The oral examination (viva voce)

Preparing a student for the oral examination: essential practice

All PGR students should be provided with general information about what to expect during the viva in order to prepare them (i.e. an overview of the process, who will be there, how long it might last, what the format is likely to be, etc.). This could be provided by individual supervisors or via an organised session at departmental or Faculty level (e.g. via the DDP).

Departments' arrangements for preparing PGR students for the final viva examination commonly involve some or all of the following:

  • Tailored support from supervisors (e.g. discussions about what to expect & which questions may come up, practising answering key questions, signposting students to useful information);
  • Offer of a formal mock viva;
  • Practice of defence of research at Confirmation Review or progression milestones (e.g. interviews or presentations);
  • Practice in presenting research and answering questions at conferences or seminars;
  • Seminars/training sessions addressing topics such as how to prepare for the viva;
  • Offer of support from the supervisor on the day of the viva, including attending whole viva or just the feedback session with the examiners.

Arrangements for the oral examination (viva voce)

All examiners are sent a copy of the University's Guidance Notes for Examiners when they receive their copy of the thesis. It is also issued to the internal co-ordinator of a staff candidate.

The guidance contains information on:

  • The examination of the thesis;
  • Arrangements and conduct of the oral examination;
  • Report on the examination.

Separate guidance notes on the examination process also exist for candidates and for their supervisors.

Examiners are advised, on appointment, that the oral examination should normally take place within ten weeks of their receipt of the thesis. This is an expectation, not a mandatory requirement. A period of at least one month can be expected to elapse between submission of the thesis and the oral examination, and a student who intends to leave Sheffield on a specified date, for example to return overseas, should ensure that a reasonable amount of time is available after the oral examination in case it is necessary to consult the supervisor on any revisions or amendments to the thesis which the examiners may require.  Examiners are asked to note that significant delays in the examination process can have a potentially adverse impact on overseas students’ immigration status. Research Services must be notified of any significant delays in holding the viva examination, either on the part of the examiners or the student. Permission should normally be sought from the faculty if the viva is delayed for more than 4 months from the date the thesis was sent to the examiners, unless there is a valid reason, e.g. if the viva has been delayed due to an investigation into potential use of unfair means.

It is the responsibility of the internal examiner or the internal co-ordinator to arrange the date, time and venue for the oral examination (viva) and to inform the candidate of the arrangements which have been made. Before doing so, the internal examiner/co-coordinator should ensure that the examiners have been formally appointed and have received the thesis.  Students should not be asked to make such arrangements themselves and should not make contact with their examiners prior to the viva.  Please note that Research Services cannot make arrangements for the oral examination.

Before the oral examination takes place the examiners are required to read the thesis and independently prepare a written preliminary report. Examiners should not exchange preliminary reports too far in advance of the viva, but it is expected that their contents will be shared and discussed at the pre-viva meeting held just before the viva. Examiners are advised that their judgment of the thesis should be based on what may reasonably be expected of a diligent and capable student after completion of the prescribed period of research for the degree for which the thesis has been submitted.

Oral examinations are normally held within the University. The student's supervisor should not attend, unless the student and the examiners have agreed his/her presence in advance.  If such an agreement cannot be reached, the supervisor will not be permitted to attend.

The supervisor should, however, be available prior to and following the oral examination, i.e. to offer advice and support to the student, and the issue of whether he/she is to be present should have been raised with the student.

If present, the supervisor should enter and leave the room at the same time as the student and should participate in the discussion only if asked to provide clarification on a specific matter.

In cases where two external examiners have been appointed, the internal co-ordinator will sit in on the oral examination to ensure that University procedures are followed. The internal co-ordinator will play no other part in the examination and must not be involved in reaching a decision on the outcome.

Conduct of the oral examination

The examination will normally be conducted under the chairmanship of the external examiner. At the oral examination the examiners together test the student's knowledge of matters relevant to the subject of the thesis. The purpose of the examination is to enable the examiners to clarify any ambiguities in the thesis, to satisfy themselves that the thesis is the student's own work, that the student is familiar with the relation of his/her work to the field of study and that his/her knowledge and understanding of related fields in the subject are of the standard expected for the award of the degree.

The oral examination should normally be conducted in English, except in cases where there are pedagogic reasons for it to be held in another language, or where there is a formal agreement that requires the viva to be conducted in another language.

Oral examinations should not be recorded by students.

On completion of the oral examination, the Examiners should advise the candidate of their intended recommendation to the faculty.

Attendance at the oral examination

The oral examination is an integral part of the examination process and attendance is compulsory. Failure to attend a pre-arranged oral examination without prior notification to the supervisor and/or internal examiner and without good reason, may result in the student failing the oral examination and ultimately failing their degree.