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Pass by catastrophe: Wikis


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Pass by catastrophe refers to any number of popular urban legends in academia claiming 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 cannot be penalized for the catastrophe.


Typical instances of this legend include:

  • If someone dies during an exam, all the other students present pass.
  • If a University (or, in some versions, a University's library) burns down or is otherwise destroyed, all current students immediately graduate with upper second class honours.
  • If a student commits suicide, their roommate(s) automatically receive A's for all their classes that semester.

Since such events are very rare, there is little in the way of evidence to suggest the truth or falsity of these statements. The BBC investigated the truth of the first of these statements with regard to school exams; most stated that, if an exam does have to be halted due to a disaster of some kind, all students are awarded their predicted grades, possibly with a small bonus. Similarly, after the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, traumatized students were given the option of taking their current grades as an alternative to returning to class for the remaining three weeks of the semester.

Media appearances

The urban legend was the basis for two 1998 movies - Dead Man on Campus, a dark comedy, and The Curve (a.k.a. Dead Man's Curve), a thriller. It was also referenced in the 1998 thriller Urban Legend, as the roommate of one of the main characters was killed in her dorm room.


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