What's a Viva (Viva Voce) and How to Ace It?

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The journey to earning a doctoral degree is a rigorous and challenging one, marked by years of research, study, and academic endeavor. However, one final hurdle stands between a Ph.D. candidate and the coveted degree: the viva voce, commonly known as the viva. This oral examination is a critical component of the Ph.D. assessment process in many countries, including the United Kingdom.

What's a Viva (Viva Voce) and How to Ace It?

Understanding the Viva

What is a Viva?

A viva, short for "viva voce," is a Latin phrase that translates to "with living voice." In the academic context, it refers to an oral examination that assesses a Ph.D. candidate's knowledge, understanding, and critical engagement with their research. During the viva, the candidate defends their doctoral thesis or dissertation before a panel of examiners, typically including an internal examiner (from the candidate's institution) and an external examiner (from another institution).

Why is the Viva Important?

The viva serves several crucial purposes:

Evaluation of Research: It provides an opportunity for independent experts to evaluate the quality, originality, and significance of the candidate's research.

Demonstration of Expertise: The viva assesses the candidate's knowledge in their field of study and their ability to articulate and defend their research findings.

Verification of Authorship: It ensures that the candidate has conducted the research and written the dissertation themselves, promoting academic integrity.

Opportunity for Improvement: In some cases, the viva may result in revisions or amendments to the dissertation, helping candidates refine their work.

Awarding of the Ph.D. Degree: Successfully passing the viva is a prerequisite for earning a Ph.D. degree.

Preparing for the Viva

Now that we understand the significance of the viva, let's explore how to prepare effectively for this critical examination.

Know Your Thesis Inside Out

Thoroughly review your dissertation, ensuring that you understand every aspect of your research, from methodology to findings and implications.

Be prepared to discuss the most significant contributions your research has made to your field.

Anticipate Questions

Consider the types of questions that may arise during the viva. These can include inquiries about your research methodology, choice of literature, potential limitations, and the broader impact of your work.

Practice answering these questions with colleagues, mentors, or advisors to refine your responses.

Review Relevant Literature

What's a Viva (Viva Voce) and How to Ace It?

Revisit the literature that informed your research. Be ready to discuss the key theories, concepts, and studies that underpin your work.

Be prepared to defend your choice of literature and explain how it supports your research.

Mock Viva

Arrange a mock viva with your academic advisors or peers to simulate the actual examination. This can help you become more comfortable with the format and receive constructive feedback.

Consider inviting individuals who are not intimately familiar with your research to replicate the perspective of external examiners.

Presentation Skills

Prepare a concise and clear presentation of your research. This presentation will likely be the first part of your viva, and it should effectively summarize your work.

Practice your presentation to ensure you can convey your research in a compelling and organized manner.

During the Viva

Stay Calm and Composed

Nervousness is natural, but try to remain calm during the viva. Take deep breaths and remember that you are the foremost expert on your research.

If you don't understand a question, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. It's better to seek clarity than to provide an incorrect answer.

Engage in Constructive Dialogue

View the viva as a scholarly discussion rather than a confrontation. Engage with the examiners in a constructive dialogue about your research.

Be open to feedback and be willing to defend your research decisions.

Listen Actively

Pay close attention to the questions and comments from the examiners. This will help you respond more effectively and demonstrate your attentiveness.

Take notes if necessary, but don't let note-taking distract you from the discussion.

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Be Honest and Reflective

If you encounter a question you don't know the answer to, be honest about it. You can express your willingness to explore the topic further or provide a thoughtful response based on your current knowledge.

Examiners appreciate candidates who are reflective and open to learning.

Take Your Time

Don't rush your responses. Take your time to think through your answers and provide well-considered explanations.

If you need a moment to gather your thoughts, it's perfectly acceptable to pause briefly before responding.

After the Viva

Feedback and Revisions

Following the viva, you may receive feedback and recommendations for revisions to your dissertation writing.

Take this feedback seriously and use it as an opportunity to improve your work.

Celebrate Your Achievement

Successfully passing the viva is a significant accomplishment. Take time to celebrate your achievement and acknowledge the years of hard work that led to this moment.

Final Submission

Once any required revisions are complete, submit the final version of your dissertation to your institution.


The viva is the culmination of years of hard work and research, and it is the final step towards earning a Ph.D. degree. While it can be a daunting experience, thorough preparation, a calm demeanor, and a willingness to engage in scholarly dialogue can help you ace this crucial examination. Remember that the viva is an opportunity to showcase your expertise, defend your research, and receive valuable feedback from experts in your field. With the right mindset and adequate preparation, you can navigate the viva with confidence and emerge as a Ph.D. graduate, ready to make meaningful contributions to your discipline.