HD 23: Why Cramming Doesn’t Work

Bismillah walhamdulillah


This weeks homework:

Memorize 4 new pages – Done

Review all of Surat An Noor – Done

Review all of Surat Al An’aam – Dun, dun, dun…


It’s almost 11:30PM. Class is tomorrow. I’ve been reviewing Surat al An’aam all day (with many breaks), and I have 7 pages left. The surah is 22 pages long, and I left basically all of it for today. Bad idea. I forgot the law of diminishing returns. After about 3 or 4 hours of review, I seemed to have reached my threshold for the day. I didn’t realize this though, so I kept reviewing more pages. Then I realized that I was making silly mistakes and the amount of review that was good enough for the first few pages was nowhere near as ‘enough’ for these later pages. I think my brain was tired. On top of that, I was trying to control the anxiety that I felt in my chest. Argh. I really hope the few hours I have in the morning are enough to polish off the surah inshaAllah. I really want to show my teacher that I can take on more per week, and maybe even come to her more than once a week (which would only make sense to do after she increases my workload). But this is what happens when there are so many days in between classes. Motivation dips and comes back up when class is near. Okay, so now for points to remember for next time.

1. Don’t cram – Start the homework asap and divide it so that you are doing equal amounts every day. The last day or last few hours before class should be devoted to a comprehensive review of all of that week’s homework. It shouldn’t be a time for starting homework.

2. Don’t overestimate your ability – I thought this surah would be easy for me. Well, it would be a lot easier if I started earlier, but I’m not at the level where I can start and finish it all today.

3. Quality – It’s better to start earlier not only for the sake of higher-quality review, but also so you can actually spend quality time with the surah. Last week, I didn’t cram as badly for surat al a’raaf and I enjoyed taking my time with it. I had fun finding the mutashaabihaat (within the Qur’an and within the surah) and noting down their differences with my post-its in the margins. I took my time praying with the ayaat, and reconnecting with the ones that I had a special relationship with.

4. Divide and spread – Even if you have time in your schedule (like I have a complete day off right before my class on Thursdays), it’s a bad idea to cram because your brain can only handle so much in one go. It’s easier for you to do less, over a longer amount of time. If you do an entire surah in one day, you might remember it for the exam but you’ll forget it soon after because you didn’t pin it down. Pinning it down puts it in your long-term memory.

5. Review old mistakes – Give yourself time to review the mistakes you made the last time you were tested in this surah, otherwise you will definitely make many of the same mistakes again.

6. Re-memorizing to fix hardened mistakes – I need extra time connecting pages because it has recently occurred to me that I didn’t do this properly when memorizing! I can connect the first five or six pages of a surah really well, but from there, I start having to either think really hard, or draw pictures in my mind about the meaning. I can’t afford to do that, I need to do a bunch of reps to connect the pages of all of the surahs.

7. Time to clean – I mark up my Qur’an A LOT. I never noticed how much I do that until today. I translate words and underline and circle tashkeel mistakes. My teacher adds to the markings by catching more mistakes and pointing out tajweed errors. The markings were overwhelming and before I knew it, I put the review in the backseat and started paying more attention to what I could erase. It was that whole ‘clean my room spotless before I start studying for my Final Exams because the two are very related’ phenomenon. (This feeling of being overwhelmed only happened because I was already nervous!)

8. Taking breaks – while this usually helps, it didn’t do much for me today. I took many breaks, some intentional and some unintentional (random, unexpected nap anyone?) but they were becoming less and less productive. In an effort to do something ‘different’ (see Pomodoro Technique), I ended up just finding things that were wasting my time. The only break my brain wanted was a full-night’s rest.

9. Insincerity – reviewing poorly is a sign of insincerity in hifdh. If I am reviewing just to get by on my exams from my teacher, then that won’t take as much. If, however, I am reviewing for the sake of Allah, then I will review with ihsaan and eventually be able to recite without a mushaf, and that is a different realm of review altogether.

Well, these basically all have to do with not cramming, but that’s a pretty important message so I’m okay with that. There’s probably more but I can’t think of anything more, and I want to sleep so I can wake up early for the rest of the review.



  1. #1 by S on October 9, 2014 - 7:39 pm

    Re random naps. I used to find napping the most weirdest thing ever. Then at the start of my hifdh I found myself always getting *really* tired whilst learning. To the point that sometimes I had to force myself to take a nap as I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open. I really hated it until i read all the benefits of napping and how it helps with memorising and then more recently an article that a 10-15 min nap is actually proven to refresh ur brain. Add to that I remember Kamal el Makki making a really nice point in one of his classes that drowsiness/slumber is help from Allah (Uhud, Aisha radi Allahu anha falling asleep when she got lost in the incident that lead to the ifk) so now I’ve totally embraced the concept of napping and find it really helps.

    Anyway random point aside, I actually just came by to say jazakillahu khayran for point 9. It kinda made me feel a bit ashamed cos I am so bad – procrastinating is the story of my life, so a much needed reminder.

    May Allah grant us sincerity and ihsan in all that we do.

    P.s. hope you got it done x

    • #2 by almuqarraboon on October 11, 2014 - 3:28 pm

      Alhamdulillah, i made it for my exam with my teacher (and did a lot better than i expected) but there were clear rough patches in the review, even if small. So even though she gave me new homework, im going to spend a bit of time on the old homework again first inshaAllah.
      Re napping, so pleased to hear that it can be a positive thing! Though i must admit mine are not usually 15 min. But I can believe it helps to retain review, since ive heard that reviewing before bed is very useful. Anyways, it’s much better than taking the drowsiness as a sign of jinn possession (bet you think im kidding). :)
      But i think part of the drowsiness is psychological, and part of it also has to do with the heaviness of the words themselves (surat al muzammil), not to mention the physical exertion in memorization and review.
      Wa iyyaki, ameen to your duas. Procrastination- very interesting topic involving psychology that i’d love to go into one day! (Get it, one day) lol

      Wasalamualaykum my sis

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