Preparing for the Oral Examination
Once you have finished writing your M.A. thesis, you must also undergo a one-hour oral defense. The purpose of the oral defense is to demonstrate that you have mastered the material enough to answer orally questions about it, without knowing in advance what those questions will be. All the members of your committee will be present, but other people may be present as well. Thesis defenses are publicized and any member of the University of Mississippi community is free to attend.
Defenses begin with you presenting a summary of your work. This summary should be prepared ahead of time, and it should be no less than five and no more than ten minutes in length. The purpose of this prelude is to provide a synopsis of your work understandable both by your committee members and by any members of the University of Mississippi community who decide to attend. Thus, you should not present any new arguments in this summary and you should attempt, when possible, to avoid jargon that only those who have read your work would understand. The Department asks you to deliver this prelude for the following reason: regardless of your career path, you will inevitably find yourself in situations where you must explain your work to other people who are not specialists in your chosen field or sub-discipline. The Faculty believes that you should practice delivering these brief glosses while you are still a student. Indeed, in addition to the five-to-ten minute version, it is not a bad idea to develop a quick two-minute version of your work, as well as a longer, more in-depth summary: this way you will be prepared to explain yourself in a great variety of situations.
After your initial presentation, the remainder of the defense is devoted to fielding questions from all those in attendance. Reading and re-reading the final version of your thesis is the best preparation for this stage of the defense. Moreover, the earlier you can produce a complete draft of the thesis/paper for your committee, the more likely it is that you will receive preliminary feedback.
After the question-and-answer period is over (usually with about 5 minutes left in the hour), everyone not on the committee will be asked to leave the room. The committee members will then vote on whether you have passed your defense (and thus earned your Masters degree). You will then be called back into the room and told the result. The vote will not be based exclusively on your performance during the defense. A poor oral defense of a strong thesis can still earn its author the degree. Still, the oral defense is a significant part of the decision whether to pass an M.A. thesis, so you are urged to prepare for it with care.