Preparing for my Viva-Voce Examination

10 Apr

Three weeks today, my Viva-Voce examination will take place. It will have been three months after I submitted my thesis. Back then, it seemed ages away but as I need two external examiners and an internal examiner it was a little more challenging getting everyone together.


However, speaking in the now, I’m glad I’ve had that time. Immediately after submitting I went overseas to work then when I returned, I went to the French Alps for a snowboarding trip with family and friends and to visit my teenage daughter Alana, who is doing a season out there. It was so good to have a complete break and not have to think about anything PhD (well as much as I possibly could).

Having that clean break meant I was beginning Viva prep a little fresher, and I believe a little more critical. The downside was that no matter how much proof reading I did prior to submission, my typos and grammatical errors stood out – not just like a regular sore thumb, but a great big, fat, ugly one. It was painful and it took me a little time to get over the frustration and embarrassment of this. Thank you to everyone who offered moral support on that front, it was reassuring to hear this is common and easily fixed.

So the purpose of this blog is to share my viva prep strategies.

First, I read my thesis page by page (first time since submission). The typos and grammatical errors were noted and have already been corrected. I then wrote a half page summary of each chapter, followed by a short description of its strengths.  As I did that, I knew I also had to be as critical as I could and force myself to look for the limitations, or aspects where I could have done things differently or better. That was easier to do for some chapters more than others. For example, I could have done some things differently with regards to methodology or elements of my methods, although in some parts I’m not convinced it would have enhanced my study/findings any. That’s ok though, as long as I’m able to articulate that.

Through speaking with my supervisors, colleagues, fellow PhD students, individuals from Twitter and basically anyone who was willing to talk to me, I formulated a very lengthy list of potential questions for each chapter. Then I dashed off to the shops to purchase what I hope to be my final PhD-related pukka pad. I’ve accumulated 14 pukka pads over the course of my PhD, each of which has it’s own special purpose and I’m very fond of them. This however, was an extra special pukka pad in that it had a number of different coloured sections which aligned with the number of chapters I have and it also a lovely little plastic insert at the beginning of each section. So… I typed up each set of questions for each chapter and inserted it into the relevant plastic section in my pukka pad. Very sad I know, but shush, it felt nice…

So basically what I am in the process of doing now is going through each question, speaking my potential response out loud, then writing it in the relevant section of my pukka pad. At the moment I’m at my methods chapter and once I’ve gone through the remaining chapters, I shall move on to address some wider issues such as:2

  •  My contribution to knowledge
  • What my thesis is about (elevator pitch)
  • How the research came about
  • What I have learned from undertaking this study
  • What the strengths and weakness/limitations of the study are and what I would do differently
  • Wider application of my findings – empirically and theoretically
  • What now?

There are of course loads more potential questions/discussions to be had which I will also prepare for as much as I possibly can, but I absolutely understand that unexpected or unanticipated questions will arise. I hope that the preparation I am currently doing will help me address them.

Through discussions with my supervisors, we decided not to have a mock Viva per se. Rather we had a Viva- prep afternoon where we talked about how I would prepare, potential questions/discussion that may arise, how to best address questions and how to stay calm and confident. This was really helpful and I came away feeling very positive.

I have a pre-Viva presentation to give in my University in a weeks’ time. It was arranged as close to my viva as possible but not too close so I would still have time to reflect on questions and responses before my Viva. I plan to encourage the audience to be as challenging as they possibly can with questions (which I may live to regret).

Finally, I have been loaned an interactive interviewer Viva CD from a colleague where you are asked questions (by real people), then you record your responses via a webcam and take it from there. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s worth a try.


Finally, and some would argue, an extremely important aspect – I am getting my hair and nails done and will go Viva dress shopping. If this isn’t an event that warrants it, I don’t know what is!

So that’s about it I think. I’ll not lie, I’m very nervous. Some days I feel positive and confident, other days less so. Some nights I sleep well, other nights less so. This, I suspect is par for the course, but I am determined to do as well as I possibly can and I really hope I can enjoy the experience too. I welcome any comments, feedback and experiences 🙂

Here are some other Viva-related blogs I’ve found very helpful:

How I survived my PhD Viva

The Viva experience

How to not just survive, but to enjoy your PhD Viva

No custard pies!



6 Responses to “Preparing for my Viva-Voce Examination”

  1. SheriO April 10, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    All the best for your viva. I thought you’d already done the viva. I hope you enjoy your experience and answer all the questions with amazing clarity. Rehearsal will help…prepare and then forget your preparation and be in the moment.

    Here is blog post by Patrick Dunleavy that flushes out the questions the examinee can expect in a viva.
    View story at

    Here is a response by Canadian polymath Stephen Downes on how he would answer the questions

    • Emma Burnett April 11, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      Thank you very much for this. I really like your advice about forgetting preparation and just be in the moment on the day and I will definitely try to do this. Thank you also for the links, I will check them out now 🙂

  2. Linda Baines April 11, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    Emma, This is really helpful and reassuring. I hope you find an outfit that you really enjoy when you go viva dress shopping. You’ve inspired me to buy “How to survive your viva” by Rowena Murray. Good luck for the viva.

    • Emma Burnett April 12, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Thank you Linda. I think shopping will happen next week after I’ve been to the hairdressers 😉
      It’s a wonderful book. I have read it from cover to cover 🙂


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