Many independent schools in the UK select their candidates for entry based not only on their scores in an entrance exam but also on their performance in an interview. Generally, the purpose of such interviews is to ascertain the suitability of a student for the school they are applying for and to determine the desires of the applicant and their capacity to express themselves, ask questions and interact with a teacher through several topics and subjects.
These interviews can present a challenge for parents who often are not sure what exactly to expect for their child.
A typical interview can last anywhere from 15-40 minutes, depending on the interviewing school. Interviews may be individual or they may be based in a group, with several students being asked questions at the same time. Some interviews are even conducted remotely, via Zoom or Google Hangouts, on account of coronavirus distancing measures.
Questions at an independent school interview can vary considerably. Most will begin with general questions about the child’s personal and academic life. For example:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What is your favourite subject at school?
- What book are you currently reading?
- Who is your favourite author?
- Where do you currently go to school?
- Why are you applying for this school in particular?
Some interviews may ask questions that test academic ability, such as asking students to work out a maths sum or to analyse an unseen poem, and some may ask a child to comment on something they have seen in the news recently.
Some schools may even ask more abstract questions designed to see how a child reasons their opinions, such as “What makes a person brave?” or “How many bricks make a wall?”
It is important to remember that securing a school interview does not guarantee admission to the interviewing school and that students should prepare appropriately for their chance to secure that place. Here are a number of our top tips for parents seeking to prepare their child for their entrance interview.
Confidence: If your child has a tendency to be nervous, practice deep breathing techniques. Arrive for the interview in plenty of time, as rushing in will lead to a nervous start. Make sure that they appear smart and confident, smile, maintain good eye contact and use a warm greeting. Always knock before entering the interview room. Practising a firm handshake can show confidence and can make a memorable first impression!
Posture: During the interview students should aim to avoid slouching, fidgeting or chewing gum. Tuck the chair under the table if there is one as this will help stop fidgeting, moving legs, and leaning back, which can distract the interviewer. It can be useful to clasp hands together in the lap to avoid absent-mindedly playing with them.
Dress: Remember to look up the dress code for the school you are interviewing for. Some schools prefer students to wear their school uniform to the interview while some simply prefer smart clothing.
During an interview sometimes students will be asked to read a passage, discuss a painting on the wall or discuss topical/current affairs, talk about exercise books that they have brought with them or even discuss a portfolio of work. Rehearse all of these types of discussions in advance so that your child is not taken completely by surprise. Having to think on their feet can cause nerves. The best way to practise this type of interview question is to simply practise forming and expressing an opinion about things; do you like this, that or something else and why? There are often no wrong answers to these types of questions – rather, the interviewer is trying to gauge how a student expresses and justifies themselves.
Elaborate! Students should avoid one-word answers or silence! Even if unsure of their own opinion about something, making an attempt at an answer is always better than nothing at all or a dreaded “I don’t know.” Interviewers are looking for interviewees to take the initiative and elaborate on their statements. In case of any doubt, request the interviewer to explain the question again and continue the discussion.
Natural: Students should smile often and maintain eye contact with the interviewer. Although preparing for certain types of interview questions can be really useful for avoiding nerves or silence, it is important not to over-rehearse. Scripting “perfect” answers can often come across as disingenuous; students should aim for a natural and interactive dialogue with the interviewer rather than trying to recite or remember a prewritten answer.
Well-rounded: Students should not feel afraid to discuss their interests and hobbies as well as their academic pursuits! The interviewer will often have a good idea about the academic prowess of a student based on their exam performances. The interview is a great chance for students to show how well-rounded they are and what else they have to offer a school, including their interests in sports, music and other extracurricular activities.
Prepared: If being interviewed by a housemaster/mistress it is a great idea to research what subjects they might teach or what sports teams they may coach/what their interests/contributions are to extra-curricular programmes. Finding a common ground right away will help a student dive right into an engaging conversation.
Why would you like to come to this school?
This is a question many students neglect to think about, even if the whole purpose of the interview is to secure a place at this establishment! This is an important thing to consider: the interview is just as much an opportunity for a student to see if a school is the right fit for them as it is for the school to assess the suitability of the student.
Research the school beforehand! It is a good idea to look through the school’s prospectus and website together with your child and to write down the things that appeal about the school. This may be certain subjects that are taught, certain facilities available, certain opportunities for extracurricular activities and trips or anything else. Knowledge of all of these things will show a student’s genuine interest in the school and will be memorable for the interviewer.
Leave a good impression! At the very end of the interview, it is likely that a student will be asked if they have any questions for the interviewer. This is a great opportunity again to show a genuine interest in the school; be careful not to ask any questions about things that can easily be looked up online or in a prospectus as this may make it seem as if the student has not done their appropriate research. Students should use this chance to prove their passion for the school and to find out something they genuinely wish to know about.
The takeaway from all these interview tips should be this: be confident and support your answers! To help your child to succeed in their interview, practise with them; go through some of these questions mentioned above and give them ample time and opportunity to develop their skills in elaborating on their opinions.
For more first hand experience of independent school interviews, consider joining the discussions on the ElevenPlusExams forum, where parents can post questions, share their own stories and offer advice. For all those students yet to attend their entrance interviewers – good luck!