The viva voce exam

The Purpose of the viva voce exam

The viva examination, or thesis defence, is the final hurdle of your MPhil, MD or PhD programme. It is therefore crucial you prepare yourself as you would for any other kind of examination. The purpose of the viva is to validate your thesis and show the examiners:
  • You did the work yourself
  • Have done the reading
  • You have a good knowledge of the field
  • You wrote the thesis yourself

Preparing for the viva

It is strongly recommended that you ask your supervisor to arrange for you to have a practice/mock viva well in advance of the real exam. This will help you prepare for answering questions on your thesis and give you some experience of what a viva interview will be like.

You should also ensure you are thoroughly familiar with the content of your thesis and prepare for questions, such as “what have been the significant contributions of your research?” or “what would you do differently if you were to repeat your PhD?”

Practice summarising your thesis out loud with a friend and speak to colleagues who have recently completed their degrees and been through the viva process.

Appointment of examiners and organisation of the viva

It is advisable to commence the process to appoint examiners well in advance of submitting your thesis as it can take longer than you might expect. Usually, your supervisor will approach potential examiners when you are nearing submission and complete the relevant “appointment of examiners form” in the right hand download menu. The completed form should be returned to Carol Fidler (PGR Programme Administrator, LU116) for further processing. We suggest you allow 4 weeks to complete this stage.

The internal examiner or, if you are a staff candidate, the internal co-ordinator, is responsible for organising the viva, which is expected to take place within 10 weeks of receipt of your thesis by the examiners. It can be difficult finding a date that is convenient for everyone involved so it is important that you keep checking your emails after you submit and respond promptly to any queries!

On the day of your viva

Dress smartly for your viva, as you would do for a formal interview. The viva is an open book exam, take the following with you:
  • A copy of your thesis
  • Paper and pens
  • Bottle of water
A typical viva lasts around 2 hours, but it could be longer! Try to remain calm during the viva. Listen to the questions and take your time answering them. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of a question, and if you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say so. If your examiners have misunderstood something about your work, try to identify the problem and explain it. If they identify a problem with the interpretation or analysis, be willing to accept this and discuss ways in which it might be addressed.

For further tips and advice and some generic questions that you could use to practice answering before your viva, see the “notes on preparing for the viva” in the right hand downloads menu.

Good luck!