Preparing for the Viva: Ten top tips for Viva preparation

Preparing for the Viva: Ten top tips for Viva preparation

I can help you with your viva preparation by preparing potential questions, providing prepared answers on the originality and contribution of your research and holding mock vivas by Skype. Low fees – 100% success rate.

Once your thesis has been submitted your next challenge will be the viva preparation and the viva itself. Make sure you have enough time for viva preparation. The time period between submission and viva can vary greatly. My quick research through a search engine suggested that 6 weeks is the shortest lead up, 12 weeks standard and 6 months the longest (if for example an examiner drops out).

These are the main tips on viva preparation based on the experiences of my clients.

  1. Check your institution’s policies

Institutional policies and practices differ in many respects. Check who will attend your viva (eg. will your supervisor attend, will there be an independent chair?) and what their roles are going to be on the day. You do not want to be thrown by anything unexpected on the day.

  1. Be aware of the most recent studies on your topic

Examiners take their work very seriously and are most likely to have spent a great deal of time thinking about and reading through your thesis. But… you wrote the document and on this specific topic you are still going to be the “expert in the room”. One way to show this is to be aware of any relevant research studies that have been published since you submitted your own work. At least read the abstracts if there are.

  1. Know your examiners

At the viva, the panel will include both internal and external examiners, and it is the external examiner who will tend to take the lead. It is human nature for these examiners to stick quite closely to their own area of expertise. So .. you need to know what this is. Take a look at their published work especially the most recent.

  1. Get ready to defend originality and contribution

If there are two things you really have to be ready to defend at your viva then let that be its originality and its contribution to knowledge. Originality can come in many forms: exploring the previously unexplored, devising novel methods, treating data in a way it has not been treated before, applying a theory to a new area are just a few examples. Make sure you prepare a well-rehearsed statement as to why your research is original.

Second of the most important things that the examiners will be looking for is the “contribution to knowledge”. It is the contribution which makes your work doctoral level (as opposed to MPhil.). Be sure that you understand exactly what your contribution is, and that you are able to express and explain it clearly and concisely. Do this my writing out a paragraph and also include a statement as to why your work achieves this contribution in a different way to other work in that field, particularly the most recent work.

  1. Prepare a list of possible questions – from easy to the ones you dread the most

Collect your own list of possible questions. These questions will be in two categories. 1) General questions that could be asked of any candidate and 2) Specific questions about the contents of your own thesis.

To save time you can download a copy of the general research questions that I have prepared here. For the specific questions It is often a good idea to ask someone else to help you with this – someone who will read your thesis at take a critical approach to spotting potential weaknesses.

  1. Rehearse for the classic icebreaker

Traditionally, vivas kick off with a gentle opener to ease both you and the examiners into the proceedings. This question is likely to be formulated something like “Can you give as a brief overview of your thesis?” It is really important to prepare to give this overview for a minimum of 5 minutes.

  1. Mock vivas, conference papers and post-submission discussions

Once you have submitted your thesis there will be a variety of opportunities to practice for your viva. Always ask your supervisor for a mock viva, they should oblige. There are other people available for mock vivas should you not receive sufficient time from your supervisor. Another opportunity comes from the presentation of conference papers. As part of your overall research work the dissemination of parts of your research through conferences, and seminars is a great way to prepare. Finally, any discussions about your thesis you may have with academics, or indeed anyone, will help you rehearse your key points.

  1. Bring an exact copy

Make sure you bring a copy of your thesis report that is identical to the ones in the possession of the examiners. Nothing will annoy them more as if they are continually waiting for you to find something they refer to and you cannot because the page numbers don’t add up.

  1. Get rested and relaxed the day before

The day before the viva should not be one of stressed final read throughs and rehearsing. It should be all about getting your mind and body ready for the day to come. Avoid over-indulgence of any kind and get an early night – a vindaloo and 5 pints of beer are not recommended. A good soak in the bath before bedtime always helps me relax but you may have your own ways.

  1. Prepare to enjoy

Nobody died at a viva (As far as I know!). The examiners are not your enemy. They want to pass you. You have worked hard and done your preparation. So enjoy it … smile, relax. Looking stressed will just unnerve the examiners.

For help with your viva preparation just contact me and I will explain how I can help you towards a successful viva.