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Viva examinations: guidance

This guidance explains the viva process, how to prepare, what will happen on the day and what the possible outcomes are.

This information is for postgraduate research students. It covers:

Before your viva

Entry forms

You must send your completed examination entry form to Student Records about 3 months before you are ready to submit. You may not submit your thesis until you have entered for the examination and your examination may be delayed if you have not done this.  

Find out more about examination entry

Examiners

Your supervisor is responsible for arranging the appointment of your examiners. This should be done at the same time as you complete your examination entry form, four months before you are due to submit your thesis. Examiners are appointed by UCL for their professional services as examiners with expert subject knowledge. A minimum of two examiners, one from outside UCL and (normally) one from UCL are appointed to co-examine all research degree candidates. The examiner nomination form can be found here.

Submit your thesis

When your thesis is ready you must submit two soft-bound theses to the Student Centre for dispatch to the examiners. 

Collaborative research projects

If you are contributing to a collaborative research project you must include this information in the introduction to the thesis. You must clearly identify the demarcation between the research you are submitting for examination as an original contribution to knowledge and the work of your collaborators. 

Viva arrangements

Your supervisor (or nominee) will liaise with you and your examiners to arrange and confirm a mutually convenient time and place to hold the viva examination. It should take place at UCL and will usually be held in your supervisor’s office. Your examiners should have your thesis at least six working weeks before the viva and this should not be arranged until you have submitted your thesis. Your viva should then take place within three months of the dispatch of the thesis to your examiners. 

Reasonable adjustments

If you or one of your examiners have a disability which UCL cannot accommodate, other reasonable arrangements can be made for the viva. You must make a request in writing when you complete the examination entry form to allow time for arrangements to be made. Examination by video conference or by webcam are not normally permissible, but if there are extenuating circumstances, supervisors may apply for the suspension of regulations through the Research Degrees office. All applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 


Preparing for your viva

The most obvious form of preparation is to re-read your thesis. Try to anticipate questions, comments and criticisms, and think how you would respond. Although you may not be able to anticipate actual questions to be asked by the examiners, this approach will encourage you to think actively about your work.  

You should also refresh your memory of the relevant literature. Do not attempt to re-read every paper in the bibliography of your thesis; instead, re-read carefully some of the more recent key references. If you have left university after submitting your thesis you may be unaware of very recent work. Ask your supervisor a couple of weeks before the viva whether any work of direct relevance to your thesis has been published since you submitted your thesis.

A good way to prepare for your viva is to practice. Your supervisor should give you a mock viva, or arrange for this to be undertaken by a member of your upgrade panel.  


During your viva

A viva is an academic interview at which your examiners will be looking for an understanding of the subject matter of your thesis, an appreciation of its significance to established knowledge in the field, and an awareness of the breadth of the subject area. 

Your supervisor will be invited to attend your viva examination, unless you request otherwise; you must indicate this on your examination entry form. Your supervisor does not have the right to participate in the viva examination but may contribute if invited to do so by the examiners.  

The examiners will expect you to:

  • show a critical analysis of your own work and of that of others
  • appreciate the limitations of the methods employed and the results obtained by yourself and others
  • understand how the broad conclusions of your thesis support, add to or conflict with previous work
  • know the major concepts and recent developments in your subject

There is no formal procedure laid down for the conduct of the viva examination. Some examiners prefer to work through the thesis in the order in which it is written. Other examiners prefer to discuss topics. Very few examiners will perform a page by page criticism. You may be asked to prepare a presentation of your work in a suitable format.  

You are not expected to know your thesis by heart, but to refer to the appropriate page when the examiners wish to discuss a specific point. Please ensure that you bring to the viva examination a copy of your thesis paginated in the same way as the copies you have submitted to the Research Degree Examinations Office.

You should not simply answer 'yes' or 'no' to questions nor give a prepared exposition. Try to answer the question as it is put, remembering that you are engaged in an academic conversation.

Be prepared to justify your ideas and conclusions. If the examiners challenge your interpretation but you feel that your case is a good one, muster your arguments and be willing to present your case firmly but courteously. However, if the examiners have identified a genuine weakness, concede the point gracefully. Even if you feel the examiners are unreasonably critical do not become argumentative or allow the discussion to become heated. You can agree to differ and to reconsider the point. If you make any comments to your examiners which put them under moral pressure, for example alluding to what will happen if they fail you, or if you offer any incentive to your examiners to pass you, they must terminate the examination and report to the Chair of the Research Degrees Committee via Research Degrees in Student and Registry Services.


Outcome of the examination

The following are the three most often received results and the subsequent procedures.

Pass

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor, instructing you to submit the following documents:

  • one final soft-bound copy of your thesis (to the Student Centre)
  • the electronic copy of your thesis 
  • thesis deposit agreement form (uploaded with the e-thesis)

The electronic copy of your thesis and thesis deposit agreement form should be deposited to the Library via UCL's Research Publications Service. Please make sure that you remove, or blank out, all personal identifiers such as signatures, addresses and telephone numbers from the e-thesis. Any photographs that you have taken should not show identifiable individuals without their permission and any you have taken of children should mask their faces. If you have any queries regarding this aspect of the process, please contact the Library directly.

Read the Electronic Theses: UCL Guidelines

Once you have submitted these, we will send an email containing the confirmation of award and your reports to your email address you have recorded on Portico. The degree certificate will follow between two to four months after the official award date.

In the case of an examination for the EngD and MPhilStud, the award of these degrees are also conditional upon students passing all taught elements of their programme of study. The modules should be entered on to Portico by the Department and confirmation these elements have been completed will be passed from the Examinations Department to Research Degrees.

Minor Corrections

This is by far the most common result received from the examiners. 

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor and Faculty Graduate Tutor. The deadline to submit your corrections officially starts from the date of this email, which will also indicate the name of the person designated to check your corrections. This deadline is for you to submit the corrections to the designated checker, and not to submit the final copy of your thesis.

The examiners will normally return their copies of the thesis to you at time of the viva, so it is likely you will already be aware of what amendments are required. The designated checker should inform you of the format he/she expects to receive the corrections, although normally this will be in electronic format.

Once the corrections have been submitted, the checker will inform UCL they are satisfied these have been successfully carried out. This is usually this done by sending an email directly to Research Degrees.

Once this has been received we will follow the procedure for a pass result.

18 Month Resubmission

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor, Departmental Graduate Tutor and Faculty Graduate Tutor. The 18 month deadline officially starts from the date of this email.

Unlike the outcome for minor corrections, where one person checks the amendments, the resubmission requires you to re-enter for the examination and submit two copies of your thesis for forwarding to the examiners. 

It is likely that your examiners will usually have returned their annotated copies of the thesis to you at the viva and therefore you may already be aware of the work required. 

Once you have completed the corrections, your supervisor should confirm by email that the examiners are still willing to act and provide their current contact details. This is to avoid the thesis from being sent out incorrectly. We will then send an email to your supervisor and examiners reconfirming their appointment and enclosing the relevant forms.

You will need to follow the following procedures:

  • submit a new exam entry form to Research Degrees at least two weeks prior to the expected submission of the thesis
  • submit two soft-bound copies of your thesis to the Student Centre which will then be despatched to the examiners 

If the examiners have requested a second viva, your supervisor will arrange this. In these circumstances, the procedure will follow that of a typical research degree examination.

If a further viva is not required, your examiners are only required to submit a joint report. They cannot award another 18 month resubmission, but can allow minor corrections.

Once the reports are received we will follow the procedure for either the pass or minor corrections result.

Other Results

If the result falls outside the above descriptions, we will email you detailing the procedure you will need to follow.