*This post is mostly stream-of-consciousness. I apologize for jumping from thought to thought in order not to forget anything important.*
When I find a crochet pattern I'm going to use, my first order of business is to make the pattern big enough to easily read. If it's an online pattern, I copy/paste into a word processor and enlarge the text size to large print. I save PDF links to patterns to easily re size them, too. If it is a paper pattern from a leaflet or yarn label, I use a copier to enlarge the text. Patterns from books are photocopied to protect the book from wear and tear, then the pattern is enlarged.
Next step is to understand the written instructions. I always read completely through a pattern before I begin work, sometimes even before buying supplies. Most patterns come with some kind of difficulty rating. I try not to choose patterns that are too difficult for my crochet skills, unless I'm looking to challenge myself. Difficult projects can be made simpler by just following the steps bit by bit and having a bit of faith. I made a sweater that totally didn't look anything like a sweater until the very end, using this philosophy.
I've been told that knitting patterns are much more standardized then crochet patterns. I believe it. Sure, some crochet terms and abbreviations are common ie. dc=double crochet; sc in first stitch, *dc in next stitch*= single crochet in first stitch, then double crochet in each remaining stitch to the end of the row. However, the same row of stitches can be written in many different ways. As part of reading through the pattern, if a set of instructions sounds confusing or too complex, I will often rewrite the pattern out into simpler terms. Sometimes instructions within asterisks or parenthesis can be simplified rewritten as "do such-and-such 8 times" or whatever.
If a pattern has many rows, or the same row repeated many times, I'll highlight each row number after it's completed on my pattern copy, or make a mark once I complete a row. At the same time, marking every 5th, 10th, or 20th row completed in the crocheted work with a stitch marker can help keep track of which number row you're on.
What tips and tricks do you use to understand patterns or keep track of your place?