Preparing for the Viva Exam
The Viva exam is an integral part of completing your DPhil. See the links at the bottom of this section for information and guidance on the formal University processes and what you need to do. This section also includes advice and hints and tips on how to prepare.
Don’t expect to do your Viva without preparing for it - take the preparation as seriously as writing your thesis. Take and plan the time to do the preparation – have a look at the Time Management section for help with this. You won’t be able to do everything that is suggested in this section, so think about the areas where you feel less confident, and prioritise those.
This content draws on the presentation made by Professor David Gavaghan, Director of the MPLS Graduate School, on the Completing your DPhil course, and on material from Dr Melanie Ghoul, who delivers the Viva Preparation and Practice course for the Division.
The aim of the Viva is
- To check that the research in your thesis is of the required standard for a DPhil*
- To check that the work in your thesis is your own
- To check that you have a general knowledge of the research area covered by your thesis commensurate with holding a DPhil in that area
*The standard is 'that the student present a significant and substantial piece of research, of a kind which might reasonably be expected of a capable and diligent student after three or at most four years of full-time study in the case of a full time student, or eight years in the case of a part-time student.'
How to prepare
There is a lot you can do to prepare for your Viva and make it an effective and also – dare we say it – enjoyable experience! Yes, people do find it enjoyable to talk about their work and discuss it with their examiners – who are also after all, knowledgeable in your field. Remember that however many experts there are in your field, you are the only person who has done your specific piece of research, so you are the expert in your DPhil, and your examiners will be interested to hear about it.
Dr Melanie Ghoul delivers the Viva Preparation and Practice Course for the Division. Her slides for the Viva Preparation course provide comprehensive information and advice on the kind of things you can do to prepare in different areas. Working through them will help you get ready for the exam. These are some suggestions to help you replicate the face to face activities referred to in the slides:
You are encouraged to think about and note your concerns, and discuss them with friends / colleagues / supervisor / others in your field. If that’s not possible, think about and note what you can do to address each concern.
- What strategies can you formulate?
- Who can you ask to help you?
- Where can you find information?
The examiner’s perspective
Talk to your supervisor and other academics in your field who have acted as examiners. What is their perspective?
- What are they looking for the candidate to demonstrate during the viva?
- What is their advice?
- What is the purpose of the viva, in their opinion?
- What makes a strong viva performance?
- What makes a weak performance?
- Advice on how to prepare beforehand
- Advice on how to cope during the viva.
The University’s Memorandum for Examiners will also give you a perspective on what they are looking for.
The Student's Perspective
Find someone – in your field or another – who has recently completed their Viva. Ask them how it was.
- What did they do to prepare?
- What do they wish they had done differently?
- What kind of questions did the examiners ask?
- What advice do they have for appointing examiners?
- What other advice do they have for you?
The face to face Viva preparation course offers an opportunity for a ‘live’ short practice session with other students. You could organise the same kind of session with fellow students or colleagues. There are some ideas for questions in this Vitae resource.
Other resources and ideas
Vitae pages on The Viva. These contain useful information, including book recommendations and a Viva preparation checklist.
The Division's pages on Examination and Graduation, which include a section on the Viva.
The University page on Research Examinations.