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Exams are bad for grandmothers

Image by Chris Liverani
Image by Jeremy Wong

(adapted from Dr Mike Adams,  Eastern Connecticut State University - full article attached below)

School teachers have often observed that the week prior to an exam/deadline for an important assignment is an extremely dangerous time for the relatives of university (college) students. Particularly prevalent is the "Dear Grandmother Problem". There seem to be incidences of "Dear Grandmother Problem" around the world, albeit in different names: In England, it is called the “Graveyard Grannies” problem, in France the “Chere Grand’mere,” while in Bulgaria it is known as “The Toadstool Waxing Plan” 

The basic problem can be stated very simply: A student’s grandmother is far more likely to face an unfortunate demise just before the student takes an exam/has to submit an important assignment, than at any other time of year. Dr Mike Adams, after several years of data collection, found that grandmothers are ten times more likely to die before a midterm and nineteen times more likely to die before a final exam/assignment. Additionally, grandmothers of students who aren’t doing so well in class are unfortunately at an even higher risk—students who are failing are fifty times more likely to lose a grandmother compared who are not taking a major exam/submitting a major assignment.


Of course, this piece has a sarcastic slant (if you haven't realised!) Statistically, grandmothers (or any family member) are not at risk of dying just before the exams. However, students often claim so, looking for a way out of exams, an extension for their assignments, or a reason to shift the blame to in case they don't do well.


As Dan Ariely elaborates in the "when and why we cheat series", research in different settings covering tens of thousands of people, show that an overwhelming number of us will cheat given the right conditions. You can read more about it here. 

"The Grandmother Effect"
Mike Adams

Department of Biology
Eastern Connecticut State University,

Annals of Improbable Research

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