Private school interview tips for the big day.
How to succeed in a private school interview
So your child has done all the hard work, right? They’ve passed their 11 Plus entrance exams. Now all they’ve got to do is show up for the school interview and that’s it. They’ll be heading to their chosen school next September.
Well sorry, it’s not quite so simple. Private schools routinely interview children after entrance exams to assess whether they are suitable for the school. Some even interview the parents too! And many consider the interview just as important as the written exams. Indeed they may see it as an opportunity to ‘weed’ out as many candidates as the exam process.
Part of the reason for the interview is to identify children who have been tutored to within an inch of their lives and those who are considered teachable. In other words, those who have a natural ability or ‘spark’. For the schools, it may also be an opportunity to see children who haven’t performed quite so well in their exams. Often these are younger children with birthdays later in the school year.
Nor are the schools necessarily looking for the most extrovert children. In other words, those who are so full of confidence they can engage adults in conversation on a range of topics for hours. Instead, they are looking for a good balance of children for the school. Those they believe will fit into the environment.
How do you prepare for the school interview?
Most parents know how to deal with 11 Plus exams. There’s a wealth of information online, past papers to study and of course hundreds of tutors to choose from. But when it comes to the big interview, information is much scanter. Probably deliberately so.
For example, Latymer Upper School simply says in its guidelines: “We do not encourage children to prepare for an interview but we do expect those we call back to be able to answer the academic questions with ease.”
Some even have group interviews – like mini-lessons – in addition to individual interviews. This makes it even more difficult to prepare. For example, City of London School for Boys writes: “No specific preparation is required or expected for the interview or group session, which are designed to explore a candidate’s intellectual and personal qualities, his interests and aptitudes.”
Can I get an interview coach?
As with job interviews, there are several companies that offer both one-to-one coaching and group coaching for 11 Plus interviews. One such company is London-based JK Educate. And while these sessions may benefit some children, opinion is divided on whether they are really all that necessary.
Instead, it seems more important for children at interview to relax and try to be themselves. There is nothing worse than pretending to like Norse mythology only to be caught out when a teacher starts talking about Odin and you have no idea who they’re on about!
That said there are certain questions that nearly always come up. These include ‘why do want to come to this school?’ and ‘what are your interest outside of school?’ So it is worth preparing them.
Below we offer some advice on how to get ready in the days leading up to the interview. We also provide tips on how to behave on the day itself. Good luck!
10 top school interview tips for success
Before the interview:
1. Watch the news and read the papers
Most schools will be looking for well-rounded individuals so make sure you have a grasp of what’s going on in the world. Read a paper (it doesn’t have to be The Times or The Telegraph, a free paper will do). Also, watch the news for at least a few days before the interview.
2. Ask your parents and siblings questions about themselves!
Interviewers will be curious to find out more about your background. Knowing what your parents do for a living, how old they are and their upbringing may prove useful. Similarly knowing the likes/dislikes of your sister/brother could be handy too.
3. Cultivate hobbies and interests
Schools like candidates who have plenty of interests outside of the classroom. This shows they haven’t spent all hours being tutored for the entrance exams! So if you like to spend your spare time playing chess think about what it is you like about it. Similarly, if you play Sunday League football be prepared to answer questions about where you play, how the team is doing etc.
4. Rehearse standard questions
As with a job interview, you will almost certainly be asked why you want to go to that particular school. Make sure you have an appropriate answer prepared rather than answering ‘because my Mum wants me to’ or ‘I’m not that bothered, I’ve got other schools I’m interviewing for.’ Other standard questions you may be asked include:
What is your favourite subject at school and why?
Who is your favourite author?
If you had unlimited money what would you do with it and why?
5. Conduct a mock interview
You don’t need to go to a professional to brush up your interview technique. Once you’ve prepared answers for some of the questions above, it’s a good idea to go through them in a mock interview with your parents to practise your interview technique.
On the interview day:
6. Dress appropriately
Many schools will encourage you to wear your own clothes for an interview, rather than school uniform. However, do check beforehand if you are unsure. As with a job interview, it is best to look too smart, rather than too scruffy.
7. Shake hands
Be prepared to shake the hand of your interviewer and look them in the eye as you are doing so. Remember it is ostensibly a formal interview so ‘fist bumping’ or any other kind of informal greeting is a definite no-no!
8. Sit upright, sit still
There is nothing more off-putting than someone constantly moving around and slouching while you are talking to them. This is especially true for a teacher who will be wondering how you’ll behave in a classroom in a one hour lesson if you are constantly fidgeting during a short interview!
9. Do talk! It is obviously a nerve-racking situation but it’s important that you try to articulate your answers as best as possible. This doesn’t mean talking too much and rambling. However nor does it mean ‘yes’, ‘no’ answers.
10. Stay calm – Schools will usually set a task during an interview. Maybe a maths puzzle to complete or a poem to read out and ‘analyse’. While these are difficult to prepare for in advance, it’s important to stay calm and do what is being asked of you.
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