Preparing for Your Viva Examination

Getting ready for your viva voce examination isn't something you need to panic about.

It's normal to be anxious, but taking a structured approach to your exam preparations will help give you the confidence you need to effectively defend your thesis.

Prepare for Your Viva Examination

Step 1 Confirm the Details

Your internal examiner is responsible for arranging your viva exam and they will contact you with the relevant details - date, time, venue, etc. If you are unsure, ask your departmental administrator.

Usually the viva exam will take place in your Department, though occasionally another University location may be used. If you are unsure where you need to go, make sure you check this before the day of your exam.

If you returned your Notice of Intention to Submit three months before your submission date, your viva exam should normally take place quite soon after submission.

Almost all viva exams take place within three months of the examiners receiving the thesis and in many cases it is within one month.

Step 2 Get to Re-Know Your Thesis

Having spent so many years with your thesis, it may seem strange to hear that a key part of your preparations is to get to re-know it. Your examiners will expect you to have a good understanding of the structure and contents of your thesis and that means getting to know it in a different way.

Step Back from the Detail

Your examiners are likely to ask you to comment on the wider implications of your work, so you should take some time to think more broadly about your research.

You may wish to use the following questions to help you prepare for discussing these issues in your viva examination:

  • What is your thesis? - i.e., What is your original contribution to knowledge?
  • Which overarching philosophical or theoretical assumptions have you been working within? Why? How successful were you working within these assumptions?
  • If you were given a block of new funding now, how would you like to follow up your work?
  • Think about your examiners: What links their work with your own research? Have you got hold of some of their published work to get a feel for how they work and how they discuss research?
    What would you do differently if you were starting again?
  • What has been happening in your field since you completed your research? Is a further literature review necessary? How does your research fit into this updated context?

Return to the Detail

Your aim is to know your thesis very well and be calm and confident as you begin your viva examination. You should try to remember that most research students who reach this stage do succeed in gaining their degree.

Here are some ideas to help you regain and retain familiarity with the detail of your thesis:

  • Re-read your thesis carefully; do not panic if you notice any mistakes - make a note of them so that it will not come as a surprise to you if they are mentioned in the examination and so that you can address them when you are making corrections for your final submission
  • As you re-read your thesis, make summary notes on the main points from each page
  • Print a copy of the List of Contents with plenty of spacing so that you can write a brief summary of the content under each heading
  • Practice telling the story of your research in two minutes
  • Practice telling the story of each chapter - giving yourself two minutes in each case
  • Identify areas of weakness and make notes on each of these
  • Identify the elements of originality in your thesis
  • Identify your contribution to knowledge in your field
  • Identify the theoretical, empirical, and practical implications of your findings
Step 3 Practice Your Exam Responses

Every viva examination is different, so it is not possible to know in advance exactly what the examiners will ask you. However, there are some common questions which you may like to practice as part of your own preparations.

Generally, the questions that are asked in viva examinations can be grouped under four basic headings:

  • What is it about?
  • What did you do?
  • What did you find?
  • Why does that matter?

Practicing how you would answer these four basic questions will take you a long way in your preparations.

You can find some general questions that you can use to practice your responses in the Preparing for Your Viva Examination Study Guide.

Step 4 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.

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.

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:

  • take time to consider before replying
  • remember to breathe and speak reasonably slowly
  • do not take the criticism personally
  • do not take offence or 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.

Step 5 Use the Support Available

We hope you will find these pages of use in developing your own plan for preparing for the examination, but research students can access a range of University and other support.

Your Supervisors

Your supervisors can play a key role in developing a plan for your viva examination preparations.

Your supervisors can offer guidance and reassurance as to what to expect and may also be able to help you with your preparations - for example, by going through a practice viva examination with you.

Speak with your supervisors early on in your preparations to see how they can help.

Preparing for the Viva Examination - Workshop

The University runs a workshop for research students preparing for their viva examination. It is recommended that you should have already made your first thesis submission before attending the workshop or be planning to submit in the next six months.

This workshop is presented regularly during term time - see the events diary.

Step 6 Think Positively

Positive thinking will help you feel in control of the situation which will increase your confidence. Try to be:

  • anticipating a potentially interesting discussion
  • ready to engage in debate
  • confident in your preparation
  • eager to get on with it
  • relieved at being there at last
  • excited at the challenge ahead

And, perhaps most importantly, try to look forward to completing your research degree!

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