Here is my recommendation for a FIRST SWEATER:
1) a pullover
2) drop shoulders
3) solid color, no intarsia work, unless you are already an expert
4) no cabling, unless you are already a cable expert
No tweaking the pattern.
If it asks for the sweater to be knit in 4 pieces (BACK, FRONT, & TWO SLEEVES)...do it. No knitting of the back and front "in the round". No knitting the sleeves "in the round". Follow directions to the T. Learn how to mattress seam.
Suzeeq was right about casting off the neck with larger needles! I second her on that one! If you are using OPTIONS, all you have to do is unscrew the smaller right hand needle, and screw on one right hand tip that is two sizes larger. You can leave the knitting left hand needle on the original needle.
I make notes down to this day.
For example...when the directions for the front say: continue until the pieces is 17" from the cast on, and then begin the armhole shaping..." I write down how many exact rows that 17" occurs on!
Then, when I go to knit the Back...I knit the same number of rows before starting the armhole shaping.
To prevent having to count endless rows over and over...I thread a little piece of red thread at the top of every 10th row...the red thread just spans about 5 stitches. This acts as a row marker for me.
I leave those little red threads in place on all pieces until just before blocking.
I also make notes in a notebook for EVERY PATTERN til this day.
I write out the directions in My Knitting Language. I make sure that I understand what every step is asking me to do before ever casting on for the first piece.
Here is an example of one of my pages! I think it was for the Central Park Hoodie, a fairly easy pattern but as I said, I always make a notebook to be sure I have things straight in my head!