Published: April 19, 2024

man looking at a wall

After a long semester, it can be challenging for many of us to stay motivated through finals. Here are a few tips you can use to make it to the finish line. 

1. Evaluate your expectations

All of us want to do well in college. However, it’s important to remember that you can only do so much with the resources, time, energy and support you have. For instance, it may be unrealistic for you to expect to ace every exam or nail every presentation. 

If you need help evaluating your expectations, here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Are my expectations realistic? 
  • Where might these expectations be coming from? 
  • Are my expectations impacting other areas of my life (e.g., mental health, friendships, etc.)? 
  • Is this something I will feel strongly about in a week, a month or a year? 
  • What might good ‘enough’ look like for me? 
  • How can I adjust my expectations to be more reasonable? 
  • Where can I go for additional support? 

2. Change the narrative

You may not realize it, but the way you speak to yourself can help (or hinder) your progress when working through stress. For instance, you may find yourself saying things like, “Ugh, I need to get through this assignment faster or I’m going to fail.” 

This type of self-talk can cause you to feel even more stressed or make you feel pressured to perform in a way that may not be conducive to your goals. Try to notice moments when you’re being self-critical and challenge yourself to take a gentler approach. For instance, you may say something like, “I’ve got this, and I can make time to finish this later.” 

Shifting the way you speak to yourself can help you practice self-compassion, which can be particularly beneficial to staying motivated. Just remember that this technique isn’t foolproof, and it may take time to master. However, the more you do it, the kinder you’ll be to yourself (and others) in the process. 

3. Avoid 'stress bragging'

Stress feeds off stress, especially when we’re gearing up for the end of the semester. During this time, it can be commonplace for people to talk about how little sleep they’re getting or how many cups of coffee they need to get through the day, among other personal sacrifices. This type of comparison is often called ‘stress bragging,’ and it can have negative effects on your mental health and those around you.  

In many cases, ‘stress bragging’ sets the expectation that in order to be successful, you must sacrifice your own well-being. Instead of engaging in ‘stress bragging,’ try to prioritize taking care of yourself as part of your study plan and encourage others to do the same. 

One way to do this is to use the HALT method to make sure you’re addressing your most basic needs at the moment.  

  • H: Am I hungry? 
  • A: Am I angry? 
  • L: Am I lonely? 
  • T: Am I tired? 

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s time to address that specific need. When our basic needs go unmet, it can make it even more difficult to concentrate, study or interact with others.  

For instance, if you’re feeling ‘hangry,’ it may be time to have a snack before you lash out at your study partners or friends. Similarly, it may be time to get a good night’s sleep if you’re feeling tired (research has shown that sleep is one of the best predictors of academic success).  

4. Take breaks

The end of the semester can magnify stress. Whether you’re studying for an exam, or working through a group project, it’s important to take breaks. Using the Pomodoro method is a great way to help you focus on a single task at a time while providing structure and built-in breaks. 

Here’s how it works: 

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes to work on one task. 
  • When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break to walk around, grab a snack or chat with a friend. 
  • Repeat this cycle three times (25 minutes working with 5-minute breaks). 
  • After completing all four rounds, take a 30-minute break. 

Remember that this method is just one way to help you get through assignments in a mindful way. However, you may also need to set boundaries around things like how much time you are willing to commit to a single assignment, how late you’re willing to stay up or how much responsibility you’re willing to take on for a group project. 

5. Revel in the small victories

While it may feel silly, take some time to bask in the success of small (or unconventional) victories and milestones. For instance, you may celebrate completing a study guide, finalizing citations or hitting the half-way mark on a presentation. 

Taking time to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate your efforts can help you stay motivated to push through. 

Here are some ways you can celebrate small wins: 

  • Have a nice dinner by cooking your favorite meal or ordering something special from your favorite restaurant. 
  • Schedule a half or full day off to relax, recharge and spend time with friends or enjoy hobbies. 
  • Grab an extra special treat from your favorite coffee shop. 
  • Practice expressing gratitude for those who have helped you study or who have supported you through stressful moments (including yourself). 
  • Take an hour to watch your favorite show or have a movie night. 

6. Take a deep breath and relinquish control

The pressure to perform well is very real, especially on final exams. However, it’s important to remember that your value and self-worth are not defined by your grades. Being good or bad at something (like studying or test-taking) has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Remember that you are still a smart and capable person, even if your grades don’t perfectly reflect those qualities. 

It’s also important to remember that what you’re feeling right now isn’t how you’re going to feel forever. If you’re someone who gets hyper-focused on the current moment, try to imagine how you may feel in a week, a month or a year from now. More likely than not, as time passes, your feelings or situation will seem less dire. 

Finally, allow yourself to relinquish control over the outcome. Once you’ve submitted an assignment or exam, that’s it. The outcome now rests in your instructor’s hands and is out of your control. While this may not prevent you from worrying about your results, it can be a helpful step in moving on. It’s also okay to take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that it’s finally over.  

7. Ask for help

Asking for help can be difficult, even when we know we may need it. However, it’s important to remember that your friends, family, peers and instructors all want you to succeed. 

Most importantly, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Instead, try reaching out for support. This can include talking with your professor or taking advantage of on-campus resources. 

Academic Resources

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’re not sure where to begin, try checking your syllabus or asking your instructor 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, and time-saving skills for writing and presentation projects. The Writing Center is free to all CU Boulder undergrad and graduate students. 

Grade Replacement Program

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

Disability Services

Disability Services provides students with disabilities reasonable academic accommodations, support and other services. They also offer free workshops that are open to all students. If you need help navigating test accommodations, Disability Services can help.

Wellness Resources

Let's Talk

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

Peer Wellness Coaching

Meet one-on-one with a trained peer wellness coach to get help creating a study plan, managing stress, practicing self-care and more. 


All students can schedule free telehealth counseling and psychiatry appointments online through AcademicLiveCare.


Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free group workshops that can help you learn how to manage anxiety, develop coping skills, take a break and make meaningful changes in your life. 

Mental health crises

If you’re experiencing a possible mental health crisis or need urgent, same-day support, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is here to support you 24/7 over the phone at 303-492-2277. Calling ahead allows providers to triage your concerns so they can address them more quickly and effectively. 

Student Support and Case Management

SSCM assists students who may be impacted by challenging situations by helping them connect with campus partners, community resources and other support systems. If you need help or are concerned about another student, consider making a referral online

Figueroa Wellness Suite

The Wellness Suite is a great place to rest and reset. Whether you need a nap, want to pick up free health and wellness supplies, or if you just want to find a quiet place to study, the Wellness Suite provides a place to get away at the end of the year. 

Free Finals Week at The Rec

Physical activity is a great way to take a break from studying and manage finals stress. The Rec Center will be offering a variety of free activities during Free Finals Week.