My graduate chemistry program included a series of cumulative exams nicknamed CUMES. In the first year, CUMES were administered approximately once per month. Each exam was graded as a full pass or a half pass, with the requirement that your score out of the six possible exams added up to four full passes. These exams did not have set dates that students could know in advance. Rather, one week before a test, a signup notice was given and the reading material was issued.

For the first exam, I wasn’t able to start recording the materials until this notice was made and the materials released. The recording process takes some time, so as a consequence I did not have access to the study materials until three days before the exam. Because my study time was cut in half, I didn’t perform very well on the exam.

I communicated with the school, explaining the timespan of my recording process and asking for some accommodation to be made. The arrangement was this: for every subsequent exam, the department sent the materials to my readers in advance, without my knowledge. Then when the CUME study materials were released to the chemistry students, the pre-recorded materials were released to me. This adjustment gave me the same amount of study time as my peers, and I was able to score highly on all subsequent exams.

Oral Qualifiers

The oral qualifier is the first step toward completing a thesis. It includes a forty page proposal summarizing the idea for the thesis and a presentation before a small panel. Compared to the thesis and defense, the oral qualifier is shorter and the questioning is easier. As with any presentation, I had to memorize all the content because I cannot use notes. I also memorized the dates, authors, titles, and a general summary for all my references so that I could use that information as needed to answer questions.


The defense is similar to the oral qualifier, but the document and presentation are notably longer and the questioning is more intense. I approached the defense similarly, memorizing my presentation with all its facts and figures, and memorizing the content of the references as a resource for answering the panel’s questions. Other than an increased border for memorization, my thesis defense was no different than that of a sighted student. My blindness gave no reason for the panel to adjust their methods of evaluation.