Six Steps For Friction-free Prep

In preparing for the viva you have your thesis, your knowledge, your talent…

…and a lot of things potentially in your way, stopping you from getting ready! Busy days, family ties, worry, uncertainty over what to do – there’s lots to slow you down!

Thankfully, there’s a few simple steps you can take to remove the obstacles in your way:

  1. Make a plan. Just a short one, just an idea of when you need start, when you need to stop and what you need to do.
  2. Get your materials together. You need your thesis, some stationery, some paper and some papers you’ve referenced too. Get it all together, don’t leave things for later when you can procrastinate and avoid prep because you don’t have that paper you need.
  3. Find a prep space. It might be your dining table, it could be your office, it could be a cafe. But find a space that you can work well in.
  4. Tell others what you need. Probably, you need them to leave you alone from time to time! Get the space you need.
  5. Do at least one thing every day. Read a chapter, write a summary, check a reference – do something so it becomes a habit. Small tasks add up.
  6. Make a task list for your plan. What are all the tasks you have to get done? Cross them off as you go to see your progress as it happens.

Be practical. Don’t stay in your head with worries, doubts, procrastinations. Work better by removing things that create friction as you get ready to pass your viva.

Empty Your Head

You don’t have to carry everything around in your brain for the viva. You can make notes. You can make plans. You can clear out the clutter and make sense of your ideas. When you start to prepare, write down a list of all the things you think you’ll do in preparation, then organise them.

Underline typos in your thesis as you find them (or make a list) so you don’t have to remember them. Add useful notes in the margins to help you. Write lists of questions you could ask your examiners. Summarise anything valuable or anything difficult about your work that you can think of.

You don’t have to remember everything. Lists, notes and summaries can reduce the burden on your brain for more useful thinking!


Viva prep doesn’t have to be frantic, rushed or pressurised.

Being relaxed doesn’t mean being lazy, or doing a bad job. It means being ready, taking your time, knowing what you need to do and when you need to do it. Rushing your prep is a choice. You can choose to be relaxed.

Do it by thinking ahead. Sketch what you’ll do, what sequence, what you need to help you, and then wait for the moment to arrive when you need to do it.

Even if you’re busy, rushing, frantic in your day-to-day, you owe it to yourself to prepare well for the viva.

Do that by being relaxed.

Plan Your Prep

Viva preparation does not have to be a full-time job, but at the same time it’s not a trivial matter. It takes time, it takes space and it takes effort. The result of all of this work is someone who feels ready: a Future-You with confidence in their ability for the day of the viva.

A small plan would help all of this.

Don’t wait until a few weeks before and then think, “What should I do?” With as much advance notice think about the probable timing of the viva. Think about your other commitments. Think about the kinds of gaps in your confidence and preparation, and the kinds of tasks you might do to fill those gaps. Think about how you might break those tasks up into manageable chunks.

Then think about how much free time you would realistically have in the period around the viva for preparation – and consequently, think about when you might need to start. Simply sketch out when you might begin, what order you might do things and note down anything that will be a priority.

You don’t need Gantt charts, flow diagrams and timetables. Make a small plan, just a little thought to steer you towards success.

Sketching Prep Time

Are you worried about managing to prepare for the viva because you have work, family or a life?

When you submit, sketch out a calendar of the following three months. Show all of the days. Three months is the typical upper limit on the window between submission and the viva. Some universities aim for less, so check your institution’s expectations.

Now: cross out all of the days when you will simply be too busy or unavailable to do any viva prep. If you have holidays, block them out. If you work certain days or have other commitments then block out that time.

You’re left with all of the dates when you will probably have some time to spend on prep. This doesn’t mean spending eight hours per day in prep, just a small portion of each day typically (thirty minutes to an hour).

When you have a viva date your preparation window becomes crystal clear: you can see exactly what opportunities you have and make a real plan. Rather than start with a big list of things you could do, start with an outline of how much time you have. Work with the time that you’ve got, rather than wonder how you will squeeze everything in.


Graduated. (yay!!!)

Final submission. (yay!!)

Corrections approved. (yay!)

Doing corrections. (well…)

Given corrections. (probably)

Viva over. (viva passed!)

In the viva. (in flow, I hope)

Ten minutes before the viva. (………)

Day of the viva. (last minute nerves)

Day before the viva. (getting centred)

Weeks before the viva. (preparation)

Submission. (phew!)

Weeks before the submission. (finishing up)

And so on.

We can start at the end of the PhD and work backwards. You can start from today and plot forwards. We can get as detailed as we like, but have to acknowledge that we can’t know how everything will play out. Think and plan. Get a sense of the direction you’re going in.


Step One For Viva Prep: start.

Do I start now? Am I doing the right thing?” Just begin. Wondering if you need to do something now or later? Do it now. There are lots of things that you can do which will help; find out what they are and do something to help yourself.

…all of that said…

Step Zero For Viva Prep: make a little plan.

It doesn’t have to be the most detailed thing ever. Figure out how much time you’ve got left. Think about what might help. Allocate tasks to certain days.

Then see Step One.


The greatest training montage ever captured on film is the 3-odd minute training scene in Rocky III. You can check it out here if you’ve never seen it. It’s awesome. If nothing else, add the music to your inspirational playlist.

It shows a process that’s a bit a like preparing for the viva: Rocky’s in great shape but isn’t quite there yet for the competition. After your research is done and your thesis is finished you’re awesome, but you could probably still use some work for the viva. You don’t have to spar, run laps down a sunny beach or build up massive quantities of muscle though.

Read your thesis to remind yourself of everything in there. Answer some unexpected questions from your supervisor or friends. Look for ways to boost your confidence. Make some notes about what’s important. There’s lots you can do to help yourself.

Training montages show someone developing to a peak of excellence. What would be in your viva prep montage? Think about how much time you’ve got, what things you can do, then go do them.