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What is a viva assessment and how do I prepare for it?

A viva (pronounced viy-vuh) presentation is an oral examination where your supervisor and another examiner asks you questions about the dissertation you have already completed. Look at it as an opportunity to talk about your work and expand on what you wrote.

It will account for 10% of the mark for your overall project, so it’s pays to be prepared.

Who is the viva for?

The VIVA is compulsory for:

  • Students pursuing their PhD.  
  • MPhil or MRes if required by the university
  • Undergraduate students doing a thesis at the end of the third year. This is most likely in a STEM degree.

What is the viva for?

The viva serves as an opportunity for both you and the examiners to expand on the subject of your thesis. The oral examination gives you the chance to:

  • Defend your dissertation and clarify parts of your dissertation that your examiners might have missunderstood;
  • Gives you the opportunity to defend your work;
  • Show you are the one who did it;
  • Go into more detail about what you did, what went wrong and what could have been done differently.

On the other hand, it gives the examiner a chance to:

  • Discuss your thesis in detail;
  • Clarify any questions they might have had from reading your thesis;
  • Make sure that it is your own work.

Location

Your viva can be done via an online meeting or in-person. It really depends on what works best for you and your examiners, as well as the university. Do try to find out with plenty of time left in case you are planning to travel or going back to your home country for the summer holidays.

If your viva examination is in person, make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before the scheduled time. It is also recommended you take a copy of your thesis with you, as your examiner might direct some questions to a specific page. 

How to prepare for your viva exam

I’m sure you’re wondering how to prepare for your viva exam, so here are some tips:

  • Revisit some of the literature you used in your dissertation, that you consider to have been most important for the project. However you are not expected to have memorised all the literature associated with the project, nor know everything by heart;
  • Your viva might be a couple of weeks or even a month after you hand in your dissertation, so make sure you re-familiarise with your research a couple of days before your viva. To do this, make sure to take these steps:
    • Read thoroughly and identify parts that you think you did better, as well as what you covered less and could have done better;
    • Identify the most important literature you used and have a read through. Also think about how the literature you read relates to your research question;
    • Revisit your analysis. Make sure you know what steps were made to get to your results, and know how to interpret those results. Ask yourself questions such as: why are these results important to my dissertation?; what do the statistical tests mean?. Make sure you know how to explain them and go straight to the point;
    • In case you left something to say in your written work, make sure to make some notes to talk about this during your viva. This is your opportunity to dive deeper into your written work, in case you notice you missed something.

Practice questions to help you prepare:

  • Tell us about your dissertation.
  • How does your research contribute to the field of study?
  • Looking back at your research, what would you have done differently?
  • What do these results tell us?
  • How does x literature compare to your results?
  • What limitations did you come across during your research?
  • Summarise your findings from your research.
  • How do your results compare to literature you mentioned in your study?
  • Why did you use particular statistical tests? Did you consider different approaches?
  • Did you encounter any problems when collecting your data? How did you overcome these?
  • Describe the steps you went through during your data collection.
  • Explain how your results contribute to your study questions.

Your final thesis is probably the largest piece of work that you will complete during your degree. The viva voce is in place to help you put into words and clarify what you did in your written work.

Examiners and supervisors are not there to make your life difficult, so try to look forward to your viva voce. It is a good opportunity for you to improve your grade. So, take a breath, practise some questions and read your written work, and it will all go smoothly. Good luck!