Why I Want To Be An External Viva Examiner Once In My Life!

by Tejas Nair

I get jittery when people say “oral exams” or “vivas” as it is generally referred to in Engineering. I don’t specifically hate these words but I am mad at what they mean. The idea was purportedly conceived by some enemies of humanity, I bet. Every time I enter a laboratory for that inevitable viva, I experience butterflies in my stomach.

The cause of this prejudice could be the different interpretations by the examiner of the whole idea. Suppose you are a student (Engineering or others), your subject professor takes monthly vivas to test how much you know about that subject so that he can rate your knowledge for internal marks. He/She will probably ask some basic questions and then move deeper. This is very convenient, both for students & the professors because it happens & completes in minutes flat. This is one type of interpretation and as far as I can tell, the right one.

Some people ask me why I love appearing for personal interviews yet abhor vivas. Well, there is where our next interpretation comes in. The examiner thinks he is the king of the world and the students, traitors of his kingdom. Maybe he resembles so-called King Joffrey Baratheon from fictional Game Of Thrones but he doesn’t deserve my hate for what he did to Ned Stark than the questions these examiners have in their kitty. For a viva of the subject Radar Engineering, you can expect questions like “Difference between Radar & Sonar” or “History of Radar” or even “the cost and physical attributes of a Radar,” but the questions such type of examiners ask are “What is black money?” or “Which party do you support this Lok Sabha elections?” or worse “What, as a student, are your drawbacks?” These questions sure have answers, but the problem is context.

Next, the Samosa people! Their single and only purpose for appearing as an external viva examiner is to get free food from the college canteen. This type will usually be very late. The time set will be 9 AM and you can expect this external examiner at around lunch time. He will first have lunch, interrogate few students and then go for high tea before finishing his task. The questions they ask are straight basics before they smirk claiming the students aren’t capable of answering tough questions. Asking what integers are and then hopping to calculus is the hidden fashion such type of examiners employ.

Then there are lazy folks. They (usually females above 40) come, sit, gather 4-5 students and asks definitions, failing to which their preliminary or mid-term marks are asked. The viva marks are directly proportional to their their previous exams’. Ah, the irony!

Last but not the least, the perfect examiners. They dress well and reprimand the students for wearing t-shirts. They ask a relevant question and if the kid doesn’t know the answer, they will ask another simpler one. He then provides and explains the answers of the questions they do not know. This is the perfect viva session and I can relate to 3 or 4 times it occurred during my Engineering, spanning 6 years.

All this has constantly cause the birth of the idea in me to become an external viva examiner. Alas, my professors say it won’t be possible unless I become a professor myself. And that is not all, you got to have few years’ experience on the subject before you can represent the University in other institutions. But we all know Mumbai University and its lax methods. 10, maybe 15 years down the line, I would request the University, through my friendly professors, to have me as a viva examiner at least once and I will record the whole thing or maybe write a piece on the experience. Oh, that’d be a dream come true.

No, not as you think, I won’t harass the students. I’ll start with basic questions which I feel are in parallel to the curriculum. Then I’ll ask them interesting stuffs that are not taught in the books like “Did Radar play any role in the search for Malaysian Airline MH370” or “What is the difference between the local cable TV and DTH?” or better “What is the difference between LCD & LED & Plasma?” and I will make sure they leave the room understanding the answers to these questions. Maybe I’ll give them above 80% marks for I know the preparation students do hours before their turns for the viva is filled with sincerity and mettle. There is no competition during vivas; sworn enemies i.e. the top ten mark-scorers do not think about being at the top during vivas. Because I know, as a student, viva is a battle we fight in groups and not individually as may be the common misconception.