Any student's online education, college, or vocational curriculum will doubtlessly require hours of study time. The key to getting the most out of your time spent studying is conservative preparation – read more below and you'll be acing your next exam in no time.
Prepare for Class
Before class, or as soon as the reading or study materials are assigned, give everything a cursory once-over to familiarize yourself with the material. If there are any glaring gaps in your understanding of the material and what you think will be expected of you in class (or in the lecture, etc.), do some extra reading to fill in those gaps.
Aside from your reading notes, your class notes will be the most valuable study tools to which you will have access. Whether you are in a lecture or discussion-based class scenario, be sure to tune in to the discourse and focus on what seem to be the most important details of the material. Read any cues the professor may give indicating that a particular idea or concept is particularly salient, and document it accordingly in your class notes.
Try to outline your notes as much as possible, organizing the class's main points into the most logical flow. It is true that with some professor's lecture styles or other classroom difficulties, it may be problematic to organize everything into a neat outline. In these situations, some students may shy away from note-taking altogether, fearing that anything they write down will be a collection of incoherent soundbites. If this is the case for you, avoid this tendency and instead focus on keywords or concepts that are brought up by the professor and take note of them for further independent study after class.
After skimming the study materials and compiling good class notes, you should have a decent idea of what your professor and the class's curriculum expects of you. As before, identify any gaps in your understanding of the material and do what you can to fill them in by reading the class material much closer and much more critically.
Before the Exam
As the date of the exam approaches and after skimming, taking notes, and reading critically, you should be very familiar with the course material and what areas require more reinforcement. In the days before the exam, avoid cramming and instead focus on going in-depth on your problem areas. The key is to prepare conservatively, giving yourself plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the material and solidify your understanding of key concepts. You can read more about test-taking skills and preparationhere.