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Prepare for Your Doctoral Viva

RoadMonkey graduated with her Ph.D. in December 2016. She now uses the research skills she gained in her studies to look at other areas.

Prepare for your viva using the tips below.

Prepare for your viva using the tips below.

What’s a Viva?

A viva is an oral examination, rather like an interview, in front of a panel of experts, who ask questions about your dissertation or thesis. The term “Viva” is short for the Latin phrase, “Viva Voce”, meaning, “live voice”. Vivas are usually held for the examination of doctoral theses in the United Kingdom but may also be held for examination of a Master’s dissertation. A thesis (plural “theses”) is a written account of your research into your topic of interest. A doctoral thesis may be 80,000 words long. For comparison, a light novel might contain 30,000 words, so a thesis may be the equivalent of writing two or three books. Well, it certainly felt like it!

Why Is It Held?

A Viva is held to check your understanding of what you have written, to check you wrote it yourself, to ensure there is no plagiarism (copying someone else’s work) and to clarify any points that are not clear.

graphic illustrating plagiarism

graphic illustrating plagiarism


In my university, all submitted written work is passed through software that checks for plagiarism; that is, whether you have copied someone else’s work. It checks through all past publications, papers, theses and even exam papers and coursework. I heard recently that one person’s coursework had been found to have been copied from a student who had completed the course a couple of years earlier! My thesis has already been passed through that software and any areas found to be the same as previously published work have been highlighted. A copy of the report was given to me and will have been sent to the examiners for my viva. I am happy to report that the result was good!

published theses on a library shelf

published theses on a library shelf

Why Are You Writing About This?

I submitted a doctoral thesis over a year ago now and had a viva held about three months later. I worked on various bits of my thesis as preparation for my viva but as I had never been very successful at interviews during my working life (I am now retired), and as I knew I was unlikely to have a mock viva offered, I decided to find out what was available to help me prepare for my viva and to write this summary at the same time. I worked on the science side, so my preparation may have been different from yours if you are working on the “Arts” side. Much of what is available online appears to be written by social scientists, so it is important to consider whether the advice I am writing or that you find for yourself is relevant to your type of viva. Having said that, the advice I have been reading so far is that every viva is different. If you have time, asking your supervisor for advice would be very useful. Many of the questions I prepared were never asked, but knowing that I considered them gave me confidence going into this exam.

It's a big dream

It's a big dream


I find that going over and over a large publication is not very helpful for me, so having looked at a lot of the available material on vivas online, I decided that creating my own workbook of questions to answer was probably going to serve me best. I say this because I found this way of working very helpful in preparing for my intermediate presentation (called the “confirmation viva” in my university) which is held halfway through the study period and which you have to pass in order to continue working on your Ph.D. studies. While I was studying at that time, I read a book called “A Student Guide To Methodology” by Clough and Nutbrown. It was arranged with a number of questions to work through, which I did and while panicking about how to prepare for the confirmation viva, found that the material I had written as “answers” to the questions posed in that book formed a really useful basis for my presentation, which I passed.

One of my sons has a very good study strategy for exams, in that he goes through past papers and prepares his own exam based on previous exam questions in that subject. He has found that extremely useful both because lecturers tend to look at past questions when preparing future exam papers (!) and because trying to answer these questions shows you where your knowledge is lacking and you need to learn it better.

On the basis of both of these strategies, I believed that preparing my own workbook and doing my best to answer the questions in it was my best way of preparing for my viva.


After I submitted my thesis, I expected a viva within about six weeks. That didn't happen but at least I would have been ready if it had. I am one of those lazy people for whom time pressure is a great motivator, so getting myself to think that I had only eight actual working days was a good wake up call for me.

Create a workbook to prepare for your viva.

Create a workbook to prepare for your viva.


My workbook used the following headings, from all the sites I went through:

  • Examiners
  • Context
  • Introduction
  • Overall Thesis
  • Literature Review
  • Research Design and Methodology
  • Analysis
  • Review
  • Reflection
  • Nightmare Questions
  • Conclusion
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

Workbook Headings Expanded And Explained


Find out who the external and internal examiners will be, look up their body of work, and see which if any is relevant to my thesis. I know their names and have looked at the external examiner’s published papers. Some of these are relevant o parts of my thesis, so I will summarise those, to help get the information into my head.


Have I found any relevant papers published that I haven’t included in my thesis? Read and summarise these, in case the examiners ask about them


I already know that I am expected to make a 10-minute presentation on my thesis showing what it covered. I have been advised that it is CRUCIAL to make my conclusions crystal clear and hammer these home, and to ensure that my unique contribution to knowledge is also made very clear. (A Ph.D. thesis is expected to make a UNIQUE contribution to knowledge.)

Overall Thesis

There are many things to consider and I am not going to include them all here because many may not be relevant to your viva, however, there is a list of links further on down that you may find useful in preparing for your own viva.

  • Know my key findings and contribution and what justifies this work as a doctorate (as opposed to a lesser degree)
  • Mark key sections with tabs
  • Prepare a one-page summary of each chapter and a one-sentence summary of each chapter (!) and create a brief summary of the overall thesis.
  • Know what claims I am making
  • Know my justification for making these claims

For me, making a one-page and one-sentence summary for each chapter will be a very useful way of going through the thesis and looking at it in an overall fashion, as opposed to just reading and re-reading it. I have already created an abstract of the work and this was included in the thesis I submitted. Knowing how I justify the thesis as being of doctoral level will be important in defending my thesis at the oral exam. The oral exam is also known as a “defence”, so this is important.

Literature Review

Apparently, a favourite question here is “Who are the most important authors in your field and what influence did they have on your thesis?”, or “Which publications (or authors) have influenced you most?”

Research Design and Methodology

This will be important for me to work on, as I carried out an experiment and there could have been several different ways of doing this. I will need to remind myself of why I chose the particular method, consider any limitations and whether I would do anything differently if I were to run it again.


This is a very important section and I will need to summarise the findings as they relate to the research questions I posed in preparing the literature survey. I used human subjects, so may need to consider the ethical implications of this.


Again, a very important section. This looks at the overall thesis and so of course will be different for each person. The questions to develop here might consider the implications of my research, whether it could have been done better, whether it needs to be redone in a different way and what difference my findings may have made to my field.


I suppose the questions people are suggesting here really look at how I have changed over the course of doing the thesis and how my thinking has changed. I know that some very big changes have happened and I will need to think about those.


I have been advised to prepare a concluding statement, showing how my work has made a difference and emphasising the conclusions I came to, making sure to end on a positive note. This would also be the point at which to pick up any points that had been missed.

Top Four Tips

1. Know your panel, especially your external examiner. Check out their body of work.

2. Know Your Thesis

3. Identify possible questions and develop answers to these. Especially, identify the very worst questions you would not want to be asked and identify answers to them.

4. If you can get someone to hold a mock viva for you ahead of time, you may find that very useful.


RoadMonkey (author) on April 21, 2020:

Thank you for visiting and commenting. It took a lot of time but I really enjoyed it.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 21, 2020:

I know what you mean about the time commitment involved in these classes. I'm not sure how people did it. There were many full-time students with full-time jobs and a family to care for in my graduation group. I don't have any children at home anymore (just a husband) and I found it daunting. Sometimes the stress kept me awake at night. I'm glad you are working for HubPages. Keep it up.



RoadMonkey (author) on February 25, 2020:

Thank you for visiting. There were some students doing PhDs in art who made presentations during our third year of the course, where we all had to do what were called "Posters" to our advisers and fellow students. This meant creating a "Poster" (rather like an infographic) that showed what you had learnt during your studies. I never did a Masters degree. I would actually like to do a Masters on Research Methods but it's very expensive and also full time. At present, I do not have the time to do a full time course, so I will do my research on subjects for Hubpages in the meantime!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on February 24, 2020:

I had to give a live review for my thesis on illustration and it was nerve-wracking. I'm an artist, not a public speaker. However, only one of my professor/reviewers was negative. All the others thought my work was outstanding even though they pointed out things I may have done better. They thought it was original and unique (a key to art). Only my student advisor and the head of the department didn't care for my style. I still regret not being able to win her over. All that was enough for me. A masters is as far as I intend to go. I wouldn't want to face the rigors of a doctorate!



RoadMonkey (author) on December 16, 2019:

Thank you for visiting and commenting Umesh Chandra Bhatt

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 16, 2019:

Well explained. Thanks.

RoadMonkey (author) on May 07, 2019:

You're welcome. Thank you very much nd thank you for visiting and reading.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 05, 2019:

Wonderful information on doctoral viva and how to about preparing for it. Thanks for sharing.

RoadMonkey (author) on November 14, 2018:

If you really want to do it, then see if you can find a way to achieve your dream.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 12, 2018:

A well written, informative and helpful article! You took me back to my college days.

You make the saying, ‘Life is for learning,’ so true. I do believe in this saying and I am still learning. Though I have a Masters degree, I really wanted to do Doctorate.

Thanks for your guidance and the inspiration. Have a good day!

RoadMonkey (author) on March 07, 2018:

Thank you Nikki Khan. I hope to continue learning throughout my life.

Nikki Khan from London on February 22, 2018:

Really interesting information dear for Ph.D viva dear.It is indeed very lengthy phase to do doctorate.I did my degree in education too after doing masters in Literature.That was similar type of work too and I felt it very interesting and educational at that time.

I really admire your will to continue learning and doing this Doctorate as learning process never ends I believe.

Great read dear.

Many Blessings.

RoadMonkey (author) on February 01, 2018:

Hello Rochelle. Yes, I worked in various parts of the field for 13 years before I retired and decidedto do a Ph.D. It's not what my bachelor's degree is in but there are so many interesting subjects. Thanks for visiting.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on January 28, 2018:

Wow, I respect your academic prowess and persistence. Did you work in this field as a career? You are an inspiration.

RoadMonkey (author) on December 16, 2017:

Thank you Jackie. I hope you also have a very merry Christmas.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 16, 2017:

Merry Christmas!

RoadMonkey (author) on December 01, 2017:

It's the kind of experience you never forget!

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on November 27, 2017:

I defended my dissertation for my PhD in February of 1995. I will certainly never forget the successful experience. It did take much preparation, for sure, and thank you for the reminder. Hadn't thought about that, for awhile!! ;-)

RoadMonkey (author) on November 08, 2017:

Yes, I did a course with them too. They really are excellent.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on November 08, 2017:

I did an Open University course once a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I really should carry that on and apply to do another one.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 16, 2017:

I also took several classes online and I really loved those too. I was amazed how they managed this so you really learned and also in touch with your classmates and teacher online.

Been a few years so I bet it is even more interesting now.

RoadMonkey (author) on September 16, 2017:

Thank you for visiting and commenting. I enjoyed my studies and would go back again, if I had time! College seems to be more fun and less difficult when you really WANT to go.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 16, 2017:

I went back to college too which I am really proud of but no PHD. What I did was so much fun though and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. You are a real go-getter!

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on April 28, 2017:

I admire your drive for higher education and thank you for this interesting walk through preparing for your "Viva."

Congratulations on all your hard work.

RoadMonkey (author) on February 13, 2017:

Great, I look forward to seeing articles on your progress.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 13, 2017:

I will...starting now! Thank you.

RoadMonkey (author) on February 13, 2017:

Thank you very much, but not highly intelligent - just persistent - and I think it is persistence that is one of the biggest contributors to gaining a Ph.D. If you dream of having a Ph.D., then work to bring it to reality. Good luck.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 12, 2017:

You are an inspiration and highly intelligent! I have dreamed of one day receiving a PHD. Your hub is informative and interesting. You are amazing!

RoadMonkey (author) on January 02, 2017:

Psychology is interesting but I think it is very hard work being a counsellor, probably all that psychology studying helped you with your Hubs and writing them?

Nell Rose from England on January 02, 2017:

Yeah! well done! I did go to night school for five years studying psychology, I could have been a councilor but decided to go back in an office! duh! lol!

RoadMonkey (author) on January 02, 2017:

Hello Nell Rose, yes, I graduated just before Christmas 2016. It was a long journey. Your education never stopped, your Hubs are great.

Nell Rose from England on January 02, 2017:

Congratulations! I take it you have passed now? I left school at 16 so never went any further!

RoadMonkey (author) on November 06, 2016:

@ M abdullah javed. Thank you for your comment. For some reason I did not see it previously. Thank you for visiting and commenting

RoadMonkey (author) on November 06, 2016:

@happymommy2520 Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. Sorry i didn't see your comment earlier.

Amy from East Coast on August 09, 2016:

Great Hub. I don't think they go by that process in the United States. I only have my four year degree, they may. I wish you lots of luck with your education. You are a very good example for your grandchildren!

muhammad abdullah javed on February 14, 2016:

Grandma you made us proud. Your efforts are inspiration and motivation for us. You should get special accolade from all of us for this wonderful effort. The details are quite informative and guiding. We wish you all the best and pray for an early completion. It will be another feather in your cap and facilitates us to call you Dr Grandma. Thanks for sharing. Take care.

RoadMonkey (author) on February 11, 2016:

The university will probably put it online but a thesis is not generally a document that most people would pick up and read. :)

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 11, 2016:

Congratulations! I would like to read it when and if it is online.

RoadMonkey (author) on February 10, 2016:

Thank you very much. It's on road safety engineering. I passed the viva and now have to make some minor corrections before getting it printed and bound.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 10, 2016:

I really admire you for writing a doctoral thesis and now getting ready to defend it with a viva. May I ask what the subject of your thesis is? Good luck with the viva. I am sharing this with my HP followers.

RoadMonkey (author) on January 17, 2016:

Thank you very much.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 17, 2016:

Great read.

RoadMonkey (author) on January 11, 2016:

Thank you, FlourishAnyway. I hope you are right.

RoadMonkey (author) on January 11, 2016:

No, billybuc, not yet. I have only just published this hub and have to keep going through my workbook in preparation. Thank you for visiting and commenting. I would say it is mostly dogged determination.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 11, 2016:

Just remember your advisor and committees wants you to succeed. Been there and survived.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2016:

My goodness, congratulations....I assume you got your doctorate by now. I have three degrees but never took it to the next level.....anyway, great information here and best wishes to you in the future.

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