Viva voce

Viva voce is a form of oral assessment that helps students develop valuable communication skills.

Viva voce (derived from Medieval Latin) is 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.

When to use a viva voce

Viva voce assessments are useful for:

  • examining a significant part of the syllabus
  • allowing students to 'think on their feet' and express themselves meaningfully
  • demonstrating students' ability to reflect and think critically in real time
  • distinguishing between superficial and in-depth learning (through interactive dialogue between the student and examiner)
  • objectively examining:
    • factual recall
    • applied knowledge
    • ability to synthesise information
    • communication skills.
  • Answering direct questions allows students to demonstrate their achievement of learning outcomes.
  • Enables students to read and revise a substantial amount of content, as ‘anything can be asked’ is the usual case with viva.
  • Often cited as an oral communication skill considered valuable for employment.
  • For a well-constructed viva examination, a series of candidates can be asked the same questions and their answers can be compared and evaluated.
  • Cultural background, individual differences and special needs can contribute to underperformance during viva.
  • Advantages students who respond immediately to questions over those who are hesitant or deep thinkers.
  • Can be impacted by issues such as bias and poor inter-examiner reliability.
  • Like oral presentations, can be stressful to students.
  • If a series of the same questions is asked, a confidentiality process should prevent students from sharing information with those who haven't yet been examined.

Things to keep in mind

When developing viva voce assessments, remember these pointers.

Developing questions

  • Make sure the focus of each question is aligned with content and learning outcomes.
  • Consider asking open ended questions and encouraging answers that are not limited to ‘yes/no’ replies, allowing students to explain the response.
  • Don’t ask questions that are too long or complex as the student might not be able to capture the whole question.

Support student success

  • Explain the process of viva to the students before the session, including:
    • what a viva is
    • what they'll be expected to do.
  • Consider avoiding any unexpected surprises for students during the viva.
  • Allow students to do most of the talking.
  • Give student prompts that can help – remember, it's not the place for the examiner to show their intelligence.
  • Support the student to improve by:
    • debriefing and providing feedback at the end of viva assessments
    • recording online viva sessions so the student can reflect and improve.

More tips

  • Consider using viva as an online assessment by allocating a timetable and conducting it in an online meeting room.
  • Gathering student feedback on the process of viva can help ascertain its value as assessment.

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