I study sociology at a very competitive college with a city campus. Admission to the school is test-optional: My high school grades were mediocre, but I had a pretty good essay. Still, I was lucky to get in. I learned to take easier classes as I got older so my transcript would look better. Once in college, I eventually got extra time for tests, and a special room to take them in, because of a medical diagnosis.
The privacy of that special room gave me a great opportunity to start cheating. When I take a test, I have to check my bag and leave my phone on a rack in the hallway before going into the room with a computer that has no internet access. But what I do is print out a study guide and notes and stick everything under my shirt or under my coat or a denim jacket with internal pockets. I’ve snuck in 30 pages of notes and even a full textbook this way.
Everyone at my school is very goal-oriented, and they are here to get their degree and some fancy internship and not to mess around or party or anything like that. But I always knew something was off or wrong with me, going back to when I was younger. I told my parents, who didn’t want to listen. They said, "Oh, you're being lazy." They thought that I was smart, and that my grades didn't reflect it. It's true—I am a lazy kid. In reality, though, I couldn't study. I was doing everything I could, and there was no way. I dropped out for a little bit because it was so depressing. I was acting out, and eventually got in trouble legally, which led to my parents getting me a therapist when I was 15. He said, "Get your kid tested right now."
I got the full diagnostic test, which was super expensive, and was told I had both auditory and visual sensory processing disorder and ADHD, all of which should have been picked up when I was five. I was told I couldn't read, focus, listen. When I heard that, it was a weight off my shoulders. Someone was telling me I wasn't stupid. Just the way schools and universities expect you to prove that you’ve learned something—there was just no way I could do it. It's impossible.
I was lucky that my parents could afford to take me to a therapist and get me on medicine. My current roommate also has learning disabilities, but her family couldn't afford the diagnostic test, because it costs thousands of dollars. After I got mine at age 15 and started getting special accommodations to take tests, my grades showed improvement, though it was still really hard work. If I want to do well on a test, I'm working twice as hard as everyone else and getting mediocre grades. If I want a B, I have to study for 10 hours.
To get special accommodations in college is not an easy process. They really don't give it out at all. They require a full diagnostic report and a note from your therapist. My roommate had a note but not the report and they denied her. It's way easier to get Adderall than it is to get extra time. I had to meet with someone from student services and request accommodations and access to a word processor so I can type essays that I would normally have to hand-write in class. I get a copy of notes, too. Some other kid has to take them for me and upload them to a database. I use a username and password to access them. That's super helpful, because I'm a terrible note-taker.
'I got extra time, but do you really think it's fair that other people donate a building so that their kid gets in to a school?'
Such accommodations would help anyone, even if they didn't cheat. I don't feel guilty, though, because I have to work so hard to get sub-par grades, and it's not fair. It's not fair that the way I’m wired doesn’t correlate with the way that professors are testing. I hate in-class written essays. When is someone ever going to be like, "Write this right now?" It's virtually impossible for me to memorize 100 terms and spit them back out. I will never in my life be able to do that. It’s like asking me to fly. If that's what you’re going to ask me to do, then sorry. I’m not going to fail, because I’m paying to be in school, and I’m going to do what I have to do. Hopefully when I go to grad school, everything will be more paper-oriented. I’m never going to plagiarize or steal someone else’s intellectual property.
I also don't care about the college admissions scandal, because making everyone take the ACT or SAT is not a fair process. I got extra time, but do you really think it's fair that other people donate a building so that their kid gets in to a school? That's equally not fair. I don't like talking about cheating, because people get really offended by it. But me and my roommate both do it. It's just easier for me, because I get to take my test alone.
I feel bad about her situation. It sucks, but I also feel bad that there's someone out there who's just as smart as me but can't afford college. It's the same level of guilt. I deserve these minutes and this extra time, but I don't get why these tests are timed in the first place. If everyone just had unlimited time, it would just make everything much more fair.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.