9.4 The oral examination

9.4.1 The requirement for an oral examination

Assessment of all research degrees includes an individual oral examination, unless permission for exemption has been granted by the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education) or nominee.

The oral examination is normally conducted within four months of submission of the dissertation.

9.4.2 The role of the oral examination

Examiners should discuss with the candidate the strengths as well as any weaknesses of the candidate's work. The oral examination enables the examiners to:

9.4.3 Preparation

The candidate should be provided with suitable opportunities to practise for the oral examination by their school through, for example, presenting and being questioned about their research.

Examiners (and the Independent Chair if appointed) will normally meet before the start of the oral examination to discuss the issues identified in their preliminary reports and to plan how they will conduct the oral examination (for further information about examiners' preliminary reports see Section 9.5.1). Examiners may write on the examined work (e.g. to indicate minor errors).

The candidate, the candidate's supervisors, the School PGR Director and the examiners should avoid any action in the period leading up to the examination that might impair the ability of the examiners to make an impartial assessment of the candidate's work.

None of the examiners should be asked to comment on drafts of the candidate's work prior to the examination.

Candidates must not contact the external examiner for any reason and may contact the internal examiner (or the Independent Chair if appointed) with regard to their examination only to discuss the practical arrangements.

Examiners should not meet the candidate's supervisors prior to the examination.

The candidate's supervisors must not contact the external examiner on any matter relating to the examination and may contact the internal examiner (or the Independent Chair if appointed) only in respect of any special arrangements required for the oral examination.

9.4.4 Observers 

A request for observers to attend an oral examination, which requires the agreement of the candidate and the examiners, must be approved by the School PGR Director and the Faculty PGR Director. Observers may be the candidate’s supervisors or other persons.

Observers must not contribute to discussion during the oral examination. Observers normally do not see the preliminary reports and must normally withdraw before the examiners begin to consider their recommendations. The only exception permitted for an observer to see the preliminary reports and to be present for the examiners’ discussion following the oral examination is where an inexperienced academic who has no close links to the candidate wishes to gain knowledge of the full examination process.

There is a clear distinction between an observer, as described in this section, and an Independent Chair as set out in Section 9.3.1.

9.4.5 Reasonable adjustments to the assessment of research students with disabilities 

Disabled students should be offered reasonable adjustments that take into account their disability for the purpose of assessment. Research students should be signposted to Disability Services for a Disability Support Summary, which will make recommendations for reasonable adjustments appropriate for the student in any assessment, such as progression processes, presentations, or the oral examination. Students and staff should contact Disability Services for advice about reasonable adjustments to assessment.

9.4.6 Extenuating circumstances

Extenuating circumstances are circumstances external to study within the University that a student believes may affect their performance in assessment.

Candidates, their supervisors and the School PGR Director share the responsibility for making examiners (and the Independent Chair if appointed) aware of any extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration during the conduct of the oral examination. Where appropriate, a written statement supported by relevant evidence should be provided, via the Academic Quality and Policy Office, before the dissertation is submitted.

Any extenuating circumstances that might affect the candidate's performance in the oral examination should be brought to the attention of the internal examiner (or the Independent Chair if appointed) as early as possible, normally not later than one month before the oral examination. It is however recognised that in some cases extenuating circumstances may emerge closer to the examination. Examiners will make appropriate adjustments to the conduct of the examination, seeking specialist advice where required.

9.4.7 Special arrangements

The Faculty PGR Director may, with the agreement of the candidate, approve special arrangements for conducting the oral examination, such as recording it. 

Requests, with appropriate justification, should be addressed to the Faculty PGR Director and must be approved prior to the start of the oral examination.

Schools may seek agreement from the Faculty PGR Director for the regular use of such arrangements.

All participants must be informed in advance if the intention is to record an oral examination, and any objections must be considered by the Faculty PGR Director. At the oral examination, all participants must be notified that recording will take place prior to the start of the recording. The recording must stop at the formal close of the oral examination.

Files of recordings should be stored on secure University servers with access limited only to those who have a need to access the recordings. The University’s Information Handling Policy must be complied with at all times. Recordings must be retained for a reasonable period after the oral examination and must be securely disposed of at the end of the retention period.

9.4.8 Location of the viva

The oral examination with the candidate and all the examiners normally takes place at the University of Bristol.

An online oral examination by video link with one or more remote participants may be held where the candidate and examiners agree to this approach and with School PGR Director and Faculty PGR Director approval. Annex 6 contains guidance for online oral examinations.

An oral examination with the candidate and all the examiners may take place in a physical location outside of the University of Bristol where the candidate and examiners agree to this approach and with School PGR Director and Faculty PGR Director approval.

The School PGR Director and the Faculty PGR Director must be confident that the candidate will not be disadvantaged in an oral examination held online or at a physical location outside of the University of Bristol before giving approval.

9.4.9 Conduct of the oral examination

All participants in the oral examination are expected to behave with respect, courtesy and academic integrity towards those present. The oral examination should be conducted in an appropriate and professional manner.

The oral examination must be conducted in English. In the case of a candidate in Modern Languages who has submitted a dissertation in a language other than English, the oral examination must be conducted in English, unless the Faculty PGR Director has agreed a request from the candidate and the examiners to conduct the oral examination in the language of the culture studied.

The examiners are jointly responsible for ensuring that the oral examination is performed fairly, taking account of any special circumstances that they have been made aware.

Examiners should return the examined dissertation or published work to the candidate as soon as possible after the end of the examination.