The Last Minutes

What do you do if you have an hour left until your viva and you feel a little nervous?

You do something.

  • You write a few sentences to describe your contribution.
  • You check the bookmarks you have placed in your thesis.
  • You talk with a friend and tell them how you feel.
  • You go for a short walk and breathe!

When you’re nervous in the viva you can only be there and engage as best you can. Before then, if you feel nervous, you can do lots of things to help yourself. Be thoughtful as you prepare: if you were to feel nervous in the last minutes before your viva, what could you do to help yourself?

In The Way

If you feel worried or anxious before the viva then stop and ask yourself, “Why?” What is getting in the way?


For example, if you feel unprepared it could be that you’re pressured with the time available. It could be that you’re not sure what to do. It could be you’re now concerned something is missing in your work. Any of these could be in the way, but all have solutions – you have to know what is in the way before you can work to remove it.

If you don’t feel confident it might be that you don’t know what to expect from the viva. It might be you are feeling especially nervous. It might be that you just don’t believe you’re ready. All of these and more could be reasons why someone doesn’t feel confident. All can be overcome, once you know what the barrier is.

And if the thought of talking with your examiners makes you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s because you don’t know that much about them. Perhaps you don’t know what the tone of the viva is supposed to be like. Perhaps you don’t always feel certain when discussing your work. Whatever is in the way, you can take actions to improve how you feel.


There could be lots of things in the way of you feeling good about your viva. There are also lots of things you can do to help yourself. You just need to know what is in the way so that you can start a plan to get past that barrier.

What Do You Do?

Here and there in my posts you’ll see subtle hints and outright confirmation that I love games of all kinds. Computer and video games, board games, card games, role-playing and story games. Thematic games, abstract games, little games, big games – basically games of all kinds, purposes, styles and descriptions.

I have a particular fondness for role-playing and story games. I love the countless possibilities when one reads a game and appreciates the intent and flavour that someone else has presented – that is now open to interpretation, modification and enjoyment by the people who are going to play. It’s a great thrill!

In many role-playing games, whatever their mechanical rules or genre, there is a fundamental question asked by the people playing whenever a situation is encountered: What do you do?

  • A dragon appears in the dungeon! What do you do?
  • You try to open the door but it’s stuck. What do you do?
  • The person you’re talking to has answered your question but you’re not sure if they’re telling the truth. What do you do?

There could be a facilitator for the game or not. You might be playing with a group or responding to prompts in a text. You might be rolling dice or drawing cards to influence the outcome but still at some point the question is always, “What do you do?”


It strikes me that this simple question is one that helps a lot in so many other situations, even with the viva.

  • You find a passage in your thesis after submission that doesn’t read well. What do you do?
  • Your first-pick for external examiner has cancelled. What do you do?
  • You have a week before your viva and want to boost your confidence. What do you do?
  • It’s two hours into your viva and your internal has called for a break. What do you do?
  • It’s two hours into your viva and your internal has asked a question you’ve never considered before. What do you do?

You might have an idea in mind. You might need to ask someone for information or help. You might not be in a hurry. Eventually, you have to do something. You’re the only one who can do something to move things forward or start the process.

It might not help to consider endless “what if…” possibilities, but considering how you might approach particular challenges could help. More importantly, recognising that it really is you who will have to do something to resolve a challenge, big or small, can help you realise that you’ll need to take action.

So, what do you do?

Succeeding in the viva is not a game, but it can help your confidence to have a winning strategy. You don’t need to play a role to pass. If a challenge presents itself pause and ask yourself what you will do. Then do it and move closer to your ultimate goal.

Viva Feelings

You can feel happy about your viva or sad.

You might feel ready to get started or nervous about what your examiners might ask.

You might feel certain of what you’ve done or unsure about work from several years ago.

There’s many things you might feel about your viva. How you feel could change with each day. The viva isn’t the most important thing you will ever do but it does matter.

As you get closer to your viva, if you find yourself feeling a strong emotion – good or bad – take a moment to ask yourself why. Take a moment to reflect on what it means. Take a moment to think about what you could do as a result.

Your feelings about the viva aren’t static, but you can’t simply change them. You can steer how you feel though.

How do you feel? What do you need to do?

You Need To Get Ready

The practical tasks involved in viva prep are not hard, but shifting focus to do the work can be tough.

Why? Perhaps because you’ve done it all before. You did this work! Haven’t you done enough already? You did the research, you wrote the thesis, you checked it and now you have to read it again and do more work for the viva. Really?!

Or maybe your response is lead by nervousness. Maybe you have lots of questions in the way. What exactly will be involved in the viva? What do examiners do? How do they behave? If viva prep is another step closer then putting it off means you might not have to inspect your own nervousness yet, at least for a little while.

Or you could be busy. Steering your attention to prep when you have a job, or you’re looking for one, or when you have responsibilities is just a hard ask. You know it needs doing, but finding the time or feeling energised enough when you need to prepare can be tough.

Whatever it is, whatever is proving a barrier, you need to find a way around it. Whatever the problem is you still need to prepare. You need to get ready for your viva.

  • You’ve done the research – but you need to get ready for your viva.
  • You could be nervous – but you need to get ready for your viva.
  • And of course you’re busy – but you need to get ready for your viva.

It’s not as simple as saying just get ready. Whatever is in the way of you shifting your focus to preparation is real. You have to find a way forward though. Everyone is different, so every solution is going to be unique.

Generally you have to make a plan that works for you, that is driven by what time you have, how you feel and what gaps you see in your preparation. Recognise the barrier and figure out a way around it.

And then you have to do to the work.

You need to get ready for your viva.

Just Start

It’s definitely possible to over-invest your time in viva prep.

I started six weeks before my viva. I probably spent close to 200 hours getting ready.

That’s a LOT more than is needed.

It’s also possible to do too little or start so late that you need to rush to squeeze everything in. There’s a worry I’ve seen expressed by many candidates over the last decade about finding the right time to start.

Two weeks before? Three? A month? When?!

If you submit your thesis and find yourself wondering whether or not to do something, then do it. Just do something and release the tension and the wondering. Viva prep is cumulative: it all adds up no matter when you start or do it.

Most candidates don’t need to start preparing until a month before the viva.

Most candidates would probably benefit from having at least two weeks to spread the work out sensibly.

But if you’re wondering if now is the right time then just start.

Just read something. Just write something. Just talk. Just start and do something and know that you’re on your way to being ready for your viva.

In Your Way

Time or work pressure.

Not knowing what to expect.

Being unsure of how to prepare.

Hearing stories that create doubt.

There can be lots of obstacles in your way of getting ready for the way. They’re real, they are barriers. You can still be ready, but only you can take the steps to get these things out of your way.

You have to make a small piece of time for yourself. You have to find out what to expect. You can learn what to do to prepare. You can ask for more viva stories that help.

You can and you must deal with anything in your way of getting ready for the viva.

Whatever Works

Good day socks.

A playlist that helps you feel happy.

A lucky teddy.

Three cups of coffee.

Dancing around.

A Post-it Note of encouragement.

An outfit that just feels right.

There’s practical must-do tasks that help candidates get ready for the viva – reading, checking, making notes, practising – and then there are the rituals, warm-ups, placebos and boosts that you just need. There’s no right or wrong, it’s not silly, it’s not weird: it’s what you need to feel right.

Whatever works, works. Use whatever you need to help you feel ready.

What’s Your Worry?

Don’t keep your viva worry bottled up in your brain where you can merely be anxious about it.

Write it down. Tell a friend. Talk to your supervisor.

Your worry could be unfounded. Talking to someone who has had their viva or knows about the process could put your concerns in perspective. They could help you see what you can do to help yourself.

Your worry could be easily resolved. Being clear with yourself and knowing what’s wrong and could allow you to move forwards.

Your worry could be a tough situation – in which case exploring what you could do and what you will do, possibly with support from others, will allow you to work past that worry.

It’s natural, given the importance of your viva, that you might have worries. If you do then you can also do something about them.

Breaking Up Your Viva

Breaks are an important part of the viva process. For length, for comfort, for medical reasons – there are lots of situations where a break is needed. It’s right to expect your examiners to offer them; it’s right to ask for one if you need one.

Concerns about long vivas often stem from a candidate wondering how they could perform well over long periods of time. Breaks help. Perhaps lots of worries about “what happens in the viva” follow from missing pieces of information.

You can ask for a break if needed, so that aspect no longer needs to be a worry.

What other worries do you have? Who could you ask to help you with them? What could you do?

How can you break up your concerns so that they become something you can resolve?