As we enter the interview season for independent schools, its worth considering the best ways to help your child prepare for what can be a new experience.
A school entrance interview can be daunting for children and parents alike. For 10-11 year old children who are well established and happy at their current school, it can be quite a jump to go to a new school and be questioned by new teachers, who may ultimately have the final say in whether a place is offered or not.
Fortunately, the actual experience of the interview is often much more pleasant than our prior fears might allow expect. Its worth remembering that the interviewers will be experienced teachers who see teaching as a vocation and enjoy working with children. Like exams, interviewers will mark positively and encourage a child to show their very best.
There are a few steps when preparing for an interview that can make a real difference, if only to give your child a confidence boost. We have put together six steps that should help, including sample questions.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
This goes without saying. The more a child practices answering questions the more they will feel prepared. A good strategy is to ask your child a number of pre-prepared questions and make notes of "what went well" (WWW) and "even better if..." (EBI). They might be familiar with this feedback structure at school and it ensures that feedback is framed positively. But what should you look out for?
2. Extended Answers
Interviewers will be expecting age appropriate responses. While they won't be expecting philosophical discourses on the nature of being (although that would no doubt go down well) they will be looking for thoughtful (and truthful!) answers. It is a good sign in an interview if the interviewer doesn't need to ask follow up questions to get more information. A good structure for your child to use is the Point+Evidence model. For example, if the question is "which subject do you most enjoy?" a suitable response might be "Maths because I enjoy solving problems involving shapes. I won a maths prize for completing lots of puzzles set by my teacher". This will be a better response than just "maths".
Schools are not looking for perfectly polished young learners. They are looking for potential and character that would fit into their school environment. Its important for children to feel that they can express, when asked, where they might be struggling or what they might find challenging. Just like in grown-up job interviews, responding to the question "what are your greatest weaknesses" with "I have none" or "dunno" isn't a particularly good idea. Its worth speaking with your child and their teacher about the areas they need to improve most in. If the child is already aware, speak to them about how they might go about improving this. The interviewer will not be particularly concerned about the details, but more about whether the child is aware of their weaknesses and they know how to go about working on them.
Additionally, if a question comes up which your child genuinely doesn't know the answer to, its not worth blagging. Honesty is always the best policy in these situations. Being able to say "I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that question but it sounds interesting and I'd like to research it further" is always preferable to making up a half-baked response on the spot.
You can almost guarantee there will be questions about reasons for choosing that particular school. Its worth spending a lot of time on this and thinking about the genuine reasons why the school has been picked. It could be positive reports from current parents you know, or a favourable reputation in the area. A school focused on sports might be appealing to budding cricketers or footballers whereas an academically minded school is seen as the best environment for a budding scientist etc. Other factors to include are experiences on Open Days, ISI reports and of course, examination results. One often overlooked aspect, which all schools like to hear about, is the impact of their ethos. The pastoral elements of schools are geared towards nurturing the development of the whole person and it is well worth considering this as a part of your child's response.
(Sometimes an interviewer will ask a child which other schools they have applied to. This is generally bad form but it does occasionally happen. If it does, its worth being honest but emphasise the unique aspects of the school in question.)
5. Overcoming Nerves
Its a cliche, but nerves are a good thing. It shows that the interview is being taken seriously and is motivation for preparing well. That said, being too nervous can prevent a child from answering questions as fully as they might like. Interviewers will be expecting some children to be nervous and should always try and put the child at ease. They generally start the interview with a chat but some of the more traditional schools can get down to business pretty quickly.
By following steps 1-4 hopefully your child is feeling well prepared for the interview but there are a couple of additional things you can do to combat nerves. While practising with a parent or their regular tutor is beneficial it does have some drawbacks. Most obviously, the child will be used to their parent and tutor. It can be beneficial to hire an interview specialist to help with the final stages of the interview prep. This way the child gets used to answering questions from someone they are not familar with and they can receive feedback on how they come across. A parent or regular tutor might have a more holistic view of the child, but the new interviewer, like the actual interviewers, will only have the given responses to go on. This can help target areas to work on in the lead up to the real interview. Here at Argent Education, we have a number of teachers who can be booked for interview practice. Detailed and comprehensive reports are included as a matter of course.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Yep, we've repeated it because its so important. To help with this, please find below a list of general questions which should help provide support for your child's preparations:
1. Why would you like to attend this school?
2. What can this school provide that other schools cannot?
3. Tell me about your current school
4. Tell me about a situation you found challenging and how you overcame it
5. If I were to interview one of your friends about you, what would they say?
6. What is your greatest achievement to date?
7. Is education important? Why?
8. What is your favourite subject?
9. What is your least favourite subject?
10. Is it better to win or to take part?
11. What is Brexit and what do you think about it?
12. If you could be taught lessons by 3 people from history, who would it be and why?
13. Can you tell me about the book you are reading at the moment?
14. What place have you visited has had the biggest impact on you?
15. Which subject is more important: Mathematics or English?
16. What will you be doing in 20 years?
17. What does success look like for you?
18. How have you overcome an argument with a friend?
19. If you were Headteacher of a school, would you keep or ban uniforms?
20. Do you have any questions? (Note: Always have one prepped for this question!)
We hope this of help to you and your child. If you would like further information or a free consultation, please do get in touch. Finally, best of luck to all the young people preparing for their interviews.
*Four steps and one really important one