Good Viva Prep

At submission, if not before, take a little time to sketch a simple plan for getting ready for the viva.

When will you start? What do you need to do? Who do you need to ask for support?

As you ask and reflect on these questions you’ll realise changes or missing details. If you have a big thesis maybe you need to start reading it sooner. If you need more practise then you can make better arrangements with your supervisor or friends.

Sketch a plan, because it will help you to get organised – you can always make changes to it too! It can be hard to simply react if things change when your whole plan for prep is “just wing it”.

Good viva prep starts with a plan: you know what you need to do, when you need to do it and who will be there supporting you.

Pace Your Prep

Viva prep is not the kind of work that has to be compacted into a short period of time. It can be done that way, but is probably far better to give yourself space and time to think.

Explore your situation and consider: when will you do the work? How will you do it? Where will you do it? How often will you sit down to read your thesis and when will you begin?

You can pace yourself. An hour a day. Five days a week. Four weeks. That could be enough to be ready.

Of course, you might want to take an afternoon off to do a big concentrated burst of work; you might need a few hours in a row to take advantage of a mock viva opportunity.

Pace yourself in a way that works for you. Find the space in your schedule when you can do the work and not stress yourself. Do the work in a way that doesn’t add too much to an already busy schedule.

A Score For Ready

A little bit of fun to help you think about getting ready for the viva.

Think about each of the following statements and give yourself a score from 1 to 10 depending on how well you agree with them (1 being that you don’t agree with it and 10 representing total agreement):

  • “I feel like I know my research and my thesis pretty well.”
  • “I know what to expect from a viva.”
  • “I have taken time to annotate my thesis well.”
  • “I feel confident about my examiners and who they are.”
  • “I have rehearsed for the viva enough.”
  • “I feel confident about meeting my examiners.”

Now reflect on the scores you’ve given. Think a score is low? Well, what can you do about that? What will you do about that? Who could help you? When will you take the next step?

Think a score is about right for you and your situation? Why? What evidence supports that? Is there anything else you could do to help?

Numbers can help you move yourself closer to being ready.

Time To Prep

The time to prepare for the viva is after submission. There are many things you could do before submission that could help – and a lot you do while finishing your thesis will build you up for the viva – but your focus has to be on getting your thesis submitted.

The time to prepare for the viva is not a fixed period for everyone. Work and other responsibilities could mean a shorter time span for some or force activity to be spaced out over a long period than others. Preparing over the course of two to four weeks seems typical for most candidates.

The time to prepare will be better if you plan it: decide in advance how and when you will do the work. Sketch out a schedule that seems suitable and doesn’t leave you feeling stressed.

The time to prepare is getting ready for the particular challenge of the viva. It’s reading, note-making, practice and a chance to remind yourself: I can do this.

First Things First

A little tip for viva prep that can also be applied to any project: whenever you finish a period of activity or a task, leave a note for yourself of the first action you’ll take when you do more work.

  • “Re-read the summary of my methods.”
  • “Email supervisor to arrange mock viva.”
  • “Check recent paper by external.”
  • “Gather stationery for marking up thesis chapters.”

Whatever you need to do next time, leave a note for yourself: a reminder, a prompt, a shove to get started well.

It’s easy to sit down and think “What do I do?” but hard to ignore a clear direction you leave for yourself.

Make A Space

Gather the things you need to get ready.

Your thesis. A notebook or papers. Pens and assorted stationery. A loose page with a sketch of the coming weeks.

Decide where to do your prep. Find a place and make your space.

This is where you get ready. This is where the magic happens. Your little zone where your thesis is read and gets better. Where you think and write. Where you check and confirm. Where you ready yourself for a mock and for the real thing.

As you’re reading this post you might be imagining somewhere in particular to do your viva prep. Where are you? Would that space really work for you? And if not there, where? Where can you make a good space to concentrate, relax, think and prepare?

Analyse & Annotate

A helpful part of viva preparation is making your thesis ready for the viva. Then, throughout your discussions with your examiners you have a silent partner, able to support how you think and what you say.

You can write in the margins, stick Post-it Notes in, highlight and underline and do anything to annotate the book and make it better.

How can you make your thesis easier to navigate?

How can you make things easier to find?

How can you make things easier to see at a glance?

Those are the key questions that help you make a well-annotated thesis. You have to analyse what you have and annotate to make it better for you in the viva. Easier navigation could be achieved with Post-it Notes or highlighter tabs. A brief note at the start of each chapter could make things easier to find. Consistent highlighting practice might help you find key words and ideas at a glance.

Analyse and annotate. Find a system that works for you. Make a list, do the work and then benefit.

Describing Viva Prep

Viva preparation is not a production line. It doesn’t follow anything as neat as moving from one task to the next, finishing one component and moving neatly on to the next. Prep does not follow a flow diagram: it’s not reading followed by notes, checking papers and then a mock viva at the end.

Viva prep is a series of workouts. You practise various activities to feel ready. You read your thesis to help your memory; you read more later to build on that feeling. You make notes in your thesis, then review them to check they are sticking – and to find out how you think now.

Viva preparation is personal. It involves exploring. There are things you need to do, but many ways to do them. There are lots of steps, but some are steps to the side and some follow path you’ve already been down before.

It all helps. In some ways, viva prep is work to help you realise that you’re ready: you really did the work and you can go succeed in your viva.

Prep Principles & Personal Prep

Viva prep principles are fairly simple to share. How you put them into practice is not hard, but it is personal.

Read your thesis to refresh your memory. Annotate your copy so that information is easier to find or clearer to see on the page. Create summaries to help you clarify your thinking. Rehearse to help your comfort and confidence for the discussion in the viva.

Read your thesis – but when do you start? How much do you do at a time? It depends on how big your thesis is, how busy you are and when works best for you.

Annotation sounds good – but how much? What kind of things? What’s best? It all depends on how your thesis is written, what information will help you and how you like things to be organised.

And so on. The principles of viva prep are simple. How you need to do the work is personal. Reflecting on your thesis and circumstances will help you navigate getting the work done.

Read Your Thesis

When you sit down to read your thesis for the first time after submission try to do the following:

  • Read everything. Don’t skim past things you think you know. Read every word.
  • Read for pleasure. Don’t second-guess what you’ve submitted; try to enjoy what you have written.
  • Take your time. Start well in advance of your viva to relieve pressure. This is important work so don’t rush.
  • Note down typos. They don’t mean much unless they cause confusion; they can always be amended later.

Reading your thesis is probably the first step in your plan of viva preparation. Make the most of the opportunity to start well.

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