Ironically, what worked best for me was...doing exactly what I was told by the professors and the former students. I briefed every case, and at the end of the semester I made an outline or checklist for each course. How detailed it was depended on how much I was allowed to bring in. Some exams let us use the casebook, so the outline didn't need as much detail; other exams didn't allow the casebook, so the outline had to include more detail to compensate. One exam was completely closed (no books or notes), so the outline/checklist I made was short and sweet (so it would be easier to remember everything). For Civ Pro (completely open, bring whatever you like), our first semester was more about methods of legal reasoning and argument than about substantive law, so most of the outline was really more of a checklist (as in "don't forget to think about administrative efficiency arguments and concerns about waste!).
I didn't bother with commercial study aids or hornbooks. Two main reasons: 1) no time to consult them!; and 2) every former student I talked to said they were pretty much a waste. The basic problem they found with commercial aids is 2-fold: they're both over inclusive and under-inclusive. They cover things (and many people end up studying, in the hope of gaining some perceived "edge" over their peers by learning more BLL) that will never show up on the test, since they weren't covered in class. At the same time, the study aid might not cover matters that were brought up in class, or if they do cover them, they might not emphasize them as much as is needed (some professors have topics they REALLY care about, which others care about much less), so you won't have prepped that stuff enough.
I found briefing to be quite helpful for getting the cases into my memory. It may not be of value to everyone, but to me it was. There's something helpful about breaking down the prose of the opinion into manageable pieces and putting the pieces together into a logical structure. But maybe it's just me. It also takes a lot less time as you get more practice. I can now brief a case in about 10-15 minutes (not counting reading it) if I'm really focused, and I remember the details a lot better afterward than would be the case with reading alone.
But these are just the methods that paid off for me. They might not work for everyone. They almost certainly won't work for certain people. Everyone's different. So, to repeat what the former students told me: forget the hype. There isn't a universally agreed-upon "right way" to handle 1L (if there was, it wouldn't be much of a challenge!). The trick is to find what works for you, and to do that. It doesn't matter if it's different from what everyone else is doing. It doesn't have to work for them, it has to work for *you*.
Of course, the challenge is that you don't know for sure whether it's working until you see the grade. But there are some pretty good ways to get a rough idea of how well you understand the material and can apply it. This leads to the last point: old exams. If they're available, get them, go over them, preferably in a study group at first, talking out your reasoning process. The reason you want to do this is in a group is because you're all on pretty new ground, and it often helps to have a bunch of smart people in the same room, putting their mental energies into the same problem. They will often see things you don't, and vice versa. Later on, you can try your hand at writing out a full individual analysis on your own, and see if your professor would be willing to review it (not all of them will be; some might alternatively leave you with model answers to compare your work to). Even if the professor isn't willing to grade your practice exams, just talk with him, especially if things are unclear. Most of them don't get much traffic during their office hours, and will be happy to help clarify anything. Often, these conversations will help give you an idea of how well you understand and apply the material. Try to take the principles to the next step. Think up a hypo or two, and play around with it, trying to get the professor to confirm or correct your ideas.
The most important thing is: don't panic. If you put in the investment, you are more likely than not to get the pay off. And remember: the forced curve does not give one license to be an @$$hole.
That is all.