I just don't know where to begin when writing an essay. How can I best figure out my ideas of what I want to say?
There are so many ways to go, and an approach that works for some may not work for others. When told about an essay, think about what the essay is asking you. Is it asking you to agree or disagree with something? Does it want you to compare and contrast ideas? Do you need to use sources? Do you need to use a certain style? Once you know exactly what the essay is asking, ask yourself - if you could answer the question in one sentence - what you think. Then think about the kinds of ideas that might support that answer. There is more to do, but you are already well on your way!
There are just too many dates to remember and I do not know why events are important. How can I remember dates and the importance of those dates?
Don't use dates to remember history! Instead, use themes. Actually, in some ways US history is easier than you think because it is shorter and can be organized into simple themes. So, let's talk about the revolutionary era. Do not think in terms of 1776 - Declaration of Independence, or 1773 - Boston Tea Party, or 1765 - Stamp Act because those terms mean nothing without the context of a theme. Instead, think of the era of 1750-1800; an easy way to remember that the same kinds of things were affecting the American colonies at that time that build off each other: In the 1750s, the French and Indian War defeated the French so the colonists felt they did not England to protect them. They felt brave enough to protest taxes (like the Stamp Act). That led to ideas like "no taxation without representation" and increased self-government. England was bankrupt from the war so they imposed more and more taxes which the colonists protested louder and louder. This eventually led to independence, etc. Once you understand the themes, the dates make a lot more sense and can be more easily remembered
When it comes to reading English literature, it can be hard to understand what authors mean because they do not use language in a way that it usually is used. How can I understand a passage that uses more figurative language?
When it comes to comprehending written English, the best practice is to read things you are interested in! Novels that you like help you learn how an author uses imagery and symbols to tell a story in a unique way. Nonfiction is even better sometimes because an author will quote another author that uses figurative language and explain it for you! When reading an individual passage, it really helps to use context clues in figuring out what the author is talking about. What are the words around a sentence? When was it written? What topic is he talking about? Does the word use part of a word I have seen before (eg: in Spanish, I learned that lagrima means tears. That means lacrimal must mean crying!). In an example from an epic poem, "stout wave-walker", well that does not sound like anything I have heard. No one walks on waves. Hmmm, what does stout mean? It means strong. Someone that walks on waves is probably someone who is very powerful, like Jesus Christ who walked on water. Stout wave-walker must mean a strong or godlike hero! And that's what it means. This is how you learn how to use advanced English!