Photo of two students studying outside on Farrand Field on a sunny day.

Finals are just around the corner, and for many of us it may feel like crunch time. No matter what classes you’re taking this semester, these tips can help you prepare, stay focused and ace your finals.


Before your exams

The most effective way to prepare for exams is to start early. Give yourself plenty of time to study, get consistent sleep and take regular breaks. Keep in mind that people study, learn and retain information in different ways. Study habits that work for your classmates or friends may not necessarily work for you. If you’re not sure how to make the most of your study time, try these helpful tactics.

Prioritize based on material

Are any of your classes more challenging than others? Prioritize your study time to make sure you can cover the most important or time-consuming subjects.

  • Write down every assignment, deadline and exam date you have coming up.
  • Try to prioritize each one based on the deadline and how long you think it will take to complete each task. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the things you need to accomplish in the next week, start with your top three priorities.
  • Now that you know which assignments you want to work on first, schedule time to study or work through them.
  • To keep everything organized, try using a planner, phone calendar or app like Todoist.

Pomodoro technique

Use the Pomodoro technique to break up your time and rest between sessions.

  • Choose an assignment, subject or study guide that you want to tackle.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes to focus on only that task before taking a 5 minute break.
  • Repeat this cycle three more times (25 minutes studying, 5 minute breaks).
  • For your fourth break, extend the time to 20 or 30 minutes.
  • You can repeat this technique multiple times if needed.

Studying in bursts can help you maintain your concentration and energy levels. Plus, you have built-in breaks to help you stay hydrated, enjoy some food, catch up with friends or go for a walk.

Create your own study guides

If your professor doesn’t provide a study guide or if the study guide is sparse, try creating your own.

  • Choose a topic that you think might be on the exam and create five to ten practice problems or questions related to that topic (hint: try to think like your professor).
  • Do this for each important section of material before going back to see if you can answer them all.
  • If you’re struggling to come up with questions, look back at your notes, pull questions from homework or class assignments, review readings or check presentation slides.
  • To add an extra level of practice, work with someone from your class to come up with questions or create a shared study guide together.

During your exams

Have you ever sat down for an exam and felt like you’ve suddenly forgotten everything you studied last night? Here are a few strategies to help you stay cool, calm and collected during high-stress exams.

Square breathing

As you wait to start your exam, consider doing a quick guided breathing exercise or meditation. You can use an app or follow the square breathing technique below. Remember that this technique can also be used during your exam if you start to feel anxious or stressed.

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale out your mouth for four seconds.
  4. Hold you exhale for four seconds. 

Practice this technique throughout the day to help you remember the steps. It’s okay to repeat as often as needed. If you’re feeling lightheaded, try to breathe more slowly.

You can also follow along with our Instagram Reel to practice this technique.

Pace yourself

  • Try to keep track of how much time you’re spending on each question and how much time you have left to set a good pace for yourself throughout the exam. This can help you determine how much time you can spend on the remaining questions.
  • If you’re struggling with a specific question, skip it for now and come back to it later. This will help you stay on track and not spend too much time on one question.
  • You can also think of your exam in terms of milestones. For instance, you might want to set a goal of being halfway through once your time is halfway over.
  • If possible, try to give yourself enough time to review your answers before the end of the exam time. This will help you catch mistakes or answer questions you may have skipped before.

Look for question prompts

  • Read each question carefully. Underline key words or phrases that can help you select the right answer. Some examples may include, “Provide three examples…”, “Identify which of the following did not occur…”, etc.
  • If you’re taking an exam online, you can use your cursor to highlight keywords to check your understanding before answering the question.

After your exam

For many of us, finishing an exam can leave us feeling relieved, anxious or a little bit of both. Regardless of what you’re feeling, allow yourself to disconnect from the test in an intentional way.

  • Take some deep breaths (use the square breathing technique if needed).
  • Let go of what you wish you could have done better.
  • Remind yourself that you did the best you could with what was available to you.
  • Take some time to do something you enjoy.
  • Move your body to relieve anxiety or stress (take a walk, stretch, go for a bike ride, etc.).
  • Enjoy a nice dinner or coffee with friends.

Disconnecting intentionally can help relieve the heightened emotions we may have experienced during finals. It also allows us to celebrate our successes and appreciate how far we’ve made it this semester.

Finals resources

For a full list of support resources, events, study spaces and additional tips, visit colorado.edu/finals.

Additional resources

Let’s Talk

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in consultations through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources.

Peer Wellness Coaching

Peer Wellness Coaching is a free service available that can help you set and achieve your goals. Peer wellness coaches are familiar with a variety of topics, including stress, time management, academics, self-care, sleep, finances and more.

Disability Services

Disability Services is dedicated to providing students with disabilities with reasonable academic accommodations, support and other services. They also provide free workshops that are open to all students.

Workshops

CAPS provides weekly workshops that can help students develop healthy coping skills related to stress, anxiety and other painful or distressing emotions. All workshops are covered by the mental health fee. Join virtually by signing up online at MyCUHealth

Weekly programs

Health and Wellness Services offers weekly programs to help you develop healthy habits, participate in self-care and take a break from academics. Programs are available throughout the week and are free to all CU Boulder students.

Tutoring services

CU Boulder offers a wide variety of tutoring services. Some are specific to classes, departments or groups of students, while others are available campus-wide. Many of these services are free to use. If you aren’t sure where to begin, be sure to check your syllabus, and ask your professor or course assistant for help and referrals.

Writing Center

The Writing Center provides free one-to-one tutoring sessions with professionally trained writing consultants, individualized guidance and feedback, as well as time-saving skills for writing and presentation projects. The Writing Center is available to all CU Boulder undergrad and graduate students for free.

Grade Replacement Program

This program allows degree-seeking undergrad and graduate students to retake a course in which they earned a low grade in an attempt to improve their cumulative GPA.