Brief and Deep: A Revised Exam Meditation

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Headshot of Elizabeth Catanese.pngElizabeth Catanese is an Associate Professor of English and Humanities at Community College of Philadelphia. Trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction, Elizabeth has enjoyed incorporating mindfulness activities into her college classroom for over ten years. Elizabeth works to deepen her mindful awareness through writing children's books, cartooning and parenting her energetic twin preschoolers, Dylan and Escher


Last semester I created a blog post about a final exam meditation for students on the YouTube channel, Present-Minded Professors (created by me and my colleague Kate Sanchez, who is also an English professor at Community College of Philadelphia). I received feedback from some that the meditation was calming and empowering and had some great results. I learned from others that the meditation felt much too long.

One student exclaimed “it’s time to give us the test!” Another student tapped his pencil nervously then chomped on his pencil eraser until it fell off into his mouth. Contrary to mindfulness activities in a classroom where an exam is not being given, there was not an opportunity to process and validate what students were feeling. Two of my colleagues emailed me to let me know they had had similar experiences, and I noted on YouTube that the average watch time for the meditation was 1 minute and thirty seconds—many professors had just played the beginning of the meditation for students.

Students are often anxious to get started on their exams, which is the origin for the need for a meditation; however, amping anxiety before a test can, of course, be counterproductive if we cannot provide all the tools to help students cope with the anxiety in the moment. My work with mindfulness has taught me that it is important to walk the line between helping students know that all emotional experiences are valid and helping them compartmentalize, when needed, for the task at hand.

One of the challenges of being an academic who, like many of us, is in love with the power of language is learning that sometimes the deepest experiences can come from the briefest handful of content. Here is a shorter meditation for students before taking exams. In the new meditation I have included some affirmations and the sound of a few chimes to create relaxation and help students to center their bodies and minds. I am excited to share this meditation with students before they take their exams this semester, and I would encourage you to play it or, if you are inspired, create your own short meditation. If you’re able to record your meditation in advance, the ability to amplify your voice on a SmartBoard may help students pay the most attention.

I wish you peace and presence as we move through the semester!