Oral examinations - good practice guidelines

Before the viva the internal examiner should ensure logistic arrangements are in place to make all parties comfortable and to minimise distractions to the examination. Examiners may find the following good-practice guidance helpful in conducting the viva.


BEFORE the viva

  • Before the oral examination the internal examiner is asked to establish whether a supervisor will be present and that this is in accordance with the wishes of the PGR. In cases where a PGR has more than one supervisor, only one supervisor is permitted to attend the oral examination.  

  • 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). 

  • Before the examination the internal examiner should ensure logistical arrangements are in place to make all parties comfortable and to minimise distractions.

  • Consider the suitability of the room for the purpose of an oral examination to ensure as few distractions as possible. This should include the environmental conditions (such as lighting and temperature) and noise (e.g. away from building work).
  • Consider the layout of the room (table, chairs, availability of whiteboard/pens, refreshments etc) and practicalities such as ensuring all mobile phones are switched off and placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door.

  • There should be a room where the PGR and supervisor (if attending) can wait during the examiners’ discussions.

  • Unless required for the purposes of a presentation/demonstration by the PGR, the use of electronic equipment/devices during the oral examination by PGRs or examiners (or the supervisor or independent chair if in attendance) is not permitted. Recording of the viva by any parties is not permitted.


DURING the viva

  • Aim to put the PGR at ease as far as possible.  
  • Explain the purpose of the oral examination and go through the format for the examination and how things will work. The examiners share responsibility for questioning the PGR during the oral examination. Invite the PGR into the room and introduce those present and clarify their roles.  

  • If either the supervisor or an independent chair is in attendance, clearly explain their roles 
  • Explain the possible recommendations the examiners can make. 
  • Explain to the PGR that after the oral examination they will be asked to withdraw from the room (along with the supervisor, if present as an observer) whilst the examiners confer on their decision before asking them to return. 
  • Ask the PGR if they have any questions and advise him/her to seek clarification should any part of the process or the questioning be unclear.  
  • The PGR should also be told that they may request a break(s) during the examination and that they may consult their copy of the thesis during the examination if it helps them.
  • Allow the PGR time to collect their thoughts and develop responses to the questions posed by the examiners. Allow the PGR to consult their copy of the thesis (which may be annotated with notes/post-it notes) during the oral examination if it helps them. 
  • Wherever possible, examiners should pose succinct and focussed questions and avoid asking multi-part questions which are more difficult for the PGR to remember. Instead, where possible, ask one question at a time and use follow-up questions as necessary. Examiners should actively listen to the PGR’s answers. If the PGR gives a poor answer, try to rephrase the question in a different way and give them another opportunity to produce a better response.
  • Although the oral examination will normally run continuously and be completed within a day, respect any request a PGR may make for a short break. The Examiners or the independent chair (if present) may also wish to suggest a break at appropriate points in the examination.     
  • In the event of a PGR becoming distressed, examiners are advised to offer the PGR a break in order to compose him/herself before continuing. If a PGR is unable to continue, examiners must contact PGR&O (Examinations section: 34003).  
  • At the close of the examination ask the PGR if they feel the examination has covered all points they were expecting and give them the opportunity to raise any points in relation to the thesis which they feel were not covered. 
  • On completing the oral examination, instruct the PGR (and supervisor if attending) to leave the room in order for the examiners to discuss the final recommendation on the basis of the thesis and the viva. Only the examiners (and independent chair if appointed) must be present for this part of the process.


AFTER the viva

  • Invite the PGR (and supervisor if attending) back into the room and inform them of the recommendation.  A single recommendation must be made. Inform the PGR & supervisor that the outcome is subject to confirmation by the Graduate Board. 
  • The process of notifying the PGR and supervisor of the outcome of the examination should normally take place after the viva. If you are unable to reach a decision at the viva you must do this within 24 hours of the examination and inform the PGR and supervisor.
  • In the event that a PGR becomes extremely distressed on receiving an adverse academic decision, the examiners are advised to contact the supervisor to provide support to the PGR. If for any reason the supervisor is not available (or appropriate), the Postgraduate Research Tutor should be contacted. Other support services are also available to PGRs at this time: http://ses.leeds.ac.uk/info/21800/student_support.   
  • Outline the next stages in the process to the PGR, depending on the outcome of the oral examination, including communication of any corrections to the thesis.  
  • In some circumstances PGRs may appeal against an adverse academic decision.  Details of the procedure governing the consideration of postgraduate researcher appeals can be found at: https://secretariat.leeds.ac.uk/student-cases/. PGRs seeking advice and support in the preparation of an appeal may contact the Student Advice Centre of the Leeds University Union where experienced staff are available to provide guidance: advice@luu.leeds.ac.uk.