Viva examination

What is a viva?

An oral examination (viva voce) is compulsory for doctoral degrees. If you are registered for a masters degree by research, (e.g. an MPhil or MRes) an oral examination may be held at the discretion of the examiners. 

The oral examination provides you with an opportunity to defend your thesis and it assists the examiners in deciding whether or not you have met the requirements for the degree for which you are registered. Reading the thesis is one way of doing this, but the oral examination allows the examiners to:

  • examine the general field within which the thesis lies;
  • discuss the thesis in detail;
  • explore the ideas and the theories proposed in the thesis;
  • clarify any points of ambiguity; and
  • satisfy themselves that the thesis is your own work 

Preparing for your viva

The oral examination is an important part of the examination process and you should prepare carefully, enlisting some help from your supervisor. You will need to be prepared for general discussion and detailed explanation, as well as for the examiners to have a different starting point and/or laying emphasis on different aspects of the thesis from your own. You will be given the opportunity to defend your thesis in every respect. 

You can take notes into your viva but are advised that they can be a distraction as well as an aid. 

The University Graduate School offers a range of support and advice for doctoral researchers who are preparing for examination.

Find out more about preparing your viva

Arranging your viva

It is the responsibility of the internal examiner or the chairperson of the viva (if no internal examiner and two external examiners are appointed) to make all the arrangements for the oral examination.

You will normally be given at least two weeks notice of the date, time, venue and the names of those attending. You should make the internal examiner aware of any dates on which it would be particularly difficult for you to be available for the oral examination - any dates you indicate as problematic will be taken into consideration, but the day chosen will depend on the examiners’ other commitments. 

If you have a disability and have special requirements for your viva, you are advised to contact the Disability Team to discuss your needs.

Who's present for the viva

You must be present, together with the chairperson, internal and external examiners. No one else may attend without the approval of all these persons.

Supervisors are expected to be available at the time of the viva, but not to be present. Supervisors cannot be appointed as the chairperson. 

Location

Your viva will normally be held in the University of Birmingham. Exceptionally, and with the approval of the University’s Research Progress and Awards Sub Panel, it may be held by video or telephone conference. 

The chairperson

A member of academic staff with some knowledge of the subject area of your thesis in general terms, normally from your school, will be appointed to chair the viva. They should not have had any substantial direct involvement in your work or have been involved in the appointment of the examiners. Your supervisor cannot be appointed to chair the viva. The formal nomination of the examiners on behalf of the school should not prevent the head of school from chairing the viva.

The chairperson is appointed to ensure that the oral examination is conducted properly. They may make brief notes concerning the conduct of the oral examination and will be asked to respond to any appeal that you might make (page 14). They are not one of the examiners. 

Length of time

There are no rules concerning the length of time a viva will take. Examiners have discretion to make it as long or as short as they think necessary. Each combination of thesis, student and examiners is unique.

After your viva

You will be invited by the chairperson to withdraw so that the examiners can deliberate. You and your supervisor may be invited, through the chairperson, to hear the examiners’ provisional recommendation.

Find out more

If you have any questions about the viva examination that have not been answered on this page, please contact the RSA team by submitting an online enquiry.