Student wearing a mask sits at a campus table with her laptop and a coffee cup.

With finals about to start, you may be experiencing a variety of emotions. Whether your exams are virtual or in person (or a combination), the Disability Services office put together the best test-taking strategies on how to prepare, what to do during your finals and how to calm your mind after your exams are over.


 Before exams

Find your study strategy. The way we study and how we retain information is different from person to person. What works for your friend, may not necessarily work for you. Finding a strategy that works for you can help set you up for success. Here are different study techniques worth trying.

Prioritize your time

  • Write down each assignment, deadline and exam date coming up. 
  • Prioritize your work based on deadlines and the amount of time you think it’ll take to complete each task. 
  • Commit to a schedule and jot down when you’re going to work on each task. 
  • To keep everything organized, try using a planner or app like Todoist.

Pomodoro technique

Use the Pomodoro technique to help you manage your study time:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes to focus 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 more times (25 minutes working, 5 minute breaks).
  • After you’ve completed all four rounds, take a 30-minute break to refresh.

Studying in bursts can help you maintain your concentration and energy levels.

Practice questions

  • Choose a topic that will be on the exam. Now create 10 practice questions that could be quiz questions related to this topic (think like your professor). Answer these questions, then repeat for additional topics to practice studying. Try to guess what questions might be on the exam.
  • If you are struggling to come up with questions, look back in your notes, readings and slides to help give you inspiration.
  • To add an extra level of practice, partner with someone from class to create questions together.

 During exams

When you finally sit down or begin the exam, it can be common to feel like you’ve forgotten key concepts or information you’ve studied. Here are a few things that may help you stay calm and collected throughout your exams.

Try a square breathing technique

  • Consider a quick guided breathing or meditation activity just minutes before the exam and/or if you’re feeling stressed during the exam.
  • Breathe in through your nose slowly (four seconds), hold your breath (four seconds), slowly exhale out of your mouth (four seconds), hold your exhale (four seconds).
  • Practice this breathing throughout the day to help you remember the steps if you need them during your exam.
  • Repeat as often as needed. Breathe more slowly if you’re feeling lightheaded.

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

Pace yourself

  • Try keeping track of how much time you are spending on each question or how much time you have left to set a good pace for yourself throughout your exam. This can help you with determining how much time to spend on the remaining questions.
  • If you are taking your exam in an individual setting, one way to keep track could be to set a timer to go off every five minutes to help you stay on track.

Identify key information in exam questions

  • Read each question carefully; if your professor allows scrap paper, write down key words for each question to double check understanding (for example, “Provide three examples...”, “Identity which never occurred...”, etc.).
  • If you are taking your exam on your computer, use your mouse to highlight the key words.

 After exams

The things you do after you finish an exam are just as important as what you do to prepare for an exam. Even if you only have five minutes, it’s helpful to allow yourself to disconnect in an intentional way. Here are some things you can try.

  • Take some deep breaths.
  • Let go of what you wish you could’ve done better.
  • Do something you enjoy.
  • Move your body: take a walk, stretch or go for a bike ride.
  • Enjoy a meal or coffee with friends.

Finals resources

  • Finals website
    For a full list of support resources, events, study spaces and tips for finals week, visit the finals website.
  • Let’s Talk
    Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in services through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources related to academics, stress, anxiety, substance use, relationships and more.

  • Peer Wellness Coaching
    Meet one-on-one with a trained Peer Wellness Coach to set wellness goals and connect with campus resources. Coaches are available to help you create a plan to manage stress, time management, academics, sleep, relationships and more.

  • Disability Services
    Disability Services is dedicated to providing students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in university programs, courses and activities through reasonable accommodations and services. They also provide free workshops that are open to all students.

  • 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.