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The Oral Examination (viva) - Doctoral degrees, MSc and MLitt

I have submitted my thesis - how long will I have to wait for my oral examination date?

If you have not been given a date for your viva within six weeks of submitting your thesis, you are advised to contact your Degree Committee.

Location of the oral examination

The oral examination 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: Appropriate Government or University guidance related to social distancing and COVID-19 in force at the time of the examination must be adhered to. In-person examination may be delayed if restrictions prevent face-to-face meetings. 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 any disability or request adjustments on account of such disability for your viva examination (either for your first year assessment or final examination), you can do this via your Degree Committee by completing and submitting the voluntary disclosure form.

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.

What happens at the oral examination?

  • The oral examination will normally take place in Cambridge, although some may take place via video-conference (please see above)
  • 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 Department should advise on any department-specific conventions or procedures.

Purpose of the oral examination

The oral examination 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

Possible outcomes of the oral examination

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
  • Revision and resubmission of the work for a fresh examination or acceptance of the MSc/MLitt without further examination (but possibly subject to corrections)
  • Not to be allowed to revise the thesis, but offered the MSc/MLitt without further revision or examination (but possibly subject to corrections)
  • Outright failure


Notification of the result of the oral examination

Your examiners are asked not to give any direct indication of the likely outcome of the examination as the official result can be confirmed only by Student Registry on behalf of the Postgraduate Committee. Following your Degree Committee's meeting they will forward their decision to the Student Registry who will email your reports to you, copying in your Supervisor.

Process following the oral examination

Information about the process following your oral examination can be found here.