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The Oral Examination (viva) - Doctoral degrees, MSc, MLitt, MPhil by Thesis

What is a viva?

The viva (short for viva voce) is an oral examination which gives the opportunity for:

  • you to defend your thesis and clarify any matters raised by your examiners
  • the examiners to probe your knowledge in the field
  • the examiners to assure themselves that the work presented is your own and to clarify matters of any collaboration
  • the examiners to come to a definite conclusion about the outcome of the examination

Your examiners will determine if you meet the requirements for award of the research degree for which you are a candidate.


Talk to your supervisor and/or Academic Adviser for guidance on how to prepare for your viva.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has produced a series of videos to help PGR students prepare for their viva. Note that the procedures for examination at the University of Cambridge may be different to those referred to by other Higher Education Institutions featured in the videos.


You will have been told the identity of your examiners. This will normally be one examiner internal to the University of Cambridge and one external examiner, but you may have two external examiners. The Degree Committee may also appoint an Independent Chair to be present during your viva and/or additional examiner(s). Your examiners will be in touch to make arrangements for your vivaIf you have not been advised of the date for your viva within six weeks of submitting your thesis, you should contact your Degree Committee.

Location of the viva

The viva will normally take place in-person in Cambridge, but you may choose to be examined remotely by video conference. You should inform your Degree Committee of your preference when you notify them of your intention to submit/apply for appointment of examiners. Please also make your supervisor aware of your preference as it may affect the choice of available examiners.

Arrangements where you and one examiner are co-located in Cambridge, with the second examiner participating by video conference, where both examiners are co-located and you participate by video conference, or where you and the examiners are all in separate locations, are permissible provided all parties agree.

In-person oral examination: In-person examinations may be delayed depending on the availability of the examiners as travel time will need to be factored in. Students who are overseas and returning to Cambridge for their viva should contact the International Student Office for visa advice if their student visa has expired or will be expiring soon.

Video conference oral examination: A guide to conducting vivas by video conference can be found here.

The choice of in-person or video conference viva does not constitute procedural irregularity grounds for complaint should you fail the examination.

Adjustments to the oral examination on the grounds of disability

If you wish to notify examiners of a disability or request adjustments on account of a disability for your viva (either your first year assessment or final examination), you can do this via your Degree Committee by completing and submitting the voluntary disclosure form. It is recommended you do this at least four weeks before your expected date of examination to allow time for appropriate recommendations and adjustments to be made. 

Once you have submitted the form, your Degree Committee will contact the University’s Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre (ADRC) who will advise the Degree Committee on the appropriate course of action. You may be contacted by the ADRC if additional information is required or to provide you with an offer of additional support.

The information provided on the voluntary disclosure form will be kept confidential and will not be used for any other purpose.

If you already have a Student Support Document (SSD) that includes recommendations for adjustments to the viva , and you have given permission for the SSD to be shared with the Degree Committee, you do not have to complete the voluntary disclosure form but may do so if you wish.

Dress code

There is no specific dress code. You can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.

What can I take in to my viva?

You may take the following into your viva:

  • A copy of your thesis (the same as that you submitted)
  • plain paper or blank notebook and a pen/pencil for taking notes or sketching ideas
  • water
  • a presentation in the form specified by your Examiners – your Examiners will advise you in advance if a presentation is required
  • any other provision that is agreed in advance with the Degree Committee as a reasonable adjustment for disability.

What happens at the viva?

  • It is carried out between yourself and the two examiners and is conducted in English
  • It may include an Independent Chairperson if the Degree Committee requires this
  • There is no set duration, but a viva will normally last between 90 minutes and three hours
  • You may be required to do a presentation - please check with your Department whether this is the case. If you are required to give a presentation, you should be informed at least two weeks in advance of the viva
  • The viva cannot be recorded
  • Your supervisor cannot attend the viva

Your Department should advise on any department-specific conventions or procedures.

Possible outcomes of the viva

The possible outcomes are:

  • Conditional approval - pass without correction (but for doctoral degrees subject to submission of hardbound and electronic copies of the thesis); or pass, subject to minor or major corrections 
  • Revision and resubmission of the work for a fresh examination
  • [Doctoral examination only] Revision and resubmission of the work for a fresh examination or acceptance of the MSc/MLitt without further examination (but possibly subject to corrections)
  • [Doctoral examination only] Not to be allowed to revise the thesis, but offered the MSc/MLitt without further revision or examination (but possibly subject to corrections)
  • [Doctoral examination only] Revision and resubmission of the thesis for examination for the MSc/MLitt degree
  • Outright failure


Notification of the result of the viva

Your examiners are asked not to give any direct indication of the likely outcome of the examination as the official result of examination can be confirmed only by the Postgraduate Committee or by Student Registry acting on its behalf (or the Degree Committee for the MPhil by Thesis). The Degree Committee will forward their decision to the Student Registry who will notify you of the outcome and email your reports to you, copying in your Supervisor.

Process following the viva

Information about the process following your viva can be found here.