Think About Your Examiners

Different examiners have different styles when it comes to conducting viva examinations. Thinking about your examiners and their interests can give you some idea what to expect in your own exam.

Examiner Interests

Examiners are often guided in their examination questioning by their own research interests; familiarising yourself with the research interests of your examiners can therefore give you some indication as to the lines of questioning they may follow.

Of course you won't be able to anticipate their lines of questioning entirely, but you might gain some insight and be able to anticipate an area of your own research in which they may show a particular interest.

Ask your supervisor for advice - your supervisor may well be familiar with your examiners and their work and be able to suggest areas of your own work where the examiners may have a specific interest. You may also want to consult any recent journal articles or other works published by your examiners to see if there are aspects that relate to your research and on which they may therefore want to question you.

Examiner Approaches

You also need to think about what sort of approach your examiners may take in the exam. Again, your supervisor may be able to give you some clues in this respect.

One thing that you particularly need to anticipate is that some examiners may take an approach that can feel challenging. Experienced and effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational - but some personalities are more prone to such an approach. It is important that you do not take offence. A relaxed, thoughtful, and non-confrontational response from you will help rebalance the discussion.

Murray (2003:105) suggests the following are ways not to respond to a challenge of a weakness in your research:

  • give a general, resigned declaration that "this happens in every study"
  • blame your supervisor
  • blame your data
  • say "that was beyond the scope of my study" without giving a cogent argument to support the statement
  • dismiss as unimportant what has been identified as a weakness

Rather than responding in these ways, a better approach is to:

  • take time to consider before replying
  • remember to breathe and speak reasonably slowly
  • not take the criticism personally
  • not take offence
  • not get angry
  • enjoy the opportunity to talk about your research

Finally, remember that your examiners may be very precise in their questioning, referring to particular pages in your thesis - so do not forget to take a copy with you to your examination.

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