Lawctopus’ Garden: Tales From Oxford- Learning How To Study

By Kelly Dhru

If I begin with the beginning, it would not be so much fun.  Let me dive in right at the middle to a point that changed my life.

It was May, 2010. Weeks away from my BCL exams, I was studying in the Law Library of University College, Oxford. I was browsing through collections of books titled “law and sociology”, “law and philosophy” and the like when my eyes fell on a book that I thought I needed the most at that time. A thin, old, tattered book titled “Learn how to study”.

The book started with a question: What is your motivation for studying? The chapter contained a list of possible motivations and classified the motivations into two: internal motivations and external motivations.

Internal motivations were those that came from within one’s own mind or heart – basically, the love for the subject, curiosity to know more and the like. External motivations were anything that was not really an internal motivation – money, peer pressure, job security, parental advice etc.

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This was the point that got me looking back my life, and wonder why I was doing what I was doing.

A realization struck me: My reasons in life had been completely external so far. My parents wouldn’t believe that I could pass the 10th Board exams, and my tuition teacher only taught me because my elder sister had been an extremely intelligent and hardworking student. ‘To show them that I was not that bad’ was my motivation for studying. It did not really fall into the list, but I knew that it was external.

I changed the medium of my instruction in 11th grade (from a Gujarati medium to an English medium school), and put in my best to cope up with this massive change. I topped the first exam. My motivation: to prove to the other students that a girl from Gujarati medium could do well. External motivation again.

Then I turned myself to the most significant decision in my life. It was 6 long years ago. I had barely stepped out of my school and then I decided to study law. What was my motivation? Was it because my sister was studying law that I was influenced? Maybe, but I don’t clearly remember that being a motivation for me.

I searched deeper and deeper to find my real motivation for studying law. I could find none. I remembered my classmates in the law school – that too, I was in the first batch of it – did they have a motivation? Some of them did, they wanted to argue in the court of law – like their parents perhaps? (external motivation again) Some of them wanted a high-paying job. (You guessed it!)

When I look back, I find it difficult to spot fellow-students (except for maybe a handful cases) who were studying law because s/he really enjoyed it.1 I remembered the recruitment scene and I thought that the way we end up keeping our ‘options open’, it seems as if our sole motivation was to find a job. External motivation once again.

How many of the people joining law firms actually liked corporate law? How many of the international law mooters studied it because they enjoyed it? How many students pursue their LLMs because of a genuine curiosity to understand the subject more?
Why is it that so many students, including myself, are led by external motivations?

The book said students with internal motivation tend to study better – as in, perform better, find it easier to get themselves to study and even make the best of the course.

Visions of myself looking at facebook while studying, checking my emails, and all sorts of distractions floated before my eyes – there was no inner force which drove me to study. It was as if my life was controlled by strings – it was as if I was a puppet.

I thought of some of my classmates here at Oxford – for them, reading 50 articles for one class was not difficult at all – whereas I was barely prepared for any of my classes. In India, I never read before any class.

What was my motivation in doing an LLM? In coming to Oxford? In picking University College? And in throwing myself in the deep sea by choosing a crazy bunch of courses?

These are the questions I seek to find answers to in this column. I call it “Lawctopus’ Garden” based on a song by The Beatles titled “Octopus’s Garden”. The legend goes that when Ringo Starr wrote that song, he had no clue about the spiritual underpinnings of the lyrics. He just wrote, and I guess, he learnt in the due course along with the rest of the world!

It has been more than one year since I have stepped into Oxford, and in this journey, I have undergone a metamorphosis. Through these columns, I am going to explore and bring to light my experiences, suggestions and lessons learnt in the pursuit of the degree of Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford.

I hope that it will be an interesting and helpful read for my younger brothers and sisters in the law school, and may be, like poor Ringo Starr, I’ll also learn in the process of writing these columns!

In a place with British (read bad) food, cold weather and centuries of wisdom stacked up in books at the Bodleian library, every day is a challenge. Join me in this journey – I assure you, it’s going to be a lawt of fun!

In the next columns, you can expect discussions on:

Why is the BCL called a “bachelor” degree even if it is a master’s degree in law?

How is the teaching in Oxford different from that in a Law School in India?

Is it true that one has to be really well-dressed for exams at Oxford?

5 easy-to-cook Indian dishes when away from Mother India (Okay, maybe not!)

Does work experience help before studying a master’s degree?

… and many more topics!

Kelly A Dhru is currently a student pursuing an MPhil in Law (Jurisprudence) at University College, Oxford. She finished her BCL with Distinction from University College, Oxford in July 2010. She was in the first batch of Gujarat National Law University. These are her personal views.

Image from here.

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