Opportunities To Practise

A key step of viva preparation is investing a little time to practise. A mock viva could be a great rehearsal for the real thing, but it’s not the only option.

  • Simply talk. Sit down over coffee, over video if you need to, and just tell someone about your work. Invite their questions. Ask them to prompt you if you’re not being clear.
  • Give a talk. Invite colleagues to listen. Use a few slides but only to help frame your thesis and research. Don’t talk for long; use the time to get into conversations.
  • Have a mini-viva. There are thousands of possible conversations that this resource could prompt. One or two might give you useful practise.

There are reasons why mock vivas are generally valued as a part of viva prep. They’re supposed to help you explore what it would be like to be in the viva. More fundamentally though, you need practise at responding to questions; taking the time to think and feeling comfortable doing so.

So what opportunities will you make for yourself?

Mocks Are Maybes

We don’t own a toaster.

The rest of our family think we’re really weird. They can’t wrap their heads around why we choose not to have a toaster and prefer to use our grill. We still toast things! We just don’t use a toaster.


You might not want a mock.

Madness!!! – is what some well-meaning people might say. You need a mock to rehearse for the viva! Or how will you get a feel for being in the viva?? Well-intentioned comments but you might not want or need a mock.

A mock could feel stressful to you. It could be that you think your supervisor wouldn’t be the best choice to help you. Or you might want a mock but not be able to have one because of your schedule.

And all of that is fine.

Instead, you could have discussions with friends over coffee, deliver a seminar or find some other way to get more comfortable with being in the kind of situation you’ll find in the viva. A mock could help, but all of these other options could be just as helpful for you.


In our house we need a way to toast bread – but we don’t need a toaster.

You need a way to rehearse and practice for the viva – but you don’t need a mock viva.

Needing A Mock

You don’t need a mock viva. You need practice for the viva, a rehearsal space to think and respond like you might do in the viva. You don’t need a mock viva, it’s just one of the ways that you could rehearse.

You don’t need a mock viva, it’s just supposed to be like a real viva, with substitute examiners who will be well-placed to ask you relevant, helpful questions to give you a sense of kind of discussion that arises in the viva. You don’t need a mock viva, there are lots of ways to get help, but given that it’s supposed to be like the viva it could be a really useful opportunity if you have the chance.

You don’t need a mock viva, you need to be ready: a mock is a means to an end, not the end itself. There are other things you could do that would help.

But if you have the chance, a mock viva could be exactly what you need. A small, self-contained piece of preparation. A boost to confidence, to awareness, to expectations. A chance to rehearse and build. A chance to get ready.

You don’t need it. But it might help a lot if you have it.

Clear (To You)

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide…


A few weeks ago I was half-humming, half-singing Bohemian Rhapsody as I was tidying up.

“What’s that?!” asked my seven-year-old daughter.

I started singing the song properly. I stayed in tune. I know the words pretty well and thought I did a good job.

When I stopped, I waited for applause and appreciation.

My daughter said, “No, what was that? I don’t know that. Is it new? Or is it really old?”

She could hear all the words, catch the tune, see her dad making a bit of a fool of himself (that’s standard operating procedure), but was at a loss for trying to really get what she was listening to. She’d never heard Bohemian Rhapsody, was unfamiliar with that kind of song or style of music, and so all she got from my virtuoso performance was confusion.

Whereas I thought I was being very clear!


Consider, as you prepare for the viva, where you feel you’re clear – in your thinking, in your knowledge, in how you communicate your research – and explore what you could do both to check how clear you are and improve how clear you are. Share your research with friends and ask them about what they understand and what they want to know more about. It’s not enough that you get it: check that they get enough of what you’re trying to share.

You know a lot and can do a lot to have got this far through your PhD. Now check how clear you are when communicating with others – something you’ll have to do when you meet your examiners in the viva.


Any way the wind blows…

Share Your How

In preparation for your viva, explain to your researcher friends how you did your PhD. Share what processes and methods you followed. Tell them about the research that you built on. Explain why your ideas went in the direction they did.

As you’re doing this you’re getting practice for the kinds of thinking you might need in your viva. Pay attention to the questions your friends ask in response.

  • Can you be clearer in how you communicate your methods?
  • Were there alternate approaches you could take?
  • Are there processes or literature that you decided not to follow?

Build your responses into your thinking for when you next share your how, whether that’s your viva or telling someone else who’s excited to know how you’ve done this amazing work.

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.

Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.


The mock viva is generally valuable because of the kind of practice it provides. Your supervisors might have some clear ideas about what a mock should be like. But if you think about it, the mock is a sort of test run for later success.

So think: what do you need to succeed?

  • Are you looking for certain types of questions or a particular focus for the discussion?
  • Do you want practice or pressure?
  • What kind of feedback would be most useful from the experience?

Think about what might help you. Everyone has different needs. It’s not wrong to think about how you can make the most of the opportunity.