What is a Viva?

What is a Viva?

A viva is an oral examination conducted by an academic institution to examine a submitted PhD thesis. This examination is usually conducted by a committee of at least two examiners and, in some cases, the candidate’s supervisor. 

At the end of a doctoral program, most students are given a viva, an oral dissertation defence.

What Happens at a Viva?

The viva is a chance for the candidate to talk about their work and what they found during the research. On average, the viva would be between three to six hours long; yes, it can be that long …, especially if the committee decides to give a lot of feedback for revision.

The viva typically would begin with an introduction by the committee’s chairperson. The candidate would then be asked to give a brief overview of the research project, followed by questions from the committee members. 

They’ll ask questions about:

– The purpose of the research

– What was accomplished in the study?

– The significance of this work

– The limitations and strengths

– The candidate’s perspective on how this research changes our understanding of X or Y topic.

The questioning will continue until all members are satisfied that they have received sufficient information about why the candidate had chosen to undertake this project and what it means for others. The committee members will generally ask questions based on the submitted thesis.

This process can be daunting and nerve-wracking to all students, but there is no need to worry because the viva is just an opportunity for the candidate to share their research with the committee. The candidate is expected to answer all questions fluently and with detailed knowledge, presenting a good defence of their work.

The candidate should prepare for the viva before the day, stay calm and speak clearly on the day. Doing this would help you avoid any pitfalls that could potentially arise during the defence.

What Happens After the Viva is Done?

After the viva, the candidate will receive feedback from the committee. They will discuss some of the points the candidate made during the viva and give their thoughts on improving.

Depending on the institution, the candidate could be informed about the viva outcome (this is not always the case). A letter informing the candidate about the outcome of the viva would also be sent through an email or formal letter.

If the candidate passed the viva, the normal process towards graduation would begin. If the candidate did not pass, they might be given a chance to defend the thesis once again. The possible outcomes of a viva are presented below.

What are the Possible Outcomes of a Viva?

The viva has eight possible outcomes, which are explained below.

  • Pass without corrections – A candidate with this outcome has passed the viva. The outcome means that there is nothing left for the candidate to do now. This outcome is, however, quite rare. If this happens to be you, congratulations.
  • Pass with Minor Correction s- This outcome means that the candidate has passed the viva, but they are required to make minor changes before the degree can be awarded. As the name suggests, these corrections are minor and would typically include correcting grammar errors, making some points clear and others. You would be advised how much time you have to make the corrections, but it is typically within one to six months.
  • Pass with Major correction – This outcome is similar to passing with minor corrections, but the candidate needs to do major corrections (more significant changes) before the degree is awarded. The corrections suggested could include updating the literature review to reflect relevant literature omitted in the initial thesis, reorganising a chapter, expanding on a chapter and many more. The time required to complete this would be dependent on the university, but it can be about six months to one 1year.
  • Resubmission with re-viva – With this outcome, the candidate must make very significant amendments and submit the thesis for re-viva. This outcome is not a possible outcome in some universities, so please check with your university guideline. This outcome means that the examination committee has not been satisfied with the quality of the work and the candidate’s ability to defend the thesis. Students are often given one year or slightly longer to make a resubmission. 
  • Resubmission without re-viva – This outcome means that the candidate has not passed and that the examination committee has recommended that the candidate makes very significant changes before resubmitting. However, as the name suggests, the candidate is not expected to do a viva again. This outcome is expected when the candidate has defended the thesis very well. However, the examination committee feels that the work has potential but still needs significant changes before it can be considered for a PhD.
  •  Award of MPhil – With this outcome, the work submitted is thought to not be of PhD standard but one that can be awarded an MPhil. 
  • Award of MPhil with amendments – Similar to awarding as MPhil, except that with this outcome, the candidate is expected to make some amendments to the thesis to qualify for an MPhil.
  • Immediate fail – This is often an infrequent outcome, but it is seen once in a while. The candidate has failed the viva; there could be many reasons for this, but it is often a combination of things. The thesis could be of poor quality that it cannot be for PhD or MPhil, the examination committee could not ascertain that the candidate has adequate knowledge of the work submitted, or other more serious reasons.


A viva for a PhD candidate is a pretty severe examination that pinnacles the candidates years of conducting research and passing this oral exam, usually to the award of a doctorate.

As a PhD candidate, you must prepare for the viva, and our article on how to prepare for a PhD viva provides eight strategies for success.


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