Research Essentials

Perspectives on an academic environment: a collaborative blog by Gill Clough & Rebecca Ferguson

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Top 40 Potential Viva Questions

July 21st, 2009 · 41 Comments

I submitted my thesis way back in March but, somewhere between CREET and the Research School, the documentation was lost or abandoned for a couple of months. Add to that a spell in hospital when they finally got round to fixing a date – and I’m left with a viva in late August, when my thesis is fast becoming a distant memory and I’m on the mend from major surgery.

Of course, successfully completing a viva affects all sorts of things: employment prospects, roles I can take on at the university, status, pay – and I could have done without lying in intensive care worrying about the event itself. Someone, somewhere at the university has messed things up big time – not that they are apologising for it, or even owning up.

But, apart from awarding the unknown culprit(s) a #massivefail hashtag, I’m thinking positive and working on possible viva questions. I’ve been setn, or read, several lists of these – so here they are, my selection of the Top 40 Potential Viva Questions.

1. Can you start by summarising your thesis?
2. Now, can you summarise it in one sentence?
3. What is the idea that binds your thesis together?
4. What motivated and inspired you to carry out this research?
5. What are the main issues and debates in this subject area?
6. Which of these does your research address?
7. Why is the problem you have tackled worth tackling?
8. Who has had the strongest influence in the development of your subject area in theory and practice?
9. Which are the three most important papers that relate to your thesis?
10. What published work is closest to yours? How is your work different?
11. What do you know about the history of [insert something relevant]?
12. How does your work relate to [insert something relevant]?
13. What are the most recent major developments in your area?
14. How did your research questions emerge?
15. What were the crucial research decisions you made?
16. Why did you use this research methodology? What did you gain from it?
17. What were the alternatives to this methodology?
18. What would you have gained by using another approach?
19. How did you deal with the ethical implications of your work?
20. How has your view of your research topic changed?
21. How have you evaluated your work?
22. How do you know that your findings are correct?
23. What are the strongest/weakest parts of your work?
24. What would have improved your work?
25. To what extent do your contributions generalise?
26. Who will be most interested in your work?
27. What is the relevance of your work to other researchers?
28. What is the relevance of your work to practitioners?
29. Which aspects of your work do you intend to publish – and where?
30. Summarise your key findings.
31. Which of these findings are the most interesting to you? Why?
32. How do your findings relate to literature in your field?
33. What are the contributions to knowledge of your thesis?
34. How long-term are these contributions?
35. What are the main achievements of your research?
36. What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD?
37. What advice would you give to a research student entering this area?
38. You propose future research. How would you start this?
39. What would be the difficulties?
40. And, finally… What have you done that merits a PhD?


Addendum: Rebecca successfully defended her thesis on 21st August. I’ve posted up this pic I took on the day, but I expect when she’s back from her hols she’ll move it to another post. Gill

Rebecca’s successful viva

Tags: Reflections · viva

41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil Greaney // Jul 22, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I think this is a really useful list, not least for you about to embark upon the viva but for others who are about to take theirs – or even thinking what a PhD entails. Thanks for compiling and sharing.

    The list is purposely generic, so that it covers all types of PhD and of course you won’t be asked them all (at least, you’d be unlucky if you did). The questions at my viva were extremely specific to the content of my thesis, and therefore some are difficult to predict, but most probably fit into a templates above.

    A couple of questions I couldn’t answer and said I needed more time to think about that, since it involved some further work – I think that’s a reasonable response to some questions, not to be able to answer them immediately!

    Finally, my examiner asked me if the ‘rich reading experience’ I found in the texts (my PhD is on literary minimalism) was desirable. This really shook me, because it was an almost unambiguous assumption of my work.

    Ultimately, it’s a good experience because you get to talk about something that’s dear to you to someone who has read it and wants to know more. I wish you the best despite your setbacks, and hope you come through the viva smiling 🙂


  • 2 Juliette Culver // Jul 22, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    The very best of luck – I think most vivas are largely a check that you wrote the thesis and a chance for an interesting discussion, though doesn’t feel like that when you are waiting for yours especially after such a long wait!

    I remember being asked ‘What are you most proud of in your thesis?’ as the first question in my viva, followed by a long stream of highly technical questions in the process of which I managed to completely cover my gown (this was at oxford where you have to wear sub fusc for formal university exams) in chalk writing on the blackboard!

  • 3 john // Jan 18, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    nice to see this i am so much relieved now

  • 4 DIPTY // Jul 17, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    This is really a good thing and personally it can help us in every viva sections……if a single person follow this tips or questions…..he/she will be success…….we must take this.

  • 5 Jacquie // Oct 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Thanks, just setting off for mine- found this last minute but has helped me consolidate

  • 6 Rod // Nov 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    These questions are very useful indeed for consolidation.

    I have experienced poor university organisation of viva dates and the work became increasingly distant in my mind.

    My viva is this week….If I don;t know it now I never will!

  • 7 venkatesh // Dec 14, 2010 at 8:42 am

    if possible, can you pls suggest some questions pertaining to M.phil economics viva questions.



  • 8 Al. Ramly // Dec 17, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Veru useful list, it is will no doubt be useful.

  • 9 Sarinah // Apr 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I am waiting for my viva sooon…

  • 10 Zurina // Nov 9, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Many thanks and it is very useful to me. My viva is around the corner.

  • 11 Isabel // Jul 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I am using it to prepare my viva.

  • 12 Hoppy // Feb 19, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Thank you very much for this. I am preparing for my viva at the moment and this is helping me to focus properly

  • 13 // Feb 27, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing.
    I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my
    ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost just trying to
    figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or
    tips? Cheers!

  • 14 Gill // Mar 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the blog. I agree that getting your head into writing can sometimes take time. Once “in the zone” things flow well. I am a keen blogger, and I never have any trouble blogging, so one technique I use is to start a real blog entry about what I’m trying to write, or to simply open a document and write as though I’m writing in one of my blogs. I discovered this by accident – I was once trying to write and started blogging as a sort of displacement activity. Having written a large blog post, I realised that it contained the essence of the structure of what I was trying to write, and so simply copied it across. Hope this helps. Gill

  • 15 shuaib // Mar 5, 2014 at 4:11 am

    I am very happy to receive reading your proposed viva questions which I realized they are useful for any viva candidates who are preparing to present it, like me, my viva is just in a comer which I wish to have such important suggested general questions of a viva. However, I would like you if possible to suggest for me some viva questions on my field which you think they may be raised by the committee and which you may think possibly may be. Therefore, I need your advice. My PhD thesis on a African Foreign Policy in terms of regional policies and national development. if there is any recommendations or
    tips? Cheers!
    thank you so much

  • 16 shafqat shahzad // Aug 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I am much thankful to you for the guideline in viva questions . it is a good guide much helpful in defending the dissertation. God bless you. thanks.

  • 17 elias // Oct 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    i am so happy that i came across this list because i was worried…
    am having my viva for my undergrad on wednesday 08 october 2011

  • 18 Ravi Hegde // May 29, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Greetings. I came across your blog through google search and must mention that it is a very thoughtful and wonderful article. I am preparing for a viva scheduled next week and this list of questions has helped me gain a broader perspective about the possible questions. I extend my sincere appreciation of your efforts. It has been of great help.

  • 19 Ken // Jul 20, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Hi everybody, I have just submitted my PhD thesis. A sigh of relief, that’s for sure, but I know that the viva is around the corner and I’m really dreading my viva date. Somehow, I’m feeling stuck now. I don’t know how to prepare myself for the viva? Any practical suggestions please?

  • 20 Gill // Jul 24, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Well done on getting it submitted. Don’t get too tense about the viva. It will be hard work, for sure, but you’ve spend many years on this and you know your work better than anyone else.

    Can you get an academic in your field to read your thesis and give you a practice viva? This may pinpoint areas that your examiners might question you on.

    It is also a good idea to go over and over your thesis, and put in sticky tabs in pages you think you may need to reference. You need to know it like the back of your hand.

    Another useful thing to do is to look at your examiners’ publications. Get an idea of their theoretical perspectives and be sure you have your literature and arguments firm in your mind in case they challenge you on some small area.

    Good luck with it 🙂

  • 21 Ken // Jul 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Dear Gill, many thanks indeed for your help and guidance. Much appreciated.

  • 22 ISRAF // Aug 15, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks. Really helping and productive list.

  • 23 win // Nov 1, 2015 at 3:17 am

    Thanks. It is really helpful. I will attend my viva on Monday. wish me luck

  • 24 Matt // Dec 2, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for the list – mine is in 4 hours, only wish I’d found it sooner.

  • 25 Adinarayana Kanta // Dec 7, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I Have a viva exam for Ph.D (Geology) on 11.12.2015. i wanted to do Phd on Economic geology. so please tell some important question and answers regarding to my phd subject

  • 26 The PhD viva | Finding Knowledge // Dec 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    […] Advice from the OU’s Rebecca Ferguson – including the top 40 viva questions (which I adapted below) […]

  • 27 Tips and Hints for Transfer Vivas – Research & Scholarship Skills // Jan 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

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  • 28 Martin O'Shea // May 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    A very good set of questions.

    Fortunately, with my own viva being three weeks away, I can also answer some of them.


  • 29 Steve Goddard // May 24, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for this list, it is very helpful.

    My viva is in 50 minutes time…!

  • 30 Zelalem // May 29, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing these helpful lists

  • 31 basavaraja // Jun 1, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks a lot sir I attending viva only 3 day’s it’s more useful to me

  • 32 Germaine Bovell-Pitt // Jun 11, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    I am about to do my viva on skype. Can you tell me some of the advantages and disadvantages of this method of presentation and how I can better the disadvantages

  • 33 Jonah Nelson // Jul 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I am set for my viva next week ,need more ideas to keep me confidence.can you help me please?

  • 34 Jonah Nelson // Jul 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I am set for my viva next week ,need more ideas to keep me confident.can you help me please?

  • 35 Rachel // Jul 31, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I am a long way off finishing my thesis, but I have found these questions really useful and will bookmark them.
    I think by the end of my work I will be able to answer all of those questions apart from number 40 which would throw me.

  • 36 Dave // Sep 11, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I hadn’t prepared all that much for my Viva which is in 4 days, but these questions have helped me to become more acquainted with what to expect and to not feel caught off-guard. I think that if you answer these in notes and read over you thesis picking out the weak spots and ‘defending’ them before hand with a few bullet points you’ll be well prepared for your Viva Voce. Especially us MSc students!

  • 37 Sabina // Oct 10, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Thank you very much for your guidance really appreciated.

  • 38 waggumbulizi ivan // Jan 5, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    …the exposure is indeed good for the preparation of a success full viva. I have learnt a lot so God bless you.

  • 39 Marc // Jan 7, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    I’m examining my first PhD viva next week and have stolen a couple of your questions. Nice! 😀

  • 40 ANONYMOUS // Jan 22, 2017 at 3:24 am

    thanks. now i have so much ideas for my oral defense. I’m just a grade 7 student from Phil and i dont know why STE section sucks. The research thing is so Ughh…

  • 41 13 steps I took to prepare for my PhD viva | Salma Patel // May 29, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    […] After I completed this step I found this resource: list of 40 viva questions, which is shorter but looks almost as good too (and in hindsight post-viva, I think it is a better […]

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