Preparing for your Viva

Introduction

Once you have submitted your work to the examiners you will have a period of about three or four months before your viva examination takes place. This might seem like a daunting time of endless waiting, but there is actually quite a lot you can do to prepare for your exam. Here are our top tips for helping you to prepare.

 

Frame of mind

Firstly, don't panic. For the past three years or more you have been discussing, presenting and defending your research via discussion groups, staff/graduate seminars, conferences and so on. You know your work. The purpose of the viva is to show the examiners what you know; it isn't about trying to catch you out. Practice staying calm - if it all starts to go wrong on the day, getting angry with yourself or anyone else isn't going to help. Find ways to refocus so that you can regroup if it comes to it.

 

Re-read your work

Sometimes it can be hard to relook at something we have already submitted for fear of spotting a mistake. But re-reading your thesis is important. If you do spot any errors, make a note of them so that you are prepared to discuss these with the examiners. If you think there is a weakness in your work, then write down the ways you would address this and how you want to take your work forward. Now that you are finished, try to think of your work as a springboard for your future research projects and be prepared to discuss these with the examination team. And remember to be proud of what you have written and the work you have done to get this far. Look for the originality in your work and how you have contributed to knowledge in your field.

 

Developments in your field

Use the time between submission and the exam to keep up-to-date with developments in your field of research and ensure that you read any recent publications. If you can, attend any relevant conferences or seminars. The examiners are going to use the viva to explore how your work fits in with current academic thinking and that includes anything that has recently been published.

 

The examiners

Who and what an examiner is interested in will often determine the types of questions they might ask. It makes sense therefore to know a bit about them before you meet them in the viva. Research your examiners, read some of their work and think about where their expertise lies. Your supervisor can help you focus on any area of your work that might be of particular interest to the examiners. Also, see if you can find out about an examiner's approach - not all examiners will question you in the same way, so knowing their style might help you to keep your focus.

 

Practice answering questions

Think about the sort of questions the examination team might ask and try to develop a way of answering them. At its most basic level, the viva is there to consider what your research is about, what you did, what your findings were and what impact it has made. The exact questions that will be asked can never be guaranteed, but there are some obvious things that the examiners will want to know.

General

  • How and why you chose this research question
  • How your ideas have developed
  • What areas of your research you may have enjoyed the most
  • Whether you changed as a researcher during the process

Research context

  • Who may have influenced you and how
  • What areas may have influenced you less and why
  • What developments have occured in your field since you began your thesis and how this may have changed the course of your work
  • Any areas of your research field that you have chosen not to focus on

Your methodology

  • What research method you used and how you developed it
  • The scope and limits of your data collection
  • Whether there were any problems with the data collection process
  • The ethical issues you faced and how these were dealt with

Analysis

  • What method of analysis you used and the problems you may have encountered
  • Whether the data you collected answered your research question

Your outcomes and findings

  • What your findings were
  • How you interpret your findings
  • What you think makes your research original
  • Whether you have had any issues with your findings
  • Ways in which you would like to develop on your research
  • How others might use or develop your research

 

The length of your answers

You will need to be able to answer questions both in summary and in depth. Keep testing yourself by practicing how to summarise your main arguments, your research outcomes, explaining why you chose the approach that you did and what your methodology was. Then work on longer answers.

 

Seek help

Keep in contact with your supervisory team and don't be afraid to ask them questions. There are also lots of resources and guidance to support you in preparing for your viva on the Researcher Environment Bright Space page

 

Mock vivas

You can also consider arranging a ‘mock’ viva so that you can practice all of the above – talk to your supervisor about this.