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

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 . . .

How to Add RAM to Your Brain – 8 Memory Hacks

You can instantly retrieve more information faster and easier by memorizing data in organized patterns.

Here are 8 ways to make information cement in your mind:

1. Acronyms
I’ve used acronyms throughout my college and grad school career. They’ve helped me memorize information for class presentations, and helped me memorize details for exams. An acronym is simply a word wherein each letter represents another word. For example: HOMES (The Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)

2. Acrostics
Acrostics are sentences in which the first letter of each word helps you remember items in a series. For example: Zoe Cooks Chowder In Pink Pots in Miami (The Essential Minerals: Zinc, Calcium, Chromium, Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iodine, Magnesium).

3. Act it Out
Use your acting ability to make a connection with the material you’re trying to learn. For example: reenact a dialog between two historic figures – or carry on a debate between two different philosophers, politicians or literary critics.

4. Categories
Organize information into broad categories to help you remember information faster. For example: Types of Joints in the Body (Immovable, Slightly Movable, Freely Movable).

5. Peg Words
Develop a chain of associations between whatever list you need to memorize and a peg word. Peg words are associated with numbers (e.g. zero is hero; one is a bun; two is a shoe; three is a tree; four is a door; five is a hive; six is sticks; seven is heaven; eight is a gate; nine is wine; and ten is a hen). Here’s how peg words work with the atomic numbers in a periodic table: (1) Imagine a hydrogen hotdog on a bun; (2) Imagine a helium shoe balloon; (3) Imagine a lit tree on fire (lithium); (4) a door made of berries (beryllium); (5) a hive with bored bees (boron); and the list can go on. The odd pairing helps you memorize information quickly.

6. Rhymes
Make up a silly rhyme or pun to help you memorize information. For example: Brown vs. Board of Education ended public-school segregation.

7. Recordings
Make a recording of yourself giving a lecture about the subject you’re studying. This is especially helpful for foreign language classes or a vocabulary section on a standardized test.

8. Visualizations
Turn an abstract idea into an image of something that is as specific as possible. For example, visualize a scene from a historic period. Make it as real as possible in your mind. Use all your senses and imagine what it must smell like, feel like, etc. The more specific you are, the more you’ll remember.

What are some strategies you use to memorize information faster?

[Photo by Rofi]

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5 Ways to Study for the LSAT While in College

In this guest post, Steve Schwartz from LSAT Blog gives 5 tips to help students balance their college courseloads with graduate-level exam prep.

If you have a full college course load and a decent social life, its probably hard enough to balance the two. Add studying for the LSAT to the mix, and you may feel overwhelmed. This post gives you 5 ways to balance studying for the LSAT (or GMAT, MCAT, GRE, etc.) with school and life obligations. Ill speak with regard to the LSAT throughout this article, but just apply my advice to your relevant exam.

1. Start your LSAT prep early.
Its much easier to do a little bit each week over the course of several weeks than to cram all your studying at once. Its less stressful, and it wont detract as much from schoolwork or your social life. Plan ahead and treat the LSAT as if it were another college class, and study for it over the course of the semester.

2. Fit in studying wherever you can.
Doing an LSAT Logic Game or a couple of Logical Reasoning questions between classes can keep you in the LSAT mind-set even if youre not studying for a few hours each day.

3. Set aside specific days and times each week to study.
This will ensure that a few weeks or months dont go by while your LSAT prep books gather dust in the corner. Create a study schedule and stick to it.

4. Stay off AIM, Facebook, and Gmail, and close your laptop.
I know computers and Internet are ubiquitous on college campuses, especially for socializing. However, you dont need a computer to study for the LSAT, and having one around will only serve as a distraction. Get rid of these time-suckers and stick to the books.

5. Form a study group.
If you can find people on your college campus (or in your neighborhood) who are also preparing for the LSAT, it may help to form a study group. Try to find study partners whose abilities complement your own so that you can help each other. Meeting on a regular basis will take some of the isolation out of test prep, and, like a gym buddy, a study partner will help motivate you to study.

Steve Schwartz is a professional LSAT tutor living in New York City. He updates LSAT Blog every week with free LSAT tips and tricks.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Asher

Super-Sized List of Online Academic Databases

Ive been spending a lot of time writing and researching this semester.

Im actually having dreams about one of my papers – and I have so much more research to do.

Anyway, here is a list of online databases that Ive been using to find journal articles for my lit reviews.

Most of these databases require a student ID and password, but Im listing them here because its quick access if youre in a school library:

The Pros and Cons of Recording Your Class Lectures

Ive only used an MP3 recorder a couple times in my college career, and these were for classes where my professor would spit out tons of information in a brief amount of time (and my pen couldnt keep up).

Here are some pros and cons of recording lectures:

The Benefits of Using a Recorder

The class lecture is complex and difficult to understand.
If youve ever had to sit through a lecture about Foucault, you know how difficult comprehending a lecture can get. And thats where listening to a lecture a second or third time can help.

Youre going to be absent.
Ask a friend to record a class lecture if youre going to miss it. Sure, you could just copy his or her notes, but a recorded class lecture in its entirely will make sure you dont miss a thing.

You want an audio archive.
If youre scared you might lose paper versions of your notes, then you might want to consider having an audio version available as a backup.

You cant keep up with how fast your professor is lecturing.
I have horrible penmanship, and my handwriting is too slow. So if you have a professor or TA that lectures fast, you may want to consider recording the lecture to catch anything you missed.

The Problems of Using a Recorder

Listening to Recorded Lectures Takes Time
The biggest downside of using recorded lecture notes is that it takes time to listen. Its another hour or two out of your day to scan through an old lecture. Its a time killer.

Recording Lectures Encourages Half-Listening
When you know everything is getting recorder, youre apt to daydream or not pay full attention to whats being said.

Recorders Require Batteries and Might Not Work Properly
You never know when your last battery dies, or when the recorder didnt capture everything your professor said. You also miss out on any notes your professor writes on the board.

Common Recording Problems
Here are some recording problems Ive encountered: batteries died, pause button left on, volume too low, and recorder microphone not close enough to the speaker.

For the most part, I never used a recorder – but what about you?

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

If youd like to improve your reading comprehension, try the SQ3R method. This is an acronym that means: Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review.

Heres how it works:

Survey Your Text
Prior to reading, take a few moments to scan through your text. Get an overall feeling for how much youre going to read, and how the text is sectioned off. It helps to read through all the headings and any thesis or conclusion statements during this time. This will help you understand the point of the reading prior to beginning.

Question Everything
After surveying your text, ask yourself some questions prior to reading. What questions do you have about the subject matter youre about to read? What does the title of the text suggest? What does the author want to tell you about this subject? Whats the most important information on each page? Asking these types of questions will focus your mind on the text, and will help you pay attention. If you start to daydream, ask more questions and try to answer them.

Reading
As you read, try to find answers to the questions you have. Think through what the author is saying, and try to develop more questions as you read. If you have a lot to read, plan on dividing up the text so you can take adequate breaks. Studies suggest youre more likely to remember the first and last things that you read. So divide up the text and take breaks.

Recite the Text
After reading a chunk of text, take a break and try to recite what youve just read. Try to summarize your reading as best you can. If you have trouble, look back at your reading to see what youve missed. This might take some practice, but pretty soon youll start remember what youve read a bit quicker.

Review
After youre finished reading, review what you just read. Ask yourself the same questions you had in the beginning of the reading, and see if you remember the answers. Think how the reading material fits with your class or assignment. Also think about possible ways you might be tested on the material, and you can best prepare.

Something thats not mentioned in this method is the importance of taking notes. Note taking is very important to help you remember key facts. Just dont get too wrapped up in taking notes without thinking through what youre writing. Take notes on the most important parts of your reading, and something that will help you quickly review what you just read.

Where to Find a Librarian 24/7

If you ever have any research trouble, you should seriously consider contacting a librarian.

They can cut your research time in half – and help you find exactly what you need.

And you never need to visit a library to talk with them.

Simply chat with them online with one of the following online services:

Amherst College Librarians
Amherst College librarians are available to chat through ICQ, Yahoo, MSN, Trillian, and AIM. Check out their website for details on how to contact them.

Ask a Librarian
The Memorial Hall Library allows you to email one of their librarians or call them at 978-623-8401 x31 during their library hours. Ive never tried emailing them, but their websites says theyll respond within 24 hours.

Ask Here PA
Ask Here PA is a library service based in Pennsylvania. They promise to answer your question within 15 minutes.

Brown University Librarians
This library chat service is intended for students at Brown University, but Im sure theyll help you out if youre nice.

Cornell University – Ask a Librarian 24/7
Cornell librarians are available to chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also email them with any questions you might have.

Florida Ask a Librarian Service
This website connects you with Librarians in Florida. This online chat service is available until midnight (Eastern Standard Time) Monday through Friday. They are also available to chat with you on Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library allows you to email your question to a librarian. The only problem is that it takes about 3 days to get a response.

Library of Congress – Ask a Librarian
Librarians at the Library of Congress can also assist you with your research. They promise to respond by email within 5 business days.

MassAnswers.org
MassAnswers.org allows students to chat with a librarian online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After youre done chatting, theyll email you a transcript of everything youve discussed. I found this service very helpful.

Peoples Network
The Peoples Network will hook you up with a librarian in the United Kingdom. They have a real-time chat and email system to help you answer your questions.

Princeton University Library
Chat with a Princeton librarian on AOL, Yahoo, MSN, or ICQ. They arent available 24/7, but you can catch them online during the day.

Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library also provides a 24/7 online chat program to help you with your research. Theyre chat system is connected to librarians across the country.

Please leave a comment if there are other library websites people should know about.


How to Proof Your Paper Like a Pro – 8 Proofreading Tips

I used to work as a proofreader.

It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it helped me become proficient at proofreading ads and documents very quickly.

Whenever possible, it’s always best to have someone else review your essay.

However, it’s not always convenient to get someone to edit your paper at the last minute (when most papers get finished).

So here are 8 tips to help you proof your own paper like a professional:

1. Read your paper backward
A surefire way to find misspellings is by reading your essay backward to yourself. This makes every word stand out. And this is a great way to focus on the punctuation of each sentence.

2. Read your essay out loud
One simple way to proof is to read your essay aloud. This will help you focus on the rhythm of your writing, your punctuation, and any glaring errors in your sentence structure. If any sentence sounds confusing, you should revise it.

3. Cut the fat
Eliminate passive verbs whenever possible.

4. Proof in stages
I always proof my papers in stages. This means that I’ll typically plan on proofing my entire paper in a variety of stages. For example: (1) Focus on every word; (2) Focus on punctuation; (3) Focus on subject/verb agreement; (4) Focus on argumentation; (5) Focus on pronouns . . . etc. You get the idea.

5. Pay attention to apostrophes
Examine every word that ends in “s” and ask yourself if an apostrophe belongs there. Remember that apostrophes should never be used to make words plural.

6. Focus your attention on every comma and semicolon
Scan your paper to find every comma and semicolon. Make sure you’re using them properly in the sentence.

7. Proof headers and subheads
You’d be surprised how often headers and subheads get misspelled. This is because most people who are proofing are focusing on the details, and they often miss the big glaring error right in front of them.

8. Proof in the morning
You won’t catch as many errors if you’re proofing right after you’ve finished writing. So take a long break before editing the paper.

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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?

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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