How to Prepare for Your PhD Viva

Oral examinations tend to be feared more than the written ones and the PhD viva is perhaps no exception. There is, however, no reason to be scared of the viva.  Some anxiety is only natural, and shows that you care, but it is important not to let your nerves get the better of you. The best way to do this is to understand the purpose of the viva and to be well prepared. I briefly explained the viva in the earlier article: The PhD viva voce. To summarise, though, the point of the viva is to give you the opportunity to defend your thesis. It is not a stand alone examination and you cannot be passed or failed solely on your viva performance.

If your written thesis is good enough then the examiner may have already decided to pass your thesis even before you set foot in the viva. Submitting a well-written, coherently argued thesis, and having confidence in your argument goes a long way in preparing for the viva that follows. Beyond that, there are a number of things you can do to help you prepare:

  1. Have a break between submitting  your PhD and preparing for the viva. This will reinvigorate you and help you be more enthusiastic about your argument.
  2. Make sure you are completely familiar with your argument and understand how it adds to the existing body of knowledge.
  3. Approach your argument as if it is someone else’s work and you are the examiner: explore its strengths and weaknesses; consider any counter arguments not covered in the thesis; understand the limits of the PhD and the further research that needs to be done.
  4. Arrange a mock viva with your supervisor – rehearsing your arguments will help.
  5. Try explaining your thesis to an educated lay person.
  6. Do not try to revise or cram as if the PhD is a written exam. The viva is not about factual recall, but about understanding and being able to coherently explain your work. If you need to, you will be able to refer to your thesis during the viva.
  7. Do something enjoyable the evening before, but have an early night and make sure you are as fresh as possible for the viva.


If you find that you need additional help to prepare for your viva, the PhD Consultancy offers all level of support for viva preparation.