The oral examination (viva)

Although the supervisor is not always present at the oral examination, there is still plenty to be done to support research degree candidates through this part of the process, before, during and after the viva itself.

Preparing for the oral examination

The internal examiner arranges the oral examination. The examiners are asked to accept a timescale of three months from when they received the thesis to complete the oral examination (or six months for an MD). Many students find the provision of a "mock viva" extremely beneficial in the preparation for the oral examination and, where requested by the student, the supervisor is asked to organise this.

The oral examination

The role of the oral examination is to ensure that the work reaches the University standards for the degree; that the work has been written by the candidate and that they understand the work they have submitted. 

The University does not have specific regulations regarding the length of the oral examination or what should be discussed except that the thesis should be discussed with the candidate.  The oral examination also gives the candidate the opportunity to answer questions in areas where the examiners are not satisfied.  Where the evidence in the thesis is not compelling, the examiners should use the oral examination to encourage the candidate to provide convincing evidence that the stated criteria can be met. Some examiners will also wish to satisfy themselves of the candidate’s general level of understanding in the subject area. 

Examiners are provided with good practice advice on the conduct of the oral examination which is available on the instructions to examiners page.

Attending the oral examination

Students must make all reasonable efforts to attend their viva in person within three months of the thesis being sent to the examiners. This includes taking leave if in employment and making travel/visa arrangements if coming from elsewhere. If exceptional circumstances arise which might prevent a student from attending the viva in this period, they must contact their Postgraduate Research Tutor at the earliest opportunity. Please see our Guide to the thesis examination process for more detailed information.

The role of the supervisor at the viva

Students may invite one of their supervisors to be in attendance at their viva as an observer. A supervisor may only attend with the prior permission of the candidate but may not participate in the viva and takes no part in the academic judgement and the decision making process.

S/he must leave the room after the viva (with the candidate) so the examiners can discuss their recommendation. In cases where a candidate has more than one supervisor, only one is permitted to attend. If not present as an observer, the supervisor is required to be available for consultation if necessary (ideally in the School but contactable by telephone is acceptable). Please see the instructions to examiners page for more detailed guidance.

The role of an independent chair (if appointed)

In some circumstances an independent chair may be appointed for an examination. The role of the independent chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted fairly and professionally, and in accordance with University regulations. The independent chair is not expected to be an expert in the subject area, although they should be from a cognate discipline. As such the independent chair is not expected to read the thesis or play a role in academic examination of the candidate or question the candidate on the work being examined at the oral examination. Further details are given in the Criteria for the appointment of examiners.

After the examination

The examiners informally notify the candidate of the result (usually immediately, but no later than 24 hours afterwards). They will be given one of the following results: pass (or pass subject to editorial and presentational corrections or minor deficiencies), referral or fail. Find out more about the outcome of the viva and the results a candidate might receive. 

Use of video conference for oral examinations

Usually, the viva will take place in Leeds with all appointed examiners present in the room with the candidate. However, in exceptional circumstances the examination group may consider the use of video conferencing or Skype. This is not a routine alternative to a face-to-face viva. Permission must be sought from the graduate board’s examinations group Consult the policy for video streaming for more information and an application form.

For more information please contact the Thesis Submission and Examination team