Practice essentially involves playing Chess but with a specific intent to improve through study. Throughout your period of study you should
Start with games 10 minutes per player minimum. As you get more experience, gradually increase the time control to 25 minutes per player.
Try and play in a section where most of your opponents are rated higher than you.
67-75% of your games should be against players better than yourself (up to 200 rating points) and the rest against opposition not less than 50 rating points below yourself. Play against a computer and set it to increasingly higher levels as you improve. A great free App for this is Shredder Chess and it is available for Android and Apple. You can change its rating as you improve.
Go over your game with your opponent and possibly a strong player from your club, and later with a chess coach, or at least a strong chess program to try to find what you did wrong, win or lose. With this input, hopefully you will be able to modify whatever problems you encountered to do better in the future – a key part of improvement.
One of the hardest things to do is to go over a game you have lost. The reason is because you have invested so much emotional energy into the game, and the defeat is hard to cope with. Every fibre in your body tells not to throw the scoresheet away and never think about that game again. All of this is a natural defense mechanism your body uses to avoid pain. However, lost games are a treasure-trove of learning and improving! So we strongly encourage you to pull apart every defeat and find out what went wrong. And be rest assured, most of your opponents won't be able to do this, so if you can you will be one step ahead of them!
Look up each opening in a book or chess database to ask yourself, “If someone played the same moves again against me, where would I improve?”. A great piece of software to do this is Chessbase. You can download a free version of Chessbase Light that has most of the features of the full Chessbase.
Next Page: Preliminary Steps : Theory