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Pass by catastrophe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pass by catastrophe is an academic urban legend proposing that if some particular catastrophic event occurs, students whose performance could have been affected by the event are automatically awarded passing grades, on the grounds that there would then be no way to assess them fairly and they should not be penalized for the catastrophe.

Examples of the legend

  • If someone dies during an exam, all the other students present pass.[1]
  • If a natural disaster occurs during an exam, all students present pass.[2]
  • If a university burns down or is destroyed otherwise, all current students immediately graduate with a bachelor's degree.[1]
  • A student who gets hit by a campus shuttle bus will receive free tuition.[3][4][5]

The most common version of this story is that if a student's roommate commits suicide, the surviving student will be awarded straight As for that semester.[6][7] This version provides the premise for the films Dead Man on Campus and The Curve, as well as episodes of several television series.[8][9]

In his book Curses! Broiled Again!, urban legend expert Jan Harold Brunvand investigated the claim that a student whose roommate commits suicide will receive straight As for that semester. He could not find any college or university which actually had such a rule.[6] Sociologist William S. Fox described this legend and variants, such as the rule applying to any death of a roommate; he also concluded that the claim has no basis in fact.[6] The website Snopes rates the story as false.[10]

In practice

Many schools and jurisdictions, while not adopting any blanket rule as claimed by the legend, may make allowances or adjustments for individual students in cases of hardship.[1] In the United Kingdom, the Joint Council for Qualifications allows candidates to apply for an adjustment of their score (up to 5%) if they have met all the qualifications for the exam but suffer "temporary illness, temporary injury or other indisposition at the time of the assessment".[11] If an eligible candidate dies before completing the examination, an "honorary certificate" can be requested; however, it has no academic value.[12]

In Victoria, Australia, a student takes the GAT midway through the year. If an event happens that affects their performance in the final exams, their results will be derived from their coursework marks and the marks they received on the GAT.[13]

On 12 November 2019, Hong Kong police raided and seriously damaged the Chinese University of Hong Kong.[14] The university management team thus announced a premature end of semester two weeks early. All students could proceed to the next semester for online classes, and arrangements would be made for evaluating their work in the shortened semester.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c Mkele, Yolisa (2018-12-08). "Would you automatically get your degree if your varsity exploded?". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  2. ^ Francis, Natalie (2019-10-14). "Passing by catastrophe: EP-style". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  3. ^ Gordon, Jill (March 13, 2009). "The 10 Weirdest College Urban Legends". Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  4. ^ Williams, Avery (2017-02-06). "We asked a lawyer at UNC if getting hit by a bus means the university pays your tuition". The Tab. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  5. ^ Palmer, Kathryn (2019-10-03). "If You Get Hit by a Bus, You Get Free Tuition. Wait, What?". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  6. ^ a b c Brunvand, Jan Harold (1989). "The Suicide Rule". Curses! Broiled Again!. W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 295–298. ISBN 0-393-30711-5.
  7. ^ Reisberg, Leo (September 11, 1998). "Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  8. ^ Gates, Anita (August 21, 1998). "Film review: A Novel Way to Get All A's". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  9. ^ Bhob Stewart (2015). "The Curve (1998)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 11 July 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Grade Expectations". Snopes. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  11. ^ A guide to the special consideration process, Joint Council for Qualifications
  12. ^ "A guide to the special consideration process" (PDF). JCQ. 1 September 2019. p. 11. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  13. ^ Galiamov, Renata. "What makes the GAT crucial, and how to get ready for it". Archived from the original on 2019-10-16. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  14. ^ "Chinese University of Hong Kong looks even more like a war zone as night falls". Shanghaiist. 2019-11-12. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  15. ^ Cheng, Kris (2019-11-13). "CUHK announces premature end to semester as Hong Kong universities switch to online teaching". Hong Kong Free Press HKFP. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  16. ^ "中大人資訊專頁 on Instagram: "中大宣布2019-20年度第一學期結束…"". Instagram. Retrieved 2020-01-16.

This page was last edited on 14 April 2021, at 00:30
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