This picture has been making the rounds on Twitter today. enter image description here

Judging off the second bullet point, I assume that the tests being talked about are ones that are given in college. Is it true that, if someone dies during a test, everyone else present passes?

Also, the second bullet point states that, should a university (or its library) be destroyed, all current students graduate with honors. Is this claim true?

  • 3
    The Wikipedia page you're in starts with "Pass by catastrophe refers to any number of popular urban legends in academia". Enough said. It's a myth. May 7, 2015 at 22:07
  • This would apply... where exactly?
    – Sklivvz
    May 7, 2015 at 23:23
  • 5
    Why did this get closed? I think the question is pretty clear. May 7, 2015 at 23:27
  • Isn't there a movie made about this?
    – Lyrion
    May 8, 2015 at 7:13
  • 1
    Why did this get closed? It's the answer that's bad, not the question... May 9, 2015 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


The image

That image is a screenshot of the Wikipedia article entitled "Pass by catastrophe". As of 14:43, 7 May 2015, it reads:

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 [...]

There are are no references in the article supporting the claim that this is an urban legend, let alone the claim that pass by catastrophe is a policy at any university.


I've sampled the examination policies of several institutions and have failed to find a "pass by catastrophe" clause in any of them:


At York University, a strike caused class cancellations, and exams were postponed "into the summer". (York suspends classes, exams and academic activities during strike. Toronto Star. March 2, 2015)

At Harvard, a bomb threat caused exams to be "cancelled, with grading and rescheduling options varying for each course". (Final Exams Cancelled, Postponed, and, In Some Cases, Continued Anyway Amid Bomb Scare. The Harvard Crimson. December 16, 2013)

[Some students] had the option of taking the exam at a rescheduled time this week or at the start of next semester, or not taking the exam at all and accepting their current grade. For its part, LS1a required students in the evacuated Emerson Hall exam sitting to make up their missed exams Monday evening or in early spring.

At York University, a fire caused exams to be postponed. (Exams cancelled, residence evacuated after York U fire. Toronto Star. December 13, 2010.)

The Monday afternoon blaze damaged steam boilers and generators used to heat most campus buildings, so the university was forced to postpone exams and send students to alternate accommodation.

  • I have heard this urban legend too, and I've never read that wikipedia article. Given that the wikipedia article you link has no references either for or against the claim, that means this answer is unsourced. May 7, 2015 at 22:24
  • 1
    As a single data point, the university I am currently at allows a student to pass with credit if a roommate commits suicide. I'm not sure about testing, though.
    – user13259
    May 7, 2015 at 23:19
  • 2
    @Emrakul: That is not true. Skeptics.SE is not a great place to pass on old Urban Legends without it being noticed!
    – Oddthinking
    May 8, 2015 at 0:44
  • 3
    @Emrakul: Do go and double-check. My money is on no such rule, but I'll change my tune if you provide evidence.
    – Oddthinking
    May 8, 2015 at 3:46
  • 2
    @Oddthinking Well, I checked, and it looks like you're right. Which is confusing, because I read it somewhere; I'm just trying to recall where... either way, my apologies!
    – user13259
    May 14, 2015 at 17:35

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