Viva guide advises the orally challenged

November 21, 2003

Postgraduates! Want to fail your viva? Then be defensive, get angry, throw questions back to examiners, show reluctance to engage in debate about your work or fail to pick up on examiners' cues to extend your answers.

This danger list appears in a new book, How to Survive Your Viva , by Rowena Murray, reader at Strathclyde University's Centre for Academic Practice.

The viva is often a wrongly neglected area, she says - it is possible to fail a PhD on the viva because its purpose is to test whether the student did the work. But it may be many students' first oral exam, requiring completely different skills from written research.

"If you're pretty poor at oral examinations, you could sound as though you've forgotten a lot, or you could get confused and make errors," she says.

"The act of writing a thesis is creating closure. Then in the viva, the thing you've hermetically sealed is exploded into bits and can come down in any arrangement at all."

The book, aimed not only at postgraduates but also at supervisors and fledgling examiners, sets out a preparation timetable, gives advice on how to cope with long, aggressive or obvious questions, how to correct mistakes and how to appeal if things go wrong.

Dr Murray strongly recommends mock vivas to give students a dry run, a strategy endorsed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. She also advises mini-vivas in the initial years of the PhD to help students realise that they must have a thorough grasp of everything they have written.

How to Survive Your Viva and How to Write a Thesis , by Rowena Murray (£16.99 each, Open University Press), are available at the special price of £14.99 each (plus p&p) from , using promotional code THES.

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