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What it is Like to Take a Test With CI

       This is a narrative I wrote about taking a test when you have CI. I thought it might be useful to help people understand what CI is like, based on my own experience.

         I sit in the classroom, ready to take the big test I stayed up late to study for. After a quick glance over my notes, I put them away and take out my glasses and a pencil and take a deep breath to try and prepare myself. As the scantrons are passed out, I have to remind the teacher for the 4th time this year that I have an accommodation to not use a scantron, which earns me a couple quizzical looks while the class falls silent in preparation for the exam.

        I am finally handed the test and get my first look at the papers I will be spending the next hour and a half (at least) staring at. I begin to make my way through the test, each question consuming my attention as I eliminate and circle answers, some more confidently than others. After about 30 minutes, I begin to feel the inevitable: my eyes getting tired. It begins as just a weariness, a slight pressure around my eyes, but gradually grows to a heavy, exhausted feeling. I take off my glasses and rub my eyes, alleviating the pain for a couple seconds, before twisting in my seat to try and look out the sliver of window visible at the back of the classroom. Though I am looking for less than a minute, it is long enough that another student notices my stare and looks from me to the window and back, trying to figure out what has taken my attention away from my test. I wish I could explain that it is not as weird as it looks, that it is a method of giving my eyes a break proscribed by my doctor. Eventually, the other student will go back to the test, concluding that I am just the strange girl who always sits at the front of the class.

         I turn back to my test, my eyes feeling only slightly better, and continue to work. I get through a few more problems before the symptoms begin to return, bringing others with them. In addition to the heavy feeling, my eyes begin to prickle, and more alarmingly, the words on the page begin to blur and then separate into two overlapping images. While suddenly having double vision might cause most people to worry if they have a concussion, it is par for the course for me. Rarely does a test go by without my vision separating in two. Instead of freaking out, I refocus my eyes, a skill honed through many grueling sessions of vision therapy throughout my life. The practice pays off, and my eyes are now both focusing on the same point in space, once again sending a single image to my brain, and I continue with my test.

         As the time wears on, my eyes get more and more tired and less resilient. No matter how many times I look out the window or rub them, they inevitably get exhausted. After the 10th time the page splits in two, I try and read one image through the other for a bit before remembering to refocus. My eyes begin to protest more and more loudly about the work. The words swim and split and my eyes begin to shake. My whole field of vision is thrust into motion and it is impossible to even see the text, let alone read what it says. It is like the muscles in my eyes are tired, too tired to hold and focus on the page. The sensation is similar to how if you haven’t lifted weights in a long time, once you push your muscles past what they are used to lifting, they begin to quiver, struggling to maintain the position. I look up, away from the paper in hopes of giving my eyes a break by looking at the far wall. But even that is too much for my eyes and involuntarily they begin to bounce around the room, looking at objects at different distances, completely out of my control for a short period of time.

         All of this--the swimming, splitting words, the painful, heavy eyes, the shaking, jumping field of vision--hits me at the same time, and the exhaustion is overwhelming. My eyes begin to close, trying to force me to take a nap. As I struggle to stay alert, my eye lids are like a gate slamming down like they are going into lockdown, the light and stimulation overwhelming me. Eventually I succumb to the exhaustion, and my eyes close for a second, despite my best efforts. A minute later, I suddenly wrench my eyes open, refocusing on the test, trying to read and comprehend the answer choices while battling to remain awake.

         In what seems like no time at all, the teacher announces that we have 15 then 10 then 5 minutes left, although it feels like I have only spent 45 minutes, rather than 90, answering questions. I watch in dismay as student after student goes up to add her or his test to the pile at the front of the room. How have I only gotten through half the test, when almost everyone else is done? I refocus on the rest with renewed determination to get in a few more questions before the bell rings.

          Once the period is over, I take my test to the front of the room and try to arrange a time to come in for my 50% extra time, hoping that the teacher will not think I have cheated by looking forward in the test to know what answers to look up before finishing my test. Although I would not do this, some teachers are suspicious of students who receive extra time. Thankfully, this teacher is not one of them, and we set up a time after school on a day when I am not finishing tests for other classes. Hopefully, my eyes will have time to recover before I take the rest of the test.

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