Every once in a while, I find myself working happily along on a pattern when I'm suddenly confronted with an instruction or abbreviation that completely throws me. It's not too bad if it's something I can work out and then continue on, but occasionally I find that I've worked past a certain point where I was supposed to begin doing something else and I end up having to rip back. And while there is no shame in ripping, there is a good deal of annoyance when the ripping is caused by my plunging ahead, recklessly ignoring the concept of reading the pattern through before starting.
Before you even work your gauge swatch, maybe even before you decide for sure this is what you want to make, you should read the entire pattern through. This is a great time to circle all of the numbers for the size you're working on, make sure you understand all of the abbreviations in the pattern, and look for instructions like "AT THE SAME TIME."
If you find abbreviations you're not sure of, take a look at the "Abbreviations/References" table at the end of the pattern, and if you don't see the instruction there, check the "Stitch Explanation" section near the top of the pattern.
For instructions like "AT THE SAME TIME" you will want to read all the way through that set of instructions, noting at which point you are to begin working those instructions. In fact, let's talk a bit about just what that instruction means.
You will usually see this in a pattern that requires a good deal of shaping, like a sweater. Take a look at the schematic for a sweater front, and you'll see that much of the neck and armhole shaping will be taking place on opposite ends of the same rows. In an effort to avoid confusion, the instructions for shaping the armhole and the instructions for shaping the neck will be written out separately and then joined with the "AT THE SAME TIME" instruction.
What you need to do is note where you are to begin working that second set of directions. Usually this is a measurement or point in the stitch pattern, and will be indicated just after AT THE SAME TIME, for example "AT THE SAME TIME, when piece measures 17 (17, 17 1/2, 17 1/2, 18, 18) in. (43 (43, 44.5, 44.5, 45.5, 45.5) cm) from beg..." You will then be instructed to start working on the next instruction. The trick here is to continue working the first shaping instructions while beginning the new instructions. Don't be thrown off by things like being told to work the first shaping a certain number of times -- you will keep counting those repeats, but you won't have completed them all before beginning the AT THE SAME TIME instructions.
Once you've taken a look at the bigger pattern picture, you'll be ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the process of creating a beautiful project, one stitch at a time.