How do I start writing my essay? It's due in mere days and I keep rewriting the first three sentences, as well as changing my main argument. I don't really know what to focus on because the assignment was vague and, okay, I actually don't have a single word written yet because I deleted my draft, and--ahhhhhhhh--help!
Stand up. Stretch. Take a deep breath. Take the time you need to recenter yourself. Drink water! Grab a snack. Are you back at your desk? Perfect. Hi. Take out a piece of paper (paper is magic for creativity sometimes) or open up a new word document. Write a few groundwork questions at the top of the page: What is the assignment? What do I care most about in regards to the topic? If I don't care how can I care? What is stressing me out the most? I keep changing my arguments... but what are the similarities between the arguments? Any questions that you want answered, whether about your assignment or about your anxieties and reaction to having to write a paper. Set a timer to fifteen to twenty minutes. And now... write. Freewrite. Ignore the questions or answer them. But just START writing! Don't stop. You can use this time to start a crappy first draft or you can use it to vent about the absurdities of academic essays or, better yet, about how you can approach this assignment--how you can get yourself to care and target what's stressing you out. Once your freewriting time is up, sit back. You have a few options to go from there but I recommend either outlining based on what you wrote--I can help you!--or diving into a messy first draft from which you can work off of. THERE IS NO WRONG FIRST DRAFT. The biggest, most intimidating task is starting. You can do it. Here's a piece of permission that has helped many students of mine to hear: just write your shitty first draft and go from there. I'll be here cheering you on and I'll be here to help you refine it later.
How can I improve my concentration?
Set aside specific time for your work. Schedule it, put it in your planner. That time is precious. Honor it! If you achieve your study time goals, give yourself a reward--be it a bubble bath or a Netflix session. But, first, study time: put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode or utilize an lock/focus app, such as Forest. Only have what you need out and open. If your reading, use a pen to take notes and even doodle--doing so will keep the brain busy, appease the multitasking distracting tendencies, and help you remember what you read. Are you drinking enough water? Take short breaks for every study round. Go outside. Come back. Highlight key terms. Make note of what you need to review further. Focus and concentration are skills--so the more you work at it, the easier it will be to get into the study mindset.
I'm a slow reader and easily lost... how do I know I'm comprehending what I've read?
It's important to read difficult passages out loud. When you read out loud certain elements--rhythm, tone, and important words sometimes start to rise to the surface and offer clues to the passages' intent and purpose. Make a mental note of the main idea of paragraphs you have a hard time with and consider making a note in the margin if possible.