Check The Outcomes

What might the outcomes for your viva be?

Maybe: No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections, fail?

Or: pass without amendments, minor amendments, resubmission, re-viva, no award?

It’s never simply “pass or fail”.

Different institutions have different formal terminology. They can also have different formal consequences for outcomes, like the amount of time given to complete corrections. Be sure of the possible outcomes at your institution.

You can reasonably expect to get minor corrections, because most people do. Be sure of what that means so you can plan that period after your viva.

You can also reasonably expect to find your university’s thesis examination regulations at my Regulations link page, because most people do – and I’m working on tracking down links to the missing institutions!

A Foregone Conclusion?

Is passing your viva guaranteed?

No, but let’s say that it is the most likely outcome. Statistics, stories and the structure of the PhD journey say it clearly: how else could a candidate get to submission if they and the work weren’t good and ready?

Passing is the most likely outcome – many, many times more likely than failing. You should not expect to fail. If you feel really worried, dig into that. Why do you feel that way? What’s the problem? What’s getting in the way?

Now, what can you do about it?


Failure Is (Not) An Option

If every outcome was a pass with various conditions then the viva wouldn’t be an exam. Failing is possible but not likely. A rare outcome, not one you should expect.

Failure is an option for the PhD viva, but one that comes at the end of a generally long list of possible outcomes: no corrections, minor corrections, major corrections, resubmission without a viva, resubmission with a viva, awarded an MPhil, no award. Failure is the exceptionally rare last option that makes the viva an exam and not some kind of confirmation process.

Don’t expect it for your viva. Given everything you’ve done and how far you’ve come, it’s not an option for you and your thesis.


I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel about my PhD being done. Reflecting now that’s pretty true for all of the different stages of “done” there are. I was almost overwhelmed by how many different states I felt.

When I submitted my thesis I felt relieved, but it felt unreal that I’d finished writing.

When I was preparing I felt confident, but then suddenly insomniac the night before.

On the day I was happy to pass, but exhausted, and overwhelmed I think.

It was also an anticlimax. My viva was challenging, but fine too. It was just suddenly done… Anticlimax feels the right way to describe it.

Submitting my final, corrected thesis was a happy day, but at the same time sad.

Happy to be done, sad to be leaving.

As I often say on this blog, there are lots of realistic expectations for the viva. As a result you can do a lot to prepare but I’m not sure you can prepare for how you might feel after it’s done. It’s good that you’re done, but it might not feel great.

That sense of “I’ve done something significant” took time to hit me. I didn’t get it on the day, or the day after. It took weeks.

You might not know how you’ll feel. It doesn’t take away from the achievement.


There are lots of ways people try to classify vivas. In my own work I’ve asked lots of questions before, hoping to see patterns.

“How long was it?”

“Did you get minor corrections?”

“Did your examiners go page-by-page?”

“Did you find out the result afterwards?”

As a starting point, you could say that my viva was a long/minor/page-by-page/afterwards-type viva. But when I think about it there are other factors that distinguish my viva.

It was long, but felt like it flew by. I was asked to give a presentation. I had to wait about twenty minutes afterwards to find out the result.

So let’s refine: my viva was a long-but-felt-short/presentation-start/page-by-page/minor/afterwards/twenty-minute-wait-type viva.

And it was tiring. Oh, and I was stood up for my whole viva.

So let’s refine again…

…or let’s not.

Questions and stories about the viva help set expectations. They help shape what you do to prepare. They boost your confidence.

But that’s just one side of things. At some point you have to accept that your viva will be unique.

A singular exam for a singular person and their research.


“We’re so pleased to present you with this award for shortest viva this year, well done!”

“Congratulations, you did it! Here is a Silver Star for no typos in your thesis!”

“This ribbon shows that you are Quite Probably The Smartest Cookie Ever. Both the external examiner and I salute you!”

Three sentences which have never been uttered during or after a viva. And there are no medals for the viva. There are different awards, like getting no corrections, minor, major and so on, but you don’t get a prize. You’ll get a certificate when you graduate, but it’s not the same.

You’re not doing your PhD and the viva for badges and medals though. (I hope) You have your reasons, but sometimes those reasons – your why – get lost in the doing. As the end of the PhD looms, take some time to reflect on why you were doing it all in the first place. Maybe those reasons have changed as well, but in either case it’s interesting.