Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Students' Grandmothers More Likely to Die During Finals Week

The rumors of granny's death are greatly exaggerated.

For those of us toiling in the laureled towers (i.e., drafty cinderblock buildings) of academia, spring break is approaching, closely followed by the dreaded week of final exams. Research has shown that finals week is the deadliest time of year for students’ grandmothers, rivaled only by midterms week. As experienced faculty members can attest, there is a steep rise in deaths of grandmothers just before midterm and final exams. A similar phenomenon occurs as the due date for research papers nears.

Dan Ariely addresses these shocking mortality rates in his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. He estimates that 10 percent of his students lose grandmothers the week of midterms or finals. Mike Adams, a professor at Eastern Connecticut University, even conducted research into the “dead grandmother” phenomenon and found that, on average, mortality rates for grannies were 19 times greater during finals and ten times greater during mid-terms. At greatest risk were grandmothers of failing students: They were fifty times more likely to meet the Grim Reaper during exam weeks than at any other time of year.

At a college where I previously taught, one of my out-of-state students had to miss his final exam because his mother had been arrested and thrown in jail back home. Another student couldn’t take her test because she had a custody hearing at that time to regain custody of her children. On another occasion, a student asked to be excused from the final because he had cut off the top of his thumb at work the previous week (his writing hand, of course). And these were all true. So just imagine the variety of invented excuses.

These exam-related deaths are, of course, regrettable, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made in pursuit of higher education.