A technique that works well for me and I have imparted it to my students, involves re-writing the important facts. This can be done with a flow chart, a graphic organizer, a storyboard format, or as index cards. By actually writing out the important plot ideas, characters, climax, conclusion, etc. you will be forced to first--look for key ideas, read them, and translate them into your own writing. By reading and then re-writing, you are learning by visual cues, by kinesthetic means and if you read it aloud, by auditory means. The more you engage various learning strategies, the easier it will be for you to commit it to memory for studying purposes.
First, and this sounds like a small thing but it's actually of paramount importance, don't ever allow yourself to skip over a word without at least attempting to know its meaning (for example, if you don't know what "paramount" means, then you didn't get the full meaning of this sentence). Too often we let unfamiliar words go by without bothering to look them up. It matters.
Second, you should always be considering the writer's purpose. Ask yourself, what is the writer trying to communicate here?
Third, you should be familiar with the basic techniques of good writing: the use of figurative language, imagery, symbolism, etc.
I really like what post #5 said: "Just read for pleasure." She didn't mean that you should only read for pleasure, but you should make it a point to read things that you enjoy, not just things that you have to read. This will improve your ability to understand and analyze literature.
In the free documents on enotes, there are at least two powerpoints which you can look in your browser that teach methods of studying lessons.
This is one of the powerpoints that teach a method of studying and learning: http://www.enotes.com/documents/writing-from-reading-annotating-83503.
Both of these powerpoints were created for freshmen and sophomore composition classes. They teach effective methods to helping the student to recall information by active reading and annotating what he is reading.
Learning to retain information is an important aspect of becoming a great student. There are rules that should be followed. For example, always study the most difficult material first in your study time. If it is hard, then you want your mind at its freshest. Conversely, save the easy things for last because you already know what you are doing.
Good study habits have to be learned because they are not necessarily natural for everyone.
Watch those and follow the guidance of these free powerpoints.
Live for a while...I will always remember two women in a 300 level Literature class that I took when I was 20 years old. Their interpretations keenly perceptive and insightful; so, one day I approached them humbly, asking how they extracted so much from the text under consideration. They sweetly chuckled and told me, "Just live for a while, dear. You'll understand much more, then."
In the meantime, one way to gain insights and to understand what to look for with certain authors is to read professional criticisms about literary works and to learn about authors by locating their biographies. Other reference works will also give critiques of their style, etc. The Contemporary Literary Criticisms (CLC on the spine of the books sometimes) are reference works that are indispensable in instructing through critical essays on a myriad of works.
The best way to study literature is to annotate the book. This means buy the book or print it and take notes on the book as you read. This forces you to slow down and pay attention. It is also good to use a site like enotes to read summaries before reading the chapters, and to ask questions as you have them.
The best way to gain mastery in the study of literature is to read. This suggestion may sound simple, but it works. Reading for pleasure outside of your courses can help build your vocabulary, increase your reading speed, and generally increase your comfort with literature.
This practice should make difficult lessons less difficult over time.
You have to read, but don't accept it as a burden. Just read for pleasure. In my case, what I do for those hard lessons is, leave it for a while and read the biography of the author, and the summary. Once you know the thing, you won't find it difficult. And I read the other books of the auther too, so we can analyse the things easily.
You have to have your own wat to study because we are unique. So take your time and start from what you know and what you like. :)