Online accessible viva voce guide

These guidelines and recommendations are provided to assist staff who have decided to conduct an online viva, rather than a face-to-face (in-person) viva, with a disabled candidate.

Please note that you may also be conducting vivas with students who have chosen not to disclose their disability, or are as yet undiagnosed. Please follow the maxim that whatever is accessible for disabled students increases accessibility for all.

If you are choosing to conduct an online viva it is recommended that Microsoft Teams is used for the viva, wherever possible, due to its enhanced accessibility features compared to other video conferencing systems and the ability to produce accurate live captions.

Online viva for students with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), specific learning difficulties and mental health conditions

  • Be aware that students with autism spectrum conditions, specific learning difficulties and mental health difficulties can be affected in a range of ways by their disabilities and with differing degrees of impact. If you are unsure what the student needs, ask them. 
  • Offer the student a choice of on-line viva via text only, by audio only, or by audio with video. Please be aware that audio with video may be highly anxiety provoking for some students with ASC in particular and so audio only or text only may be preferred.  Alternatively, the examiner could speak while the student responds using text, or the examiner could use audio with video while the student responds using audio only or text only. Provide these as options and make it clear that the student's choice of on-line viva format will not affect the results of the viva. 
  • Some students with ASC may find it easier to communicate if they cannot see the examiner's face and knowing that the examiner cannot see theirs. However, other students with ASC prefer to see the person they are talking to as that helps them to understand the conversation better. Provide these as options and allow the student to make their own choice. 
  • Check that the student is familiar with using on-line viva methods such as Teams, and ensure that the student understands how to use any facilities that are needed in the viva (such as screen sharing) well in advance of the viva. Suggest that the student practices with their study skills tutor, where appropriate, beforehand. This will help to reduce anxiety. 
  • Provide a way for the student to pause the call if they are feeling uncomfortable with the communication. 
  • Provide students with introductory information about the examiner(s) if they are not familiar with those who will conducting the viva. Ask examiner(s) to introduce themselves at the start of the viva to allow a period of settling in.  
  • Conduct the on-line viva in a quiet environment, otherwise the student can be distracted by trying to work out if background noises are someone speaking (especially if it is audio only). Be aware that for some students in the current circumstances may struggle to find a suitable location.  
  • Provide full details, in writing, of the purpose of the viva and whether or not it will affect the exam marks. 
  • Provide a detailed explanation of the format the viva will take (is it a ‘Q and A’ session; is it probing an aspect of an essay for more details and in-depth discussion; or does it require ‘on the spot’ calculations to be performed, etc.) and also how long will it last. If appropriate, provide an outline of the areas that the examiner would like to probe in more detail in advance 
  • Encourage the student to email a list of any questions or concerns they may have about the viva to their Department/Faculty/DoS in advance of the viva. The student may benefit from discussing any concerns about the process with their ADRC mentor, who can help them to construct an email to their Department/Faculty/DoS conveying their concerns and framing their questions. 
  • Please be aware that answering on the spot can be challenging as a Viva can place a burden on the working memory, sequencing, speed of processing and concentration of a student with SpLD, ASC or mental health conditions. Provide adequate time for the student to assimilate/process the question and make notes/ sequence ideas before being required to respond to the question.  
  • Students with SpLD may also experience some difficulties with word retrieval and so examiners should be mindful that the student may need time to mentally search for the word and allowances should be made it if cannot be instantly recollected.  
  • To help relieve the burden on working memory and the requirement to understanding non-verbal communication (including inference),  please use straightforward and unambiguous phrasing in the questions during the Viva and avoid multiple parts to questions, insofar as possible. These additional parts could be asked as separate questions. Repetition may be necessary. 
  • Provide 25% extra time and/or rest breaks of 10 minutes per hour where recommended 
  • Provide questions in written as well as verbal form (for example by pasting questions into the chat function on Teams). 
  • Please recognise that the answers to questions given by students with ASC, SpLD or mental health conditions may not appear to be as well organised as the answers of non-disabled students.  
  • Examiners should indicate to the student when they have answered the question to the required extent.  
  • Be aware that students with ASC may not have identified the gist of a question, and may instead focus on an aspect of detail in their response. 
  • Anxiety may be heightened due to the high stakes nature of the viva as anxiety (including social anxiety) can be aggravated by stress. Please look out for signs of heightened anxiety and offer a break if the student shows increasing levels of anxiety during the viva. If necessary, stop/pause the viva to avoid further deterioration in wellbeing. 
  • Allow the student to read the question back to the examiner, if necessary, to ensure that all the points that were being raised have been noted. The student then, as needed, should be allowed to make some notes on the answers, as opposed to having to think instantly ‘on the spot’. 
  • Examiners should signpost questions to assist with processing. An example of signposting would be, for example, saying, ‘moving now to look at [mention a topic], what do you think about [ask the question]' or the examiner could summarise a point and then ask the related question. This is less difficult for the student to process than asking the question without the introductory phrase. 
  • Examiners should be made aware that the student has a diagnosis of SpLD, ASC and /or a mental health condition and the negative impact on this can have on processing incoming information at speed.  
  • A non-confrontational approach to questioning is recommended as students may experience negative thoughts or responses. Check that the student understands the question and be prepared to repeat questions to ensure the student understands what is being asked. 
  • Allow student to make notes of questions asked so that they can refer to this during the examination. If the student does not provide a full response to a question, please assist through the use of prompting sub-questions.

Students with physical and sensory impairments and long-term health conditions

  • Be aware that disabled students with hearing, visual, physical impairments and with long term health conditions can be affected in a range of ways and with differing degrees of impact. If you are unsure what the student needs, ask them.  
  • Be explicit about what is required during the viva.  
  • Ensure the lighting is good and highlights the face of the examiner/s. 
  • Ensure the picture quality is as high as possible so that the image is clear and does not fragment. 
  • Ensure that the audio quality is of a standard that the student is able to hear all examiners clearly. Test this before the exam starts.  
  • Make sure there are no shadows falling onto the examiner’s face as this will make it difficult for the student to lip read or pick up information from facial expressions. 
  • Keep the background lighting even and not too bright as this will throw the examiner’s face into silhouette, making it difficult for the student to lip read or pick up information from facial expressions. 
  • Ensure there is good contrast between the examiner and the background for e.g. plain light background and wear plain dark colour clothes where possible to help students concentrate on hearing and lip reading, or focussing on the face and audio. 
  • Keep hands and fingers away from the face and look directly into the camera so that the face can be seen clearly. 
  • Speak clearly, check that the student can hear at intervals, and be prepared to repeat words or sentences if asked and let the student know that this is acceptable. 
  • Use a plain background behind the examiner so there are no visual distractions. Blur the background, if possible (for example in Teams). 
  • Check if live captioning is available (this is available in Teams) and use this if the student would find this helpful. 
  • Keep background noise to an absolute minimum. Background noise is distracting and can be picked up by hearing aids/ radio aids at the same volume as speech. It is difficult to ‘cancel out’ background noise, when using such devices. 
  • Make sure the doors and windows of the room where the examiner is located are shut so that no outside noises can be heard 
  • Be aware that there is likely to be ‘echo’ sounds if the Viva takes place in a room with no carpet/curtains/soft furnishings.  
  • Explain to the student who is in the room and where they are located if there is more than one examiner. 
  • If there is more than one examiner, ensure that only one person is speaking at any one time and explain/verbally indicate when another person is due to speak. For example, ‘I will now hand over to X’. 
  • If an examiner wishes to speak when others are talking, indicate this by raising a hand, or use the chat function. This will help the student to ‘place’ the examiner who is speaking. 
  • Be aware that if students with visual impairments are required to refer to any textual information they may need to access screen reading software such as Jaws or NVDA. 
  • Be aware that the student may not be able to follow non-verbal clues/facial expressions. 
  • Rest breaks of 10 minutes per hour, and/or 25% extra time if recommended. 
  • Be aware that some disabled students will have conditions which lead to fatigue and they may require rest periods. 
  • Be aware that some disabled students may be using ergonomic equipment and assistive technology to access their learning and be mindful that this may lead to delays in responses.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact the ADRC at