Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University


Viva-voce assessment has been of interest since early 20th century. It was derived from Medieval Latin in 1815 and was defined as “an examination conducted by speech or assessment in which a student’s response to the assessment task is verbal, in the sense of being expressed or conveyed by speech instead of writing” (Pearce & Lee 2009). Assessment can be conducted by one or more assessors.

A Viva Voce can be delivered in the following ways during the COVID-19 situation as an alternative to a paper-based final examination:

  1. Time limited, non-invigilated online exam—the task is undertaken online under ‘exam-like’ time constraints (typically 1-3 hours) but is open book, allowing students to refer to any material they can access. DSA can assist with the scheduling of this task.
  2. Invigilated online exam—the task is undertaken online under ‘exam-like’ time constraints (typically 1-3 hours) and invigilated remotely.  This category should only be pursued if, in consultation with your Head of School, the above two categories are not viable. DSA will assist with the scheduling of this task.

Pros and cons of Viva-voce in an examination or as an assessment task

Some advantages:

  • Viva allows students to answer direct questions, hence can be considered as one of the most valid ways that allow students to demonstrate evidence of achievement of the intended learning outcome.
  • Viva is good assessment tool to examine a significant part of syllabus.
  • Viva enables students to read and revise a substantial amount of content, as ‘anything can be asked’ is the usual case with viva.
  • Viva is often cited as the oral communication skill that is considered valuable for employment.
  • Viva enables students to think on their feet and express themselves meaningfully.
  • Viva serves as a platform for student to demonstrate their ability to reflect, synthesise and think critically.
  • Viva can be used as an objective structured clinical examination that examines factual recall, applied knowledge, ability to synthesise information and communication skills.
  • Viva provides an interactive dialogue between the student and the examiner, allowing the examiner to distinguish between superficial and in-depth learning.
  • For a well-constructed viva examination, a series of candidates can be asked the same questions and their answers can be compared and evaluated.

Some limitations:

  • Cultural background, individual differences and students with special needs may underperform during viva.
  • Students who are immediate responders to questions can gain advantage over students who are hesitant and deep thinkers.
  • Issues of bias and poor inter-examiner reliability may exist.
  • Viva, like oral presentations, can be stressful to students.
  • If a series of the same questions are asked, there needs to be a process of confidentiality so that students examined are not able to communicate to friends whose turn is still to come.

Some considerations when developing a Viva-voce

  • You can consider having a Viva as an online assessment by allocating a timetable and conducting it within an online meeting room.
  • Ensure that the focus of questions are aligned with content and learning outcomes.
  • Explain the process of viva to the students prior to the Viva session. Explain what a viva is and what they will be expected to do.
  • Consider not giving any unexpected surprises to students while undertaking Viva. Sharing the agenda and clarifying the process at the beginning of viva can help you get more out of the student.
  • Consider asking open ended questions and encouraging answers that are not limited to ‘yes/no’ reply, allowing students to explain the response.
  • Simultaneously, make sure that you don’t ask questions that are too long or complex as the student might not be able to capture the whole question.
  • Allow students to do most of the talking.
  • Provide student with prompts that can help, remember it is not the place for the examiner to show their intelligence.
  • Recording an online Viva session and allowing student to look at the recording at their comfort can help with deep reflection and improvement on their performance.
  • Debriefing and providing feedback at the end of Viva can be useful to students when they encounter Viva’s again.
  • Gathering student’s feedback on the process of Viva can also be useful. In ascertaining its value as assessment.

Additional resources

Types of Powerful Assessment-: Thesis/Viva Voce- - FLIPCurric