Viva Voce Examinations
The viva is basically a security device, a posh (hence the Latin) academic version of oral questioning, conducted after the submission of the thesis for a research degree, to ensure that the candidate knows enough about the subject to make it at least plausible that the dissertation is his own work.
In non-modular programmes, there has also been a tradition of using the viva to determine borderline degree classifications. The convention has been that the outcome of the viva can only be positive, in bumping you up to the next grade—a lousy viva means that you stay with the lower grade. The cumulative assessment of modules in modular programmes has largely rendered this usage obsolete, although sample interviews with external examiners are used to clarify overall marking levels. These do not usually have an effect on the classification of an individual student's degree.
- Very much as for oral questioning. As well as the security consideration, the viva offers the opportunity to explore issues which may have been glossed over in research and to invite elucidation of obscure points.
- There is an equal opportunities issue here for students for whom English (or the language of examination) is not the first language. In theses, it is generally regarded as legitimate to seek assistance in polishing the written style of a language other than one's native tongue: having to defend an argument in a second (third, or even fourth) language is very demanding indeed, and the skill of verbal expression may not be relevant. Even so, there are security issues associated with the use of interpreters.
- Vivas are traditionally conducted by an external and an internal examiner. They will normally consult before the examination about who is going to ask about what, but there are rarely clear guidelines about what it is fair to judge and what not. In a contentious area, for example, good examiners will respect the possibility of the candidate coming to conclusions at variance with their own—but there have been cases when candidates have been referred or even failed because of their deviation from the examiners' views. Although there will be examiners' reports, there is rarely any record of the process itself to ensure its fairness.