Pass by catastrophe

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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.

"Roommate suicide" legend[edit]

One 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.[1] This version provides the premise for the films Dead Man on Campus and The Curve, as well as episodes of several television series.[2][3][4]

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.[1] 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.[1] The website Snopes rates the story as false.[4]

Other legends[edit]

Other alleged versions of the story include:

  • If someone dies during an exam, all the other students present pass.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • If a student commits suicide, that student automatically receives top scores for all their classes that semester.[citation needed]
  • In University College Dublin, all students will be guaranteed a First Class Honors degree upon graduation as long as all modules have met the 40% passing mark if a chair has been broken in class.[citation needed]

There is little or no evidence to support the existence of these legends, or the truth or falsity of these claims.


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. 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." If an eligible candidate dies before completing the examination, an "honorary certificate" can be requested.[5]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Gates, Anita (August 21, 1998). "Film review: A Novel Way to Get All A's". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Curve (1998)". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Grade Expectations". Snopes. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  5. ^ A guide to the special consideration process, Joint Council for Qualifications