In-person accessible viva voce guide

These guidelines and recommendations are provided to assist staff who will be conducting a face-to-face (in-person) viva, rather than an online 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.

Face-to-face (in-person) 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. 
  • Provide a way for the student to pause or take a break if they are feeling uncomfortable with the communication. 
  • Provide students with introductory information about the examiner(s) in advance, especially 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 viva in a quiet environment, otherwise the student can be distracted by background noises. 
  • Conduct the viva in an environment that is familiar to the student, if possible, as this reduces anxiety. Alternatively allow the student the opportunity to view the room in advance. 
  • Allocate a quiet space near the examination room for students to sit and wait without others or use this room when taking breaks.  
  • 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. If possible provide information about the general areas that will be questioned in advance. 
  • 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, to ensure that the student is able to lip read or pick up information from facial expressions. 
  • Keep hands and fingers away from the face and look directly at the student 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. 
  • 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 may be ‘echo’ sounds if the Viva takes place in a room with no carpet/curtains/soft furnishings. Allow the student to visit the room in advance to check for any issues. 
  • Explain to the student who is present 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’. 
  • 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.