The oral examination (viva voce)
Information and guidance on preparing for the final viva examination.
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.
Departments' arrangements for preparing PGR students for the final viva examination may involve some of the following:
- Tailored support from supervisors (e.g. discussions about what to expect and 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
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 coordinator where one is appointed.
The guidance contains information on:
- The examination of the thesis
- Arrangements and conduct of the oral examination
- Reporting on the examination
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.
Viva dates should not be set before the student has submitted and/or the thesis has been sent out. A period of at least one month can be expected to elapse between the thesis being sent out and the oral examination; however, significant delays in the examination process can have a potentially adverse impact on students, especially overseas students' immigration status. Research, Partnerships and Innovation 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 four 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 coordinator where there is no internal examiner) 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, or 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, Partnerships and Innovation 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 the preliminary reports will be shared and discussed shortly before the viva, e.g. at a pre-viva meeting.
Examiners are advised that their judgement 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 and with due regard to the University's criteria for the degree for which the thesis has been submitted.
Oral examinations that are held in person are normally held within the University. Fully or partially remote vivas are also permitted. All vivas must be recorded, irrespective of whether they are held in-person or remotely (please refer to the Viva policy and guidance for full details). The student’s supervisor should be available to the student prior to and following the oral examination, to offer advice and support to the student.
The supervisor does not normally attend the viva unless there has been prior agreement by all parties that they may do so. If the supervisor is permitted to attend, they 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.
Where an internal coordinator has been appointed, they will attend the oral examination to ensure that University procedures and regulations are followed.
The internal coordinator will play no other part in the examination process but may be called upon for advice or guidance on viva procedures, including the most appropriate recommendation the examiners should make in the light of their discussions.
The oral examination is a regulatory requirement for all students undertaking a higher degree by research. The purposes of the oral examination are as follows:
- To enable the examiners to assure themselves that the thesis and the research it reports are the candidate’s own work.
- To give the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate that they can defend the thesis verbally, clarify any issues that the examiners have identified and discuss the subject of the thesis in its wider disciplinary context.
- To enable the candidate to demonstrate a firm understanding of the field of research and thus give the examiners an opportunity to assess the candidate’s broader knowledge of the field or discipline within which the thesis falls.
- To ensure that the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the subject are of the standard expected for the award of the degree.
The oral examination is an integral part of the examination process and attendance is compulsory. Failure to attend a prearranged oral examination without prior notification to the supervisor and/or internal examiner and/or without good reason or justification for non-attendance, may result in the student failing the oral examination and ultimately failing their degree.
The examination will normally be chaired by the external examiner. 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 be recorded, regardless of whether they take place in person or remotely, and the recording should be retained for a period of six months following the student’s completion of the programme.
Recordings of oral examinations will not be made available to either the student, the examiners, or the department, but may be made available to a Faculty Officer in the event of a subsequent complaint or academic appeal. Recordings may also be accessed in the very rare event of the examiners being unable to reach a consensus on the outcome of the examination.
As outlined in the submission of theses section, students will be given the option to provide information to examiners on the impact that Covid-19 has had on their projects via a Covid Impact form. Examiners, in turn, will be reminded upon appointment of the University guidance that "judgement of the thesis should be based on what may reasonably be expected of a diligent and capable candidate after completion of the prescribed period of research and with due regard to the University’s criteria for the award of the degree".
On completion of the oral examination, the Examiners should advise the candidate of their recommendation to the faculty.
For disabled students, DDSS has guidance on what support they may need in the run up to their viva, as well as what information may or may not be shared with external stakeholders, such as external examiners.