pakistan to London for my undergraduate degree, I came from spending my last few Ramadans as part of a major community observance to suddenly feeling very alone in my practice. The fast is far longer in London, which presented a significant challenge, especially early on in my observance. It was also challenging to maneuver around exam prep and the three in-person exams I had scheduled in the middle of the day.

Here are three ways to manage your studies during Ramadan.

Make a schedule — but be forgiving

As a student, I had a significant lack of focus during Ramadan. My typical study hours were usually 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., which tended to be when I had the least energy during observance.

Amherst College graduate Alizeh Sethi observed Ramadan during exam season and says she was lethargic during her regular classes. But her flexible class schedule allowed her to rest during downtime.

“I was able to take naps between my classes in the day and then stayed up to do my other tasks at night after iftar,” Sethi says, referring to the mealtime at which Muslims break fast.

In addition to the physical exhaustion, students carry the mental load of managing their studies and religious rituals, including extra night prayers, supplication and reading the Quran. For many Muslims, recitation is a crucial part of their Ramadan practice. Omar Khan, who moved from the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. for a master’s degree program at Wayne State University, says Ramadan held such importance in his home country that it was easier to fulfill these traditional acts of worship.

“In the United States, these practices can be slightly harder to accommodate and add into my daily routine,” he says, adding that he’s become adept at adjusting his schedule to meet the demands of his day and advises Muslim students to plan ahead as best they can. “Try and create a schedule for your month. It helps get things done and keeps you accountable. I find that creating small pockets of time and tying it to specific tasks can help me tremendously with my productivity during fasting and observing Ramadan.”

Younger Muslims have begun incorporating planners and to-do lists designed specifically for Ramadan. But Sethi says they sometimes can set people up to fail — or feel as if they’re not doing enough if they can’t cross every item off their list. The key is to have a plan, but forgive yourself if you have to adjust on the fly.

Keep your energy up

Khan advises students new to balancing school and exams during Ramadan not to skimp on Suhoor, which is  also called Sehri. Even if you’re not studying while fasting, he tells students it's crucial to maintain good nutrition to manage low energy levels throughout the month.

Mariam Farooq, who recently graduated from the London School of Economics, says prepping meals in advance can make Suhoor easier.

“Stock up on food, cook in advance. If you don't have a kitchen, find a friend who does,” she says. “Deliveroo isn't always open at 3 a.m.”

Seek support from other Muslims on campus

Sethi says she’s found support within the small Muslim community at Amherst. Having a group with which to observe nightly prayers and share Suhoor often helped her feel more connected.

Farooq agrees: “Find friends through Islamic societies or otherwise who can help create support.”

Students can also look to their advisers and teachers for support and assistance during Ramadan. “Universities should be aware of Ramadan, particularly in terms of accommodating by adjusting dining hours as well as making sure Muslim students only do one exam in 24 hours,” Farooq says.

Ramadan can look different for everyone. But many students share similar strategies to set themselves up for success: Study when you’ll be able to eat and drink — which will improve focus and efficiency — but make sure your diet is healthy and nutritious. Set realistic schedules that can help you organize your time.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. After all, that’s one of the true meanings of Ramadan.

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