The Cure for Writers Block -10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Brain

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As an English Lit. major in college, I had to write dozens of essays a quarter.

And, unfortunately, I got hit with writers block on a regular basis.

I tried to combat it by spending more time researching in the library, but that just made my problem worse.

You see, even though research is important it didnt help me write my paper. In fact, Ive found that research just helped me procrastinate more.

So how do I cure my bouts with writers block?

Here are 10 ways that have helped me write when Im not in the mood:

1. Relax your mind.
The more you worry about not having ideas, the more youll freeze up your mind. You need to relax and think positively about your writing assignment. Realize that everyone goes through writers block, and the cure is to relax your mind.

2. Take a hot shower.
I dont know what it is about a hot shower, but it really helps me refresh my body and mind. The hot shower helps me relax and focus on my writing assignments. Its also a place where I brainstorm easily. Take a notepad and leave it next to your shower door for when the ideas start flowing.

3. Write freely.
Whenever Im at a loss for words, Ill just start writing. It doesnt matter what you write, just write something. The very act of getting words on a page will help you build confidence, and help your mind to start pumping out your thoughts.

4. Write what you would say to your friend.
Sometimes it helps me to pretend that Im explaining the subject to a friend. By imagining a conversation with a friend, it helps me write what I would say – and this is a great way to trick yourself into writing.

5. Dont worry about punctuation or organization.
When youre struggling with writers block, this is not the time to focus on punctuation or how youre organizing your paper. You want to eliminate everything that stands between you and getting words on a page. So just write and dont worry about anything else.

6. Take deep breaths.
There are many benefits to breathing deeply in meditation, and one of them is to help you refresh your mind. I personally like Dr. Weils deep breathing exercises when Im feeling tired and uninspired:

  1. Inhale through your nose for four seconds
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds
  3. Exhale through tightly pursed lips, creating back pressure, for eight seconds.
  4. Do this eight times, twice a day, everyday.

7. Move around.
Get your body moving and possibly even try writing in a new location. Just by moving around will get your blood pumping faster and will help you feel more energized.

8. Concentrate on a different section of your paper.
If youre stuck writing your introduction, just skip it. Start writing another section. Dont worry if you dont have the best paragraph structure – just write and the words will start to flow. You can always edit later.

9. Listen to music.
Sometimes listening to classical music or jazz can help you start writing. It doesnt work for everyone, but Ive found that it can help me block out any surrounding noises and focus on my writing. Try music when youre out of words.

10. Dont worry about failing.
Look, a lot of people get writers block because they think theyre afraid of failure – or they think they cant write a good paper. You have to get rid of that negativity and start writing. The more you write, the better your paper will be. You can always edit it later – and find a friend to proofread it to give you some suggestions.

So just start writing . . .

Where Do You Study Best?

Although studying in a dorm room is convenient, it is often a poor place to learn. There are simply too many distractions.

Thats why its important for you to choose a study spot where you can focus and not have opportunities to goof around.

Here are some tips on how to find your best study area:

Study Where Youre Alert
It is difficult for me to stay alert in a library. Sure, I can stay focused for a while, but I easily fizzle out without caffeine. So thats why I prefer reading and writing in a local coffee shop. Theres something about drinking coffee and having people around that keeps me energized and focused on writing my papers. I know coffee shops are not ideal study areas for everyone, but it works for me.

Study Where You Can Focus
I know this is obvious, but its important to study in a location where you wont be bothered. This means turning off your cell phone and going to a location where nobody else knows who you are. This can help you maximize your productivity.

Study in the Same Location
Ive read about the importance of studying in the same location regularly. Your mind and body know where you are. Using the same place to study helps train your mind and body to focus your attention more quickly. So whether you enjoy studying at a particular desk, or reading in a particular chair at a coffee shop, try and stay consistent.

So where do you study best?

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How to Prepare Yourself for Final Exams – 5 Smart Ways

So were all about one month away from final exams.

And that means that its time to start preparing ourselves mentally for the exams ahead.

If youre taking four courses, then you probably have to write four final papers; review notes from 40 different lectures; finish reading 8 to 12 different textbooks; and find time to prepare for final exams.

It can seem overwhelming, but if you start preparing yourself now, youll feel a lot better about getting everything accomplished.

Here are 5 ways to help you prepare your mind and body for a successful final exam season:

Spend Time Studying for the Tests that Carry the Most Weight
Not all final exams and papers are weighted the same. Make sure you know what percentage each paper or final exam is worth to your grade. That will give you some perspective on how much time you should designate studying for each class.

Focus Your Time on Difficult Classes
If youre pulling a solid A in American Literature, then you obviously dont need to spend as much time studying for that class. Instead, spend most of your study time on the difficult classes where your grade is borderline.

Spend Time Reviewing Class Notes Now
Do yourself a favor and spend at least one hour per class reviewing class notes. That means youll have reviewed all your class notes in just 4-hours. Highlight all the areas that are important, and look at the syllabus to narrow down the key areas you should spend your time studying. By simply going over all your class notes, youll get a good overview of the specific areas you should start studying. This will also provide your mind with a good summary of everything youve been learning this quarter (or semester).

Organize Study Groups
Most students wait until the last minute to form study groups. And those group meetings often turn into cram sessions. To avoid this, organize your study groups now to go over class notes and areas that should get studied. Youll all feel ahead of the game if you start your study groups now – and thats a huge way to reduce stress during finals week.

Design a Study Schedule and Stick to It
Make a commitment to spend at least an hour a week (per class) to focus on the final exam. By setting aside time now to focus on the final exam, youre preparing your mind for whats ahead. And youll also find areas that you have questions about. This will provide you plenty of time to get answers from your professors.

Group Study 101 – How to Avoid Goofing Off

I love to study in group sespecially before an exam.

The only problem is that if you dont have the right people in your group, you can end up wasting a lot of time. And thats not helpful for anyone.

Here are some tips to help you avoid goofing off when studying in a group:

Find the Right Students
There are many ways to stay productive during a group discussion, but it all starts with finding the right people. I recommend selecting the members for your group yourself. You know who in your class participates in class discussions. You know who seems to be serious about their education. Its those people that you want to join your group. The more motivated everyone is, the better off youll be. I know its fun to join a group with a bunch of friends, but those are the types of groups where its easy to goof around and not study productively.

Limit Your Group to Under Six Students
The larger the group, the more difficult it can be to keep everyone focused. If the group begins to grow for some reason, I recommend splitting everyone up into groups of 5 or 6. I tend to find that small group sizes work better together.

Set an Agenda
Once everyone arrives for your study group, decide on a quick agenda (if it makes sense). An agenda will keep everyone focused on whats ahead, and what they should be concentrating on. Set approximate time lengths for each item, and try to assign various tasks for each person (depending on what youre studying). Sticking to an agenda is a key to good productivity.

Discuss Class Notes
If everyone is studying for a particular test, have everyone make copies of their class notes. Everyone takes notes differently, and its helpful to look at a range of notes from different student perspectives. Everyone will benefit from seeing everyones notes. This could also spark some great discussions on areas that should get studied.

Discuss Possible Test Questions
Tell everyone in your group to bring a list of questions they think might be on the test. These questions are a great way to get the groups mental juices going. If possible, email your professor or teachers assistant ahead of time to get a list of areas to focus on. All the questions brought to the group are a great way to keep everyone thinking about the exam. It will also highlight particular areas that need more attention.

Everyone Should Teach
Some students are going to understand test material much better than others. If it makes sense to the group, have each person talk about the particular area they know very well. Have them explain what they understand about the particular topic, and have them field questions from the group.

What are some ways you keep your study group productive?

How to Improve Your Memory Power – 7 Effective Techniques

When I was an undergraduate student, I had to take 5 classes in a foreign language to complete my degree.

I took classes in Spanish, classical Latin, and ancient Greek to fulfill my requirement – and needless to say – Im glad thats over with.

Ive literally spent hundreds of hours memorizing verb conjugations. And Ive probably killed many trees with all the note cards Ive used up.

The more I memorized, the easier it became – not because I was getting smarter – but simply because my brain was used to memorizing a lot of information every single day.

Pretty soon I was able to memorize stacks of vocabulary cards very quickly. It just took practice, and anyone can do it.

Here are some of the strategies I used to help me memorize my vocabulary terms and conjugation rules quickly:

Make Creative Associations
When I was memorizing a new word or grammar rule, I tried to develop a fun way to make it stick. The more outlandish the association, the better it would stick. For example, lets say that I had to remember that word domus is Latin for home. I would simply imagine a huge dome hanging over moose. (The classical Latin pronunciation sounds like Dome-oose.) That association would help me remember the word easily. I know this sound simplistic, but it really works. I would sometimes draw out fun associations on the back of my vocabulary note cards to really make these bizarre associations remembered.

Break-up Your Study Time
Our brains tend to remember less the longer we study. Thats why its often easier for us to remember the beginning and end of a lecture than all the details in between. So I found that by studying in short one hour stints helped me remember more. Everyone is different, so find out what amount of study time is perfect for you. You might find that you can memorize more in three one-hour sessions than one four-hour session.

Use Your Mind and Body
Sitting at a desk staring at some grammar rules might work for some people, but I always learned quicker by actively doing something with the information. I would draw association pictures or read my book aloud to help make things more permanent in my mind. I also found that studying note cards while walking around campus was a way to keep myself energized and focused.

Repeat What You Need to Know
One way to help something stick in your mind is to recite it to yourself. Read it aloud to yourself – and then read it again. The key here is to saturate your mind with the content in every way possible. One fun way to do this is to imagine your vocabulary cards or textbook being read by someone you think is funny. Imagine your textbook being read by Jon Stewart. It will at least keep things a bit more interesting.

Reduce the Noise

Some people study well listening to music. It really depends on the subject matter. However, if you find yourself drifting off, or focusing on the words of the song, its probably best to dismiss the music for a while. If you enjoy music, listen to some classical music or some other music that helps you focus. You basically want to situate yourself in a place with the least amount of noise interference.

Stay Positive (if possible)
Youll remember far more information about a subject if you try to find it interesting. If you think the topic is boring and useless, than youre going to make memorization that much harder. Look for some sort of connection on how the subject you need to learn about fits in with your life.

Study When Youre Most Productive
Everyone has their best study time, and often its during the daytime. Theres just something about memorizing and studying when its daytime that can keep you more motivated and more focused. I find that Im most productive during the early morning. I often go to a coffee shop around 6:30 a.m. and just drink coffee while I write and study. Find your best time to study and keep on that schedule. It will do wonders for your memory power.

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How to Write a Fascinating Thesis Statement

No professors or teaching assistants want to read a boring paper. They want to read a paper that engages them; a paper that is compelling and clearly articulated.

So how do you write one of these papers?

Well, the most important part of writing a fascinating paper is to develop a great thesis statement.

You see, your thesis statement is the spine for your entire paper. Its the glue that holds your paper together. The more complex, specific, and interesting, the better your paper will be.

So here are some steps to breathe life into your next thesis statement:

Get Excited About Your Topic
No matter what you have to write about, you should try and get excited about it. The more interest and excitement you put forth, the better your paper will be. Even if your paper topic bores you, this is your opportunity to get creative and think of a way to make it exciting. Thats your challenge – and you can do it.

Develop A Strong Opinion About Your Topic
Writing a great thesis statement means you need to develop a strong opinion about your topic. This is how radio talk show hosts keep their audiences – they spew strong opinions that attract listeners and phone calls. If youre not sure how to form a strong opinion about your topic, start reading through journal article abstracts. Check out Google Scholar and read through thesis statements pertaining to your topic. Jot down any strong opinions that look interesting to you.

Use Exciting Adjectives to Spice up Your Thesis
Dont just say that something is good or bad, empower your nouns with exciting adjectives that describe what you really think. Adjectives like oppressive, tyrannical, and bloodthirsty are powerful because they portray a strong point of view about something or someone.

Focus Your Thesis On One Main Idea
As mentioned in the introduction, your thesis is the glue for your paper. Make sure your thesis doesnt divert into different directions. Stay focused on one main theme to keep your paper organized and your reader on topic.

Get Extremely Specific in Your Thesis
A generic thesis statement weakens a paper because the reader isnt clear exactly what youre going to be arguing about. However, if your thesis includes specific details about your argument, it will prepare the reader for whats ahead. It also helps you stay on task as you argue your points with specific examples.

Keep a List of Interesting Thesis Statements
Just as copywriters have a swipe file of powerful headlines, you should develop your own list of powerful thesis statements. Whenever you come across a thesis statement that intrigues you, add it to your list. The longer your list of thesis statements, the more ammunition youll have when you need to craft your own.

Here are three examples of thesis statements to get you going:

Weak Thesis:
The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

Average Thesis:
While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Strong Thesis:
While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

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How to Write a Great Term Paper in One Evening

If youve ever procrastinated like I have, youve probably had to research and write an entire term paper in one night.

Its not the ideal way to write, but Ive been able to write some of my best papers during this time. Im not sure if its the adrenaline or what, but writing things last minute seems to be the muse that I need.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself staring at a blank word document at like 10 p.m. – and your paper is due the next day – this blog entry is just for you.

Ive included an approximate time length for each step below. These are just approximations that will obviously fluctuate with your particular assignment. The purpose of setting times for each task is to quickly move your paper along.

Step 1: Relax Your Mind (15 Minutes)
Before you get started on this paper, I want you to relax your mind. This doesnt mean grabbing a beer. It means calming yourself down and focusing your mind on the paper topic. You have one night to finish this paper, and you can do it. Turn on some classical music if it helps you stay relaxed and focused.

Step 2: Develop a Great Thesis Statement (45 minutes)
Alright, once youre relaxed its time to focus your attention on writing a great thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what will keep your research and writing on topic. This is the most important part of your paper. Spend some time reading thesis statements in Google Scholar or whatever journal article database you have access to.

Use whatever you find as a springboard for writing your own argument. Make sure to save citations and quotes from any relevant journal articles you find.

Step 3: Write a Killer Introduction (15 minutes)
The way to start your paper with a bang is with a great introduction. You need an introduction that not only grabs the attention of your professor, but focuses the paper on the topic at hand. You should have one or two intro sentences, and then jump right into your thesis statement. If you cant think of an introduction, simply use your thesis statement.

Step 4: Defend Your Thesis in a Brainstorming Session (30 minutes)
You should brainstorm a bunch of reasons why your thesis statement is true. Brainstorm for 30-minutes and think of every reason why your professor should be convinced of your claim. Write down the key arguments because those become your supporting paragraphs. Each argument is a mini-thesis that helps you support your paper.

Step 5: Start Your Research to Defend Your Thesis (2 hours)
Professors sometimes will give you a minimum number of references they want to see in your bibliography. That should be your minimum too, so make sure to list more than whats required. Log into your colleges library database and start researching your topic.

This is the part that most people wast time, so give yourself just two hours to copy and paste your citations into your paper. Try to organize the quotations within an appropriate argument (from step 4). More than likely, youll find more arguments for your topic when researching. So add these arguments to your list.

Step 6: Time to Write (4 to 5 hours)
Select your best arguments (with supportive references) and use them as the introduction for your supporting paragraphs. Convince your professor that your thesis is true with strong arguments leading each paragraph. Write as if your professor was right there, and make sure to think of possible weak spots in your argument. You want to write a flawless paper, so keep your argument tight.

Its easy to get stuck when you first begin to write, so dont worry much about your sentence structure and argument process. Focus more on getting all your ideas down on the page. Just start writing, and use your main arguments as writing prompts.

Step 7: Think of Critics Would Say About Your Thesis (1 hour)
If you have time, make sure to cite what critics might say about your arguments. By responding to what critics say, youre strengthening your paper by revealing that you understand other points of view. This shows youve spent some time thinking about the topic, and are prepared to answer objections.

Step 8: Summarize Your Thesis At the End (30 minutes)
When youve completed your paper, wrap it up by restating your thesis (with some support). Make sure to leave your professor with something to think about at the end of your paper.

Step 9: Cut the Fat (1 hour)
When youre ready to edit, its time to eliminate everything that doesnt support your thesis. Cut out passive verbs (to-be) and rely on action-oriented words whenever possible. Eliminate any sentences or paragraphs that slow down your paper or weaken your main argument. Make sure your arguments are clear and easily understood.

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Get Answers to Your Questions with These Websites

Here are a bunch of websites to help you find answers to all your questions:

AnswerBag
AnswerBag is similar to Yahoo Answers except the questions are always open for answering. They have a community of over 175,000 members posting and answering questions on a variety of subjects. You can ask any type of question from shopping advice to medical questions. It’s a shame this site isn’t as popular as Yahoo Answers. It definitely deserves to be.

Askville
Askville is Amazon.com’s version of Yahoo Answers. It’s a very simple website that acts much like all the others. You post a question and wait for an answer. Nothing really unique here.

BitWine
Bitwine is a pay-per-call service that allows you to use Skype to ring up an expert about whatever topic you’re interested in. It’s free to make the calls, and charges only begin after you and the expert agree on a price. The BitWine website makes it very easy to find bios and reviews about the various experts in their directory. Check out their tutoring section . . .

Ether
Ether.com is a place where experts are available 24-hours a day to answer whatever question you might have. Instead of posting your question in a forum, you call a free phone number (1-888-MY-ETHER) and you pay to talk to an expert (per minute). The only problem with this website is that it’s a bit difficult to find a list of people to ask questions to. The only way to find an expert is to sort through their directory of blogs. This is not a very user-friendly way to find help.

LiveQnA
This is Microsoft’s version of Yahoo Answers. MSN members quickly respond to your questions trying to provide you with the best answer possible. MSN did a nice job with the design of this website. Very easy-to-use.

Qunu
Qunu is a website that will connect you with an expert to answer your question through instant messaging. This is a great way to talk one-on-one with someone familiar with the topic you need help with. Not only are experts available 24/7, but they volunteer their time for free.

Oyogi
Oyogi has a very nice Web 2.0 look and feel. However, finding answers to common questions seems a bit difficult. Its also difficult to find answers to previously asked questions. Overall, this site is pretty weak.

Uclue.com
This site is managed by researchers who used to answer questions at Google Answers. You post a question with a price then wait to see if a researcher wants to answer. This might take some time to get the answer you want, but youre pretty much guaranteed a solid answer.

Yahoo Answers
Yahoo Answers is a website that allows Yahoo members to post and answer questions on practically any topic imaginable. The quality of answers you’ll get really depends on who’s interested in answering your question within a three day period. The best part about Yahoo answers is that it’s free and you can get answers from a variety of people within minutes. The only problem is that questions are closed after three days, which means better answers can never get added.

Yedda
Yedda is very similar to Yahoo Answers: where it’s free to post questions, and free to read answers from the members. Yedda has a pretty cool tagging system to find questions related to the topic youre interested in. Explore the topics.

Here are a bunch of others:

  • All Experts – Experts answer your questions on a variety of topics
  • Ask MetaFilter – not very user-friendly, but worth a shot
  • The Answerbank.co.uk – Q & A site based in the United Kingdom
  • Ask A Linguist – Working on a paper that requires help from a linguist? This is the website for you.
  • Ask Me Help Desk – This site operates much like a forum: people post questions and then wait for someone to answer their question. This isnt the best site to find previous answers from people.
  • Blurt It! – People post questions on a given topic and then wait for people to vote yes or no. Its intersting to see what people think, but not very helpful when you neeed a concrete answer on something.
  • I Recognise That – I Recognise That is a place where people can ask or answer questions about anything and everything. Someone that asks a question can also upload a photo to help illustrate that question.
  • JustAnswer – Ask experts a question and then set a price on how much the answer is worth to you.

How to Study Effectively – 8 Concentration Strategies

We found a killer list of concentration strategies for students.

This list is perfect for those who want to know the best way to cram for an exam. Check this out:

Eat Frequent Small Meals
Avoid eating a big meal before a study session. Too much food will send your body into a rest mode. On the other hand, dont starve yourself either. Frequent small meals are best.

Study When Youre Sharpest
Study according to your body-clock. Are you sharpest in the morning or at the evening? Schedule your most difficult materials when you are mentally at your best, and schedule the easier ones when you are mentally less efficient.

Drink Water Often
Drink plenty of water during a study session, especially when you feel sluggish. Caffeine may help you to stay awake, but it can increase your anxiety – use it in moderation.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable in Your Chair
Choose a chair that supports your back. It should be comfortable, but not too comfortable. Just like an athlete during a performance, your body should be relaxed, so that all your energy goes to where it matters – your brain.

Clear Your Desk of Everything You Dont Need
Have everything you need on the desk. Put away what you do not need for the study session. Seeing reminders of other assessments or domestic bills may increase your anxiety and distract you.

Take Breaks Every Hour
It is important to take a break before you feel tired and lose your concentration completely. Regular breaks at least once an hour helps to sustain your concentration. If the work is not going too well and you have difficulties in concentrating, you may need a long break and go back to it later

Stretch During Your Breaks
Know and respect your concentration span which will vary from hour to hour and from day to day. When you sit for long periods, gravity draws the blood to the lower part of your body. When you take a break, take a few deep breaths and get more oxygen to your brain: try walking around and doing some light stretching for a few minutes. It will help to release tension in your body, and help your circulation.

Study at the Same Time, Same Place
Study at the same time and at the same place, devoted to study only. This helps you to associate the time and place with studying and concentrating. You will find that you get into a habit of studying as soon as you sit down.

Check out the other concentration strategies . . .

How to Study Smarter, Not Harder

Dartmouth published a paper discussing ways for students to improve their memory as they study. These tips will help any student study smarter, not harder. Here are some of our favorite study tips:

Recite As You Study
Recitation should first take place as you read through each paragraph or section. Quiz or test yourself. This promotes understanding as well as faster learning because it is a more active process than reading or listening. It also tests understanding, revealing mistakes or gaps. Recite in your own words. Auditory learners should spend more time in reciting orally what they are learning than visualizers. Read aloud passages you find difficult.

Take Fuller Notes
Visual learners should take fuller notes during lectures and their readings, as they learn more readily by visualizing than hearing. Auditory learners should take fuller notes perhaps on their readings. Notes should be in your own words, brief, clear but succinct. They should be legible and neat. Writing notes better reinforces memory than mere underlining, which is frequently done mechanically , often to excess and does not check understanding.

Study the Middle
The best time to review is soon after learning has taken place. The beginning and the end of material is best remembered, so pay close attention to the middle which is likely to be forgotten. The peak of difficulty in remembering is just beyond the middle, toward the end. change your method of review.

Sleep On It
Study before going to bed unless you are physically or mentally overtired. Freshly learned material is better remembered after a period of sleep than after an equal period of daytime activity because retroactive interference takes place.

Connect Ideas Whenever Possible
There are two ways to memorize: by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Multiplication tables, telephone numbers, combinations to safes, and the like are better learned by rote. ideas, concepts, theories and significances and the like are learned by understanding. Sometimes they work simultaneously.

The more association you can elicit for an idea, the more meaning it will have; the more meaningful the learning, the better one is able to retain it. Always note similarities in ideas and concepts, and put them in their proper place in a larger system of ideas, concepts and theories. A bare literal understanding is often of little valuable. Never be satisfied with a hazy idea of what you are reading. If you are not able to follow the thought, go back to where you lost the trail.

Read ways to help you study smarter. . .