School interviews

What to expect

So your son or daughter is involved in annual scramble for a place at an independent school. What should you or they do to prepare?

Well, it is useful to think about the selection process that most schools undertake. Generally, it falls in to three parts:

  • The examination
  • The interview
  • The school report

Admissions policy

The first thing is to read carefully the school's prospectus and admissions policy (often published on the school's website) and study any sample papers that the school offers.

The admissions policy will tell you about the time scale of the process, when to apply, date of the examination, what to do if ill on the day of the examination, when candidates are interviewed and when the results are announced. It will also contain information about topics such as whether the school operates a sibling policy – this could be very important if you already have a child at a particular school.

It is also useful to see what arrangements the school can make if you child has a specific learning difficulty and might need some extra time, or the use of a laptop. If so, you should be able to provide the school will a report from a recognised Educational Psychologist, so if needed the school can make suitable arrangements. It is important to contact the school in advance if your child does have special requirements.

Examinations

The sample papers will give you some idea of the sort of questions to expect and the level that they are set at. Some come with an outline 'syllabus' to indicate the range of material that might appear on the papers, perhaps particularly useful when it comes to the maths.

The examination itself usually consists of a number of parts, and generally the examinees have a break between the various exams.

Reasoning

There are usually a Verbal Reasoning (VR) and Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) paper.

The first part of this paper consists of VR questions such as "Find the next number in the sequence 1, 3, 6, 10, …". The second part of such a paper is the NVR which tends to test children's visual spatial awareness, asking them to find the next in a sequence of shapes, the missing item etc.

It is quite easy to buy books of similar questions from retailers such as W H Smith or Amazon. A little familiarity with this sort of test helps build up a child's confidence for the day of the examination. The scores on these tests are usually processed to give a composite score which is standardised against various national samples to give some sort of indication of inherent intellectual ability – or some might say IQ!

Subject exams

Most schools ask the candidates to undertake some form of English examination, which may include a 'comprehension' type passage where the candidates are asked to read a small extract from a story and then answer some question on it.

There may then follow an essay selected from a variety of topics. Here the markers will be looking for accuracy in spelling and punctuation, coupled with good use of vocabulary. In maths, again the markers will be looking for a sound knowledge of basic mathematical concepts (as detailed in the syllabus).

Interview

After the examination, selected candidates will be asked for interview. This is usually with an experienced member of staff, who has been at the school for some years.

The interview is an important part of the selection processes as it enables the interviewer to probe areas where the candidate might appear weak in the examination papers; which might have just been due to nerves and 'bad day'. It also allows the interviewer to see what the candidate might like to contribute to the general life of school, be it music, drama, sports, games (like chess), or if they have another particular interest.

The interviewer will also want to know how keen the candidate is to come to the school, so be prepared for questions such as

  • Why you have applied to School X?
  • Did you come to an Open Day?
  • What did you particular like about the school?
  • Was there anything that you did not like about the visit?

The candidate should be prepared to read (aloud) part of a printed passage and answer some questions about, perhaps explaining what particular words mean or giving an overall summary of what is happening in the passage. Also, be prepared for a few bits of mental arithmetic such as: I have a one pound coin and I buy three packets of sweets at 32p a packet – how much change should I get? And lastly, be ready to talk about your favourite hobby or activity; the things that you like to do in your 'spare time'.

Scholarships

Candidates who have applied for an academic scholarship can expect a somewhat more testing interview, often from the Head of Maths and English (and possibility the Head or one of the deputies).

Similarly, those who apply for music scholarships should expect to meet with the Director of Music; those who wish to be considered for an Art scholarship are normally expected to submit a small portfolio of their work, and those who are interested in Sports scholarships and awards are often invited to a separate day at the school, during which they will be involved in a number of different physical activities.

Decisions

Armed with information gleaned from the examinations, the interviews, reports from the Music and Games Departments etc, the school will sit down with all the information, including your son's or daughter's present school report. They then draw up a list of candidates to whom offers will be made, and also (often) a waiting list for those who are near to a place.

Good luck!

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