The PhD examination consists of two elements. The first and main part is the written thesis. The second part is the viva voce or oral examination. Since most students will be far more used to being assessed by way of a written examination, this latter part is likely to seem quite daunting. However, if you understand its role it will no longer be something to fear and may instead be something you look forward to as a valuable opportunity to help you achieve the desired pass.
Perhaps the most important thing to appreciate is that the viva is linked to the written thesis and is not a stand alone examination. If your written thesis is good enough then you will pass regardless of the viva. The purpose of the oral component of the exam is simply to give you the opportunity to clarify, explain and defend aspects of your thesis that may be troubling the examiners. It is not a case of needing to “pass” the viva itself. Rather, your overall thesis needs to be sufficiently good to convince the examiners that it satisfies the requirement that it is an original contribution to knowledge. Since your written thesis is the substantive record of your claims and supporting arguments, it is this that will ultimately determine whether or not you pass.
The viva is simply an extra opportunity for you to convince the wavering examiner that your thesis is good enough.
This is not to say that the viva is unimportant. Far from it. In the majority of cases, the examiners are likely to have some reservations regarding your thesis. In these situations the viva can make all the difference between failing and being allowed to pass or resubmit with amendments. It should, therefore, be taken seriously, but it need not be feared. After all, the viva is there for your benefit, to help you make up for any deficiencies in your written thesis at the point of submission.
In future posts, I will consider the viva in more detail. If you need more help, however, the PhD Consultancy can provide expert assistance for all aspects of the preparation required for your viva.