I am only a 1L, so I can only judge by what happened during mid-terms. I do read ahead, actually...I am done with my casebooks and have done casebriefs for all of them with the help of Loislaw online briefs.
The one thing that was/is important to me is to get the "big picture" the overlying structure. Also, I do retain the cases though when we are in class, I gain more knowledge.
Many of the students in my classes are really confused, especially in Contracts.
Our casebook started:
Ch1 - defenses (fraud, duress)
Ch2 - started with some more defenses, then moved into consideration, estoppel, restitution
Ch3 - offer & acceptance (bilateral, unilateral and U.C.C. all mixed in)
Ch4 - Revocation, Estoppel (some more of it), R2nd 45, 87, etc. Merchant Firm Offer, Statute of Frauds
Ch5 - Parole Evidence Rule (and other stuff)
Ch6 - Consideration (again)
The book jumps all over the place. Once I read the cases and reviewed, I finally was able to put things into perspective and sort it out...all we did was Contract Formation
. Once I figured out what was what, I was on my way. Having the big picture helps in learning the material, it is like seeing the forest and not just getting lost looking that the trees.