My Venture Experience
February 6, 2015
support for people with hearing loss
Talk To Me: Getting Along
February 16, 2015

Cheating the Test

It has been said that cheating is wrong, dishonorable, and hurtful towards others as well as yourself. The measurements for final scores become skewed, making the results incorrect for everyone, including you. I learned not to cheat on 99.9% of tests when I was fourteen, after I was nearly expelled from middle school for cheating on a science exam. Since that grievous mistake, I have taken honor codes very seriously and resolved to never cheat on an academic exam, even when I feared being kicked out of my major or not making graduation.

There is one test, however, which I always cheat.

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Whether out of reflex, internalized shame about my loss, or simply taking the same test for too long, I do not know.

My hearing loss is measured to be mild in my left ear, with my losses hovering around 25 dB. In my right ear, I fall into the category of moderate because my losses hit 41—the bare minimum needed to qualify. In my heart, I know my losses are likely greater, but they cannot be measured easily because hearing tests are heavily flawed and incredibly easy to cheat. Having taken them yearly for almost 20 years, I know the tricks needed to fool my audiologists. A rabid love for books that has shaped my vocabulary, giving me the ability to infer from fragments of muffled syllables. Training in music and dance allows me to manipulate the single pitch used to test different frequencies. I cannot say how common such skills are among hearing test takers, but they are certainly strong enough for me to fool any audiologist who administers the test.

The first time I noticed these flaws, I was about 15, and having my hearing tested after surgery 7’s failure. Each word was one I had heard a thousand times before: “Hot dog” “Playground” “Ice cream” “Popcorn.” It was not long before I could match “Ah ogg” “Pla gra” “Sss curm” and “Up curn” to their origins. Between the repetition of the words and constantly looking at books, I could visualize the word in my head just from hearing the syllables.

Away from the test, the same thing is true; “vtupip” translates to “stupid”; “aak oom” is “Lancome”; “up ake” means “cupcake”. I tried mentioning this to my audiologist, but she said it was part of the test—one of the things tested is how well one infers from fragments of words. In the setting of a testing room, this idea sounded perfectly fine. Outside, however, it led to excess exhaustion and trouble understanding math and science classes. Words like “phospholipid” and “parabola” were impossible to infer because they looked as strange as they sounded. With quick-moving classes and hard-to-understand words, I knew the hearing test was failing me more than I was failing it.

Though the list of words frustrated me, I found the different tones even more aggravating. Regardless of whether the pitch was high or low, I always knew how to translate them to piano notes. Occasionally, the test would use F#, but more often than not, it used B. I always came prepared for that note, trying to think of where I could find it on a keyboard, starting with middle C and working my way through different octaves. Each time the test began, I pictured the sheet music in my head. Staffs in 4/4 time, starting at mezzo-forte. Four measures of rest opened the test, then three quarter notes before a quarter rest. 1-2-3-rest. As the tone got quieter and drifted towards piano, I kept to my mentally written sheet music. Even at levels where I knew that, without strain, the sound would be gone, I insisted on raising my hand to tell my audiologist “I hear the sound.” I kept my counting and my sheet music the same: 1-2-3-rest. Whether or not there was background noise made little to no difference in my results. Singing in choirs prepared me for the cacophony of other voices. Developing my diaphragm to keep my sound loud, and therefore my pitch correct, kept me from being swayed by other voices. Those same skills helped me find a sound that, otherwise, would have been out of my reach on the test.

Already, the inevitable question is sitting in my mind: why cheat? Why try fooling the test if it could make your life easier to have a better fit measurement in your hearing aid? Though I mentioned my uncertain answer when first broaching this topic, this question is one that haunts me every time I leave the audiologist’s office. Some years, I know why I cheated; in the years I had surgery, I could not fathom a true measurement of my loss because any loss stood in my mind as surgical failure. Other times, like in my 2014 test, I have no idea why I cheated at all and wonder if there will ever be a day I can stop. It is not something of which I am proud, and I know it hurts my relationships with others when I cheat on this test. More words are lost, conversation becomes more difficult than it needs to be, and more energy than necessary is spent on strain. No matter what anyone says, cheating on any kind of test, even one for your health, hurts more than just you—even if you feel more pain than most.

My current audiologist does not even bother testing me for words anymore. I have been told that “your hearing loss is not that bad”, so I don’t need to be tested for words. There is no arguing with him on this matter, with the presumption that I am a patient who does not possess an in-depth understanding of the test. After a lifetime of hearing tests, however, I certainly know enough to have a cheat method in place. Though it may mean numbers I do not want to see in the future, I hope somebody out there comes up with a cheat-proof test. If not, then I hope, at least, I gain confidence and lose the reflex of coming to a hearing test prepared to cheat.

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Christina is a 21-year-old with hearing loss. She has been writting for the Phonak Open Ears blog since 2014.
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Christina is a 21-year-old with hearing loss. She has been writting for the Phonak Open Ears blog since 2014.