(With thanks to Simcha, to whom I owe this idea)
You may find it helpful to refer to this post, where I inquired as to how various readers of this blog were taught to learn Gemara.
Ideally, the world of Gemara is one that is fascinating. Learning Gemara is a process of discovery for the youth or adult, a fantastic dialogue with those who came before you. One watches the way in which concepts come together, interacting to form a chain or construction that leads you to the next great idea. Thrilled to have understood a particular concept, one continues to move forward, thirsty to learn more, anxious to uncover more hidden secrets or intriguing interrelations.
If this is so, why do so many recoil at the very thought of learning Gemara? What has happened to make Gemara learning tedious, boring or even frustrating for the high school student? It has been suggested to me that a large part of the reason that many find themselves confused, conflicted, frustrated or upset by Gemara is due to the fact that they have never been taught how to approach it properly. They are bereft of tools, allowed only those that their Rabbis have given them in the lower grades. This might have sufficed for purposes of initiation, but surely the student must proceed from there! In the same way that a student who learns Bereishis without any commentaries in first grade proceeds to learn it differently as he grows older, so too must the student of Gemara continue to advance in his technique to approaching the text.
What is the purpose of Gemara nowadays? We no longer seek to codify texts, attempting to arrange them into a halakhic guide. It becomes clear that our purpose is to understand halakhic concepts, comprehend the way in which different ideas break down and fit together. This is not something that can be understood if one's approach is to look at the text, read it over, and then immediately turn to a particular commentary, Rashi for instance. The question becomes- why does Rashi say what he is saying? And while one can struggle to figure out each individual commentary, it makes far more sense to create a logical breakdown of the thought process of the commentaries before proceeding to analyze them.
How does one do this? One employs a methodology. A methodology suggests a way of relating to the text, exploring it within a framework or system. The methodology proposed to me by my friend as the simplest and most logical is that utilized most in Gush, referred to as the Brisker approach, one that makes extensive use of a priori analysis. In order to illustrate the benefits of such an approach, he offered me an example. Consider the topic of Shechita and the question of whether a Non-Jew (or Idolater, one would have to determine whether there is a difference) is able to schecht animals and have them considered kosher.
Now, before we leap to a particular commentary in an attempt to explore the idea, one must break it down. What are possible reasons that a non-Jew's shechita should be considered kosher? Why shouldn't it be considered kosher? My friend began by creating a breakdown, but I would start at an even simpler level. However, to illustrate this most clearly, we will utilize his breakdown:
What do these categories mean? Let's apply them to the concept in question.
1. Deficiency: He, as in the gentile/ idolater/ heathen/ non-Jew has negative kavanah
2. Exclusion: We need Kiddushat Yehudi
3. Antithesis: He creates the anti-Schechted animal, a Korban to Avodah Zarah as opposed to Hashem
Now that we have these three categories and ideas, we can consider how one might argue for and against them based on simple logic. Number 3 does not particularly appeal to me, for instance, because why should every gentile across the board be seen as creating the anti-schechted animal? Oughtn't this to be something judged on a case-by-case basis, an individual level? I can continue with my analysis, positing why something should or should not be, the expected arguments and counter-arguments that will be made on its behalf. After I have come to my own initial conclusions and worked out my thought process of what should happen, that is the proper time to approach the commentaries. Because now the commentaries will make sense! They will fall into place. I will understand why this one posits that a non-Jew's shechitah is acceptable while the other one disagrees. I will comprehend their arguments, because I have already conceptually understood the background to the piece.
In this way, Gemara becomes so much more than memorizing so many assorted, seemingly random shitot. Gemara instead becomes comprehensible, even logical. One must understand what they are learning rather than simply memorizing it, and this becomes a game, a play, a kind of puzzle that fascinates and intrigues, something which encourages you to learn and explore further. People appreciate it when things make sense. And such a methodology can be employed in almost every section, on different levels. It is a way of approaching the text, of interacting with the written words on the page. It does not allow for frustration, for becoming angry over not comprehending ideas. One will comprehend the ideas because one has already analyzed the background to them!
Unfortunately, I am given to understand that this is very rarely the way that people are taught in Shiur, and indeed, not even the way that they learn on their own. This is sad, because it means that people struggle in an attempt to tackle the text when theoretically they would understand far better if they took the time to work through the issues on their own, categorize them and try to think through them, asking questions as they went, before reading someone else's opinion or commentary. It is always worthwhile to do this. Perhaps this approach will improve your learning! I know that in theory, at least, it is the one that most appeals to me.