Why it’s Okay to Study Differently than Your Classmates if You Have a Learning Difference

Why it’s Okay to Study Differently than Your Classmates if You Have a Learning Difference

This week we welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat to talk about how to manage a learning difference as a law student (and why it’s okay to be different).

I don’t like the term “learning disability,” instead I prefer to use “learning difference.” There is nothing about the way that my brain (or your brain, if you’ve come searching for this post) works that is disabled. It’s just different.

When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with deep dyslexia and double vision. Deep dyslexia is different from developmental dyslexia (which is what most people envision when you use the term “dyslexia”). With developmental, a child often has a hard time learning to read or mixes their letters or numbers up. But deep dyslexia is caused by a traumatic brain injury and leaves the individual with the inability to read aloud and causes them to use words incorrectly.

The words always sounded, to me, like they fit, but they weren’t exactly correct. For instance, I often use a word with the same prefix and “gist” as the word I intend to use, and it takes someone else pointing it out for me to correct myself. Sometimes, it feels like I speak a totally different language, and I’m learning to translate it into the English that everyone around me understands (my brain also does this when I speak Spanish).

Everyone’s brains work differently, and unfortunately, in law school we are taught in one specific way. Additionally, we are encouraged to form study groups, study at school, spend several hours a day studying, and come up with answers for cold calls on the spot. It’s an extremely stress inducing situation, and if you have a learning difference it can sometimes feel like school wasn’t created with us in mind.

Figure Out What Type of Learner You Are

In another post I wrote, I talked about how there are different type of learners. Determining which type of learner you are will make your experience in law school a lot more empowering. There are reader/writers, kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners. I determined, post law school, that I am a reader/writer and kinesthetic learner. I wish I had learned this in school, as I think it would have made me feel better about the studying practice I found myself involved in. It definitely would have made me feel less pressured to conform to how they expected I should be studying.

Figure Out How You Study Best

There are many different ways to study in law school – join a study group, study on your own at school, study on your own at home, study around the clock, and/or block out studying time and make it count. The key to figuring out what works best for you is to try a few different ways, reflect on how you studied in undergrad or high school, and then move forward knowing you’re studying exactly how your brain wants you to study. And know that this style may change from class to class or over time.

This sounds kind of straight forward, but I swear, most of my classmates spent 1L year in a ton of study groups, only to realize they didn’t learn as much as they thought they had. Some people thrive in study groups, but I hated them. I found people spent way too much time talking about their opinion on what the rule meant, rather than putting it into practice. I was much more comfortable leaving school right after my last class and studying at home by myself. Or waking up really early to study before school so that when I was out at 4 p.m. I was done and could relax.

Why It’s Truly Okay to Study Differently Than Your Peers

During my first year, after we got our grades back from a constitutional law midterm, a classmate I considered a friend came up to me and demanded to know my grade. When I beamed because I had gotten a B+, she scowled and shouted that how could I have gotten a better grade than her when I never studied and was never at school. I realized in that moment, that what I was doing – learning at my pace, studying my way – was exactly what I needed to be doing.

We spend most of our lives in school or in careers where our day is structured. We are taught how to learn based on how that teacher was taught how to learn. This way of thinking doesn’t work for everyone. You are not “less than” because you choose not to be in a study group during law school. You are not going to fail because you are choosing to work in your own way at your own pace. And you most certainly do not deserve to be belittled because you have a learning difference. We are not robots. We have minds and personalities, and they work differently than everyone else in our lives – even our families. And that is okay. Law school will make you feel like you need to conform, but you don’t. You can take it on, and excel, by working and studying in the way that is best for you, and damn everyone else’s opinions. As long as you are learning, able to answer the questions on the exam correctly, then it’s no one’s business how you learn.


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About Alexandra Muskat

Alexandra graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 2017 and passed the UBE in all 29 states, not that anyone’s counting. She has a bachelors from Florida International University in English Literature with concentrations in Psychology and Creative Writing. In edition to working on her first novel, she works part time consulting in laboratory compliance

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