BOOST Your Mini-Viva

I like my mini-vivas resource, a tool to create valuable practice responding to questions before the viva.

I like the acronym BOOST for feedback – Balanced, Observed, Objective, Specific, Timely – a neat way to remember how to frame constructive feedback.

I’m always tinkering at the back of my mind with various resources, and have a notion these two might fit together quite well. As a starting place, how about the following sets of questions for feedback or reflection after a mini-viva?

If you use have a mini-viva by yourself, try these to help you reflect afterwards:

  • What stands out to you as a good response? What made it good?
  • What questions were challenging for you? Why?
  • What can you take away from this? How is that valuable to you?
  • What might you need to explore next?

If you have a friend help you by steering a mini-viva, then prompt them with the following to get feedback afterwards:

  • What did I communicate well? Why was it clear?
  • What did they not understand? What could I try?
  • What else did they want to know?
  • What other questions would they ask you now?

Having a mini-viva, giving a presentation, having a full mock viva – all of these things by themselves can be useful to give you a space to practise. You can “boost” the benefit you get with some targeted questions and reflections afterwards.

Demo Discs

I’m old enough to remember demo discs: CDs or DVDs that came with gaming magazines and which allowed people to try new games or software before the full release.

(I’m actually old enough to remember demo cassettes, but let’s put that to one side as I start my six-month countdown to my forties…)

Demo discs gave fans the chance to try things. Here’s the first thirty minutes of the new game you’re excited for! Here’s something interesting to whet your appetite! Here’s a little something to get you used to this new thing!

Demo discs were useful to set expectations and raise interest. Demo discs are less common now due to digital downloads, but it’s possible to demo or trial all sorts of things in a useful way.

Like the viva!

A mock viva is a demo for the real thing: it can never be the same, it might be time-limited and you might only be able to trial it once, but it will help set your expectations.

A mini-viva is a demo for your viva: it focusses on specific parts of your work, it’s feature-limited as well as time-limited, but it’s also simple to get started. (user-friendly!)

A seminar is a demo for your viva: it’s not the same format, but showcases a lot of the elements that will go into your viva.

Explore your options for rehearsing for your viva. There are lots of demo options available to help you prepare.

Host A Mini-Viva

Message a friend with a viva coming up and offer to host a mini-viva for them over Zoom or Skype to give them some practice. There’s full instructions at this resource link for how you might use one of 7776 sets of questions, but simply – use the questions, have a little structure, listen, give your friend space to think and respond and extend discussions as you see fit.

To save a little time, here are two mini-viva question sets you could use, if you wanted to call someone up today and help them!

First Set:

  • Where did your research ideas come from?
  • What did you learn about doing research?
  • How did your supervisor help shape your research?
  • What questions would you like to ask your examiners?
  • What are you taking away from your PhD?

Second Set:

  • Why did you want to pursue your research?
  • Where did you find support in the existing research for your methods?
  • What are the core papers that have guided you?
  • How would you summarise your main results?
  • What do you hope others will take away from your thesis?

I often tell candidates there are plenty of people around them who can offer support; switch that up, be one of the people offering support. And if you need more mini-vivas to help more friends and don’t have dice to hand, here are four more from a previous post.

A Week Of Prep

Let’s say you’re a few weeks away from your viva. You’ve read your thesis and it feels familiar. You’re busy with life outside of your thesis. You want to be prepared for your viva, you feel the need to do something this coming week, but you don’t know what.

Block out an hour for each evening of the week ahead and try the following:

  • Monday: annotate your thesis. Put a Post-it at the start of every chapter, and anywhere in your thesis that is important. Highlight important passages or references to make them stand out. Make your thesis more useful for you.
  • Tuesday: create an edited bibliography. Explore which are the most essential references, and capture a little detail for each to explore why it matters so much.
  • Wednesday: have a mini-viva. Either write notes about each of the questions or capture your thoughts with a voice-recording app.
  • Thursday: use the VIVA tool to analyse a chapter of your thesis. Pick a good one, and spend fifteen minutes for each of the four prompts to explore the chapter.
  • Friday: reflect on your mini-viva from Wednesday. What details would you add? What stands out from your mini-viva?
  • Saturday: switch to mornings. Meet a friend for coffee or an early lunch. Get them to ask you relevant questions about your research.
  • Sunday: take only 15 minutes to review what you’ve done. What has helped this week? How are you feeling about your viva? Now map out the week ahead. What are you going to do to continue your preparations?

This post is a little idea of how you could break your week up, doing different, useful tasks to prepare for the viva. Customise in a suitable way for you.

Don’t drift to your viva; go towards it with purpose.

Four Mini-Vivas To Kickstart Your Viva Prep

A year ago I first shared 7776 Mini-Vivas, a resource to create useful summaries, reflections and conversations as part of viva prep. I love seeing people share the resource, and I continue to tinker with it to find other ways to share it.

Today, I’m simply presenting four mini-vivas for you to use. You could write the questions out on a sheet of paper and give yourself thirty minutes to an hour to write down some notes. You could give them to a friend to structure a conversation. You could record yourself talking about them and listen back afterwards to reflect.

All four could help you to reflect on what you’ve done for your PhD and what it means – two areas of conversation that are sure to come up in your viva.


Mini-Viva 1

  • What is your main research question?
  • How do you know your methods are valid?
  • How is your work related to your examiners’ research?
  • What questions have you been asked about your work previously?
  • What’s the impact of your work?

Mini-Viva 2

  • What are the three brightest parts of your research?
  • What influenced your methodology?
  • How did existing literature in the field influence you?
  • How can you be sure of your conclusions?
  • What do you hope others will take away from your thesis?

Mini-Viva 3

  • How would you define your thesis contribution?
  • Where did you find support in the existing research for your methods?
  • What were some of the challenges you overcame during your PhD?
  • How would you summarise your main results?
  • What publications do you hope to produce?

Mini-Viva 4

  • Why did you want to pursue your research?
  • How would you describe your methodology?
  • How did your supervisor help shape your research?
  • How can you be sure of your conclusions?
  • What are you taking away from your PhD?

Remember to leave some time to come back to your reflections, whether written or recorded, to review what you think and see if more ideas come. You could also ask yourself “Why?” after most of these questions to prompt deeper reflection.

There’s another 7772 possible mini-vivas from the resource – you probably don’t need to use all of them as part of your viva prep!