You can’t expect your thesis to be perfect. Your examiners don’t expect it to be perfect. There might be typos or clumsy writing, something vague, but nothing too awful.

But what if there’s a flaw? What if there’s something which is just wrong? A hole in your logic perhaps, or maybe a result or reference that doesn’t support your argument. What then?

First, read your thesis carefully before the viva. Then you can be sure of what’s in there. If you find a flaw you can figure it out. You’ll know how to respond to comments about it in the viva. If you don’t find anything, then you’re probably fine.

If your examiners find something you didn’t, then talk it through with them. Ask questions to get as much information as possible. Think it through. Talk through each point in turn, make notes and see where your discussions lead you.

A flaw can be a tiny imperfection, not a big deal at all. No thesis is perfect. Not every problem is a problem.

The Four Elements

There are four elements of practical viva preparation, four key modes of activity to pay attention to:

  • Thinking: specifically, reflecting on your work, how you did it, what it means.
  • Reading: your whole thesis, carefully, and any papers that you need to remind yourself about.
  • Writing: adding annotations to your thesis and creating summaries of your work.
  • Talking: making and using opportunities to practise answering questions about your thesis.

None of them requires you to learn radically new skills. Investing time in these areas will be rewarded by your increased confidence as the viva comes around. There are lots of things that you can do in each of these areas:

  • Thinking: use a questions list; explore your contribution; reflect on why your thesis matters.
  • Reading: don’t skim the first read-through; look for vague passages; target the good and bad.
  • Writing: make important parts stand out; write overviews of your chapters; find new ways to explain things.
  • Talking: talk to friends; have a mock viva; give a seminar and take questions.

You might not have done any of these things during your PhD, but you can do all of them. You only have to find expressions of the four elements to match your personal preferences: for example, not everyone will want a mock viva, but every candidate will benefit from practise through answering questions.

Find ways to think, read, write and talk that build confidence for your viva.

10 Thesis Reading Tips For Viva Prep

I always tell people that reading their thesis is an essential part of viva prep, like it’s the easiest thing in the world – and I know that I struggled with it a lot! By the time I submitted I felt like I was burned out on my thesis. I felt confident, but was looking forward to when it would all be done. Here are ten tips for reading your thesis that should help with your viva preparations:

  1. Take a break for at least two weeks after you submit. Give yourself a little distance from your thesis.
  2. Plan when you’ll read it. When will you have read the whole thesis?
  3. Put Post Its at the start of each chapter. Make your thesis easier to navigate.
  4. Put Post Its where you find something important. Make it easier to find your thesis essentials.
  5. Try not to skim-read your thesis. Read it line-by-line at least once.
  6. Make a list of questions that one might have about your thesis. Keep them in mind.
  7. Underline typos when you see them. Don’t obsess about finding them.
  8. Make a glossary of terms. Whenever you find a piece of jargon, break it down.
  9. Set some goals. How many times do you need to read your thesis to feel happy?
  10. Take a day off from reading your thesis from time to time!

You have to read your thesis. It can feel like a chore at times, but it really is essential for the viva. Do everything you can to make the process work well for you.


You have to read your thesis to prepare for the viva. Cover to cover, everything, don’t skim. It will help a lot.

If you re-read though, and re-read again, there’ll come a point where it becomes a passive activity. You do it for the sake of doing it. Your attention is on other things, and while you might feel good for taking a look at the book again, you’re not actually getting any benefit.

When that happens, switch gears: go back to being active. Annotate your thesis. Make a list of your most important references. Create some summaries to help you find the heart of your research. Have a conversation with a friend about your results. Ask your supervisor to run through your methodology and throw in some left-field questions.

Effective viva prep is active.


It’s really tempting to only read the good parts of your thesis.

When you’re done and you’re preparing for your viva, it’ll feel good to read the parts you’re most proud of. The chapter where you reach your amazing conclusions. The masterful description of your methodology. And then within those chapters, you’ll know that there are sections which are superb. You zero in on your favourite paragraphs.

You glance at the rest, because, yeah, you know what’s in your thesis, you wrote it after all. You are in a good position to know what is most important, most valuable, in your thesis. But it’s all necessary. Everything in your thesis has a reason or a purpose or a value, otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

So don’t skip. Don’t skim. Read it all. That could be hard, but read it all at least once after submission – if for no other reason that you can then be sure about what is there. You don’t have a false memory of a chapter or section.

Don’t skip the “bad” stuff because you need to know what’s there. Don’t skip the good stuff because everything can be reinforced and made better.