The oral examination (viva voce)

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 coordinator where one is appointed.

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. 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 can have a potentially adverse impact on students, especially 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 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/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 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 for the degree for which the thesis has been submitted.

Oral examinations are normally held within the University. 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 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.

Conduct of the oral examination

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:

  1. To enable the examiners to assure themselves that the thesis and the research it reports are the candidate’s
    own work.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. To ensure that the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the subject are of the standard expected for the award of the 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 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 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.