Undergraduate Course

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Honour School of Chemistry: Part IB

Viva Voce Examinations

The board of Examiners includes three External Examiners. One of their duties is to hold vivas (oral examinations) for a small group of candidates. This explains what happens in the vivas.

1. Who has to attend a viva?

Any candidate achieving better than a certain level of performance in the Part IB examination is deemed worthy of Honours and is allowed to pass through to Part II. A few people at the bottom of the school have to be examined more carefully; these are the candidates who have the viva exam. The candidates for a viva exam are selected by the full board of Part IB Examiners. It is possible to fail without being called for a viva.

2. What is the object of the viva?

The purpose of the viva is to gain additional information about a candidate. There are three possible outcomes, the candidate being respectively: (i) deemed worthy of Honours and eligible to proceed through to Part II; (ii) awarded a Pass degree (and not allowed through to Part II); and (iii) failed. The performance in the viva cannot weaken a candidate's position.

3. Who is present during a viva?

The only people present during a viva are the candidate, the three External Examiners and the Chairman of the Examiners. The External Examiners represent the three branches of Chemistry (Inorganic, Organic, and Physical); each is a senior, experienced academic from a University other than Oxford.

4. What information is available to the External Examiners?

The Examiners will have inspected your answer papers and will have your full set of marks. They will also be shown any medical or other certificates, should there be any.

5. What happens during a viva?

A viva will last 20 - 30 minutes. As a first objective, the Examiners will try to put the candidate at ease. They may ask for additional material on topics for which you have given good answers in the examinations. Eventually, they will ask about questions on which you have performed poorly or about questions you chose not to attempt in the examinations. They will give you ample opportunity to correct your mistakes and to show more knowledge than you were able to display in the examinations. They will not be trying to trip you up or discomfit you. They may go beyond the immediate material of the examination questions as the viva progresses. Questions in a viva are more likely to concern core chemistry, rather than specialist or advanced topics.

When answering the questions, try to be direct and concise. Whenever possible, illustrate your answers by drawing clear structures and diagrams (paper will be available). If you do not understand the question, say so. The Examiners will try to help you towards an answer, or perhaps ask you questions on a different topic.

6. How can you prepare for a viva?

Some further work on your chemistry will be beneficial. Concentrate on those topics for which you believe you gave the poorest answers in the examinations. The Examiners are most likely to concentrate on the questions you attempted in the General Paper but did badly. These are the areas in which you should aim to show the Examiners that your knowledge of chemistry is better than indicated by your written answers.

Nick Green
Chairman of Examiners, Part IB 2020