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Graduate School

The Oral Examination

Preparing yourself for the oral examination

As part of your training as a research student, your supervisory team will have encouraged you to present your work to staff/graduate seminars, and in other public forums (poster sessions, conference papers etc.). You may also have presented papers at conferences and observed or participated in ‘mock’ oral examinations. These activities are all part of the preparation to defend your thesis.

You should use the interval between the submission of your thesis and the date of your oral examination to stay in touch with your research material and to keep up with developments and publications in the field to which your project relates. Remember that one of the purposes of the oral examination is to establish your ability to locate your work within your chosen subject area.

Be prepared to be able to summarise your main arguments and to explain your choice of approach and methodology. Ask your supervisory team for guidance concerning the questions that your Examiners are likely to ask.

Before the oral examination

The Internal and External Examiners are required independently to assess the thesis and each prepare an individual independent report on the work. Shortly before the oral examination, the examiners will arrange to exchange and discuss their individual independent reports, and to determine:

  • The key issues to be raised with the candidate
  • The order within which they are to be raised
  • Who will ‘lead’ on each issue

Normally, the external examiner chairs the proceedings and has overall responsibility for conducting the oral examination.

At the oral examination

Your Examiners will understand if you are nervous at the outset, and they will make every effort to put you at your ease.

If one of your Examiners asks a question that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask for clarification, or to ask him/her to re-phrase the question.

To conclude the oral examination

After the examiner(s) are satisfied that they have gathered the relevant evidence, they will indicate this to you, thank you for answering their questions, ask whether there are any concluding comments which you wish to make, explain again that they will now consult about the outcome, and tell you how the recommendation will be communicated to you. While this may be done informally after the oral examination, you will be informed that formal notification of the result will be given by the Academic Support Office, once the initial and joint reports have been received, considered and approved by the appropriate Deputy Head of Faculty.