Tips for viva voce/oral examination

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Some students often find viva voce/oral exams more difficult because unlike written exam where there is more time to think, ponder and even erase/correct any mistake made, the viva voce has a relatively shorter time duration in which the student has to competently answer the questions. In this article, some of the useful tips will be discussed to help answer in the viva voce/oral examination.

1. Wear your favorite clothes and perfume:

Yes how ridiculous it may sound…but it’s true. If you feel hesitant and are afraid, wearing your favorite clothes and perfume that you simply adore is going to boost your self confidence and help you relax. How you say has a stronger impact than what you say. If you feel confident, fresh and positive, it improves your communication and also adds weight to your words.

2. “The circle of perfection”:

Before entering in the viva room, draw an imaginary circle by your finger on the ground and step in it. It’s the circle of perfection, when you step in it, tell yourself that everything is going to be good. Do it alone where no one can see you! This again is only to boost your self confidence. Some people find that doing the Superman pose in front of the mirror also helps to boost their self confidence.

3. When entering the room:

Try not to open or slam the door too abruptly. Take all the necessary things that are needed in your viva along with yourself for instance your log book, pens etc etc. Greet the examiner and do not sit till you are not asked to. Do not move your fingers, bite your nails, keep your both feet on the ground, keep a little smile on your face. “Relax…you can manage the situation”.

4. Answering the questions:

Do not try to answer the questions in eye-blink, take time to understand the question and formulate in your mind where to start answering. You do not have to fill in every second with conversation. The examiner needs time to formulate another question and you need time to formulate answer in your mind before speaking it. An useful strategy is to slower down your rate/pace of speaking, it gives you the benefit of thinking before answering, as well as it extends your response time. Think if the examiner has to take your viva voce for 5 minutes and you answer everything very fast, chances are that the examiner may ask you additional questions. Obviously do not slow down that the examiner can only ask you a few question before s/he runs out of time.

Talk with respect and your language should be the language of your text book (i.e. if your science book is in English, then do not answer in Spanish). In vivas, no one expects you tell the whole book, only basics and remember ‘keep it simple’.

Generally you should begin your answer with a definition, tell the main properties/uses, exceptions. Do not go in un-necessary details that are not asked in the first place. Answering your question with all the details even when not asked by the examiner will automatically put the examiner to question you something higher as he will think that you know this topic well, so answer only what is required of you.

Answer in a loud voice, if you would speak in low voice, the examiner might take it as your lack of confidence resulting from lack of good preparation.

In vivas, the entire ball is in your hands, do not use the terminologies or mention the topics that you do not know well or have not prepared well, rather try to bring the tinge of those topics that you have prepared well so that examiner shifts his direction towards those areas. Always be prepared to supplement your answer with examples.

5.When you do not know answer:

If you do not know the answer to a question, try dropping it by saying “I’m sorry”. Answering the questions wrong often is more bad than not answering as the examiner then takes your viva by extending questions from the wrong answers that you provided him with. This can set a cycle of “wrong answers”.

It is also important that at least try to answer, do not just drop every question. Sometimes if you try, you may come up with some words and examiner may help you but it all depends on the type of environment and examiner that you are facing with.

6.The stress hormone and cycle:

One of my teacher Dr.Bahadur used to tell one thing, according to his theory; he believed that when we answer one question wrong, stress hormone (Epinephrine and Nor-Epinephrine) are released in the body which act for a period of 20 minutes.  During this time, we are not able to think well because we are under stress, the examiner asks next question and chances are that we again may answer it wrong because we are under stress. This sets a vicious cycle of more stress hormone released, amplifying our stress, next question–wrong answer–more stress hormone…So what should be done?

Relax…go to your college by having good breakfast, sound sleep and a little bit exercise so that excess stress hormone levels are burnt down. Even if you make a mistake, do not lose your confidence because losing your confidence and getting anxious will not only impact your thinking abilities but also portray to the examiner that you are not prepared. In such moments, keep telling yourself that you can manage it, you know the subject and it will be all fine. “What’s the worst that can happen? You would fail or perform worst? So? Is it the end of the world? Has no one before you ever failed and yet they still managed to be more successful in life than the toppers and gold medalists? So what are you worrying for?”

For study tips, please read this article.


Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2008)
Karachi, Pakistan
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