Mastering the art of answering questions!

We are bombarded by questions and choices. What would you like to eat today? What is the purpose of life? Where do you live? Can you create an app to find a place to compost food? To calm the clutter of our mind, it is important to know how to order and answer such questions. Methods to organise your thoughts and bring structure are key. Never has this been more important than at the interview stage for secondary schools or university places. 

Personal questions 

One of the key components of the 11+ entrance process for a private school is the interview. Schools meet children and gauge more about them than just their academic test scores. It allows space to demonstrate their interest in art, music, sport and more. Passions can be shared and they can communicate their kindness or curiosity to learn. These personal questions will also inform a potential employer about your character. These are the types of questions friends, family and teachers ask to dig deeper. 

So, how do you answer these questions? Some questions may be deceptively simple: do you like sport? This seems to only require a yes or no answer, and you can’t be wrong because this is asking a question about you. However, go deeper. You could respond “yes,” but the interviewer is inviting more. What do you like about sports? What is your favourite sport? Do you prefer individual or team sports? You have just created a range of questions that demonstrate an ability to think flexibly and to communicate your creative thinking with precision. In reality, a simple question such as “Do you like sport?” is a gift.

Knowledge-based and logical thinking questions 

Some questions are more complicated and require time and thought. Pause to gather your ideas. Take your time by repeating the question back or acknowledging ‘what a great question’. Sometimes they will be tricky. Even if you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know but would like to try. This shows your willingness to give everything a go and understanding that your current knowledge is limited.

If you get asked to “name as many countries in the world as you can” and you find you don’t know many, tell them that. Instead of listing countries, share information about a couple you do know about. Confide in the interviewer that you only know the United Kingdom and France but you know that their eating habits are very different. French cuisine is famous worldwide and the country is known for its pastries, while the United Kingdom is not as famous but has developed some delicious dishes, such as fish and chips, scones and Shepherd’s pie. Even I enjoyed thinking about those comparisons!

Sharing what you DO know can boost confidence and reduce any feelings of not being good enough. Remember, we all have to start somewhere! This changes your feelings to a more positive, growth mindset. With a growth mindset, learning and progress is more attainable. Even those small steps can be celebrated because they all lead up the mountain of learning. Additionally, knowing what you don’t know can develop curiosity to go and discover more. If you don’t know all the countries in the world, then off you go to learn them. Find out more about each one. Start with Europe. 

These questions will continue into adulthood for job interviews. In the consulting world, candidates get asked questions such as “How many shoes get sold in the UK each year?” These questions require logic. If you know there are approximately 65 million people in the UK and you guess each person buys around 5 pairs of shoes a year (think about the fact that some people will buy less than that while some will buy more). Then you can work out an approximate answer. Practising logical thinking will benefit children greatly in the long run and allow them to thrive throughout their life. 

It also means, back in the classroom, they stop feeling flustered and start looking around for information to structure their answer. Teachers often use these style of questions to ask children about their learning. Being able to articulate their thinking and understanding empowers a child’s attainment in academic subjects. When stuck with a maths problem, rather than give up they can apply the method of logical thinking. First step is to gather what they know and use that to attempt an educated guess; they can also assess if their answer might be vaguely correct. 

Creative questions 

Some questions will require you to be creative: What would Luisa (from Encanto) put in her suitcase on a trip to save her home? Here is where you might think about where she might be going, who she might meet and the challenges she might encounter. List the things she would pack and, most importantly, give reasons why you decided she would need them!! Nothing is wrong, thankfully it is a beautiful opportunity to share your creative and insightful thinking! 

At Meta Prep, we love a thunk. Thunks are simple-looking questions that do not necessarily have a correct answer. There are multiple ways of looking at the question and just discussing it might change your mind. One of our favourites is “If you fill a room with bricks, is it still a room?” Requiring you to think about what constitutes a room and what makes it a room. Is it just the bricks? Does it need walls and a ceiling? Is it the cement between the bricks that makes it a room? If the room is filled with bricks, is it then a very thick wall or is a wall something that separates two areas? There are so many angles to take when answering this question. It is a great way to practise thinking broadly and creatively. Thunks are also a lot of fun! 

Organisation is key

As a learner, it is important to practise answering questions. Ask your child questions each day. Mix it up between simple questions that require elaboration and more tricky or challenging questions. Variety between subjects and topics is key. Create some fun questions about the book your child is reading or a character in a famous novel or film. Once they are used to answering questions in an ordered and thoughtful way, their ability to tackle new problems will increase. It is all about being calmly able to organise their thoughts whilst under pressure. 

A great way to organise ideas is to use Thinking Matters’ Thinking Frames, which are tools we share with our pupils. These frames are visual aids to help sort ideas and solve problems, and align with the eight thinking processes. When questions are asked, these thinking frames can be used to write down ideas and relieve the brain from holding too much at once. Seeing the information visually, in an orderly way, opens one up to different thinking you may not have previously seen. Developing a good understanding of these processes and tools gives children a method to organise their thoughts, even when they can’t use paper, such as in an interview. 

Another great tactic for interviews is to have a few stories or anecdotes that you can use. Perhaps you are part of a group project, developing an artwork inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso. With just one anecdote, you can express creativity, team-work values, problem-solving or the triumphs you celebrated. It could be just a small triumph: such as choosing the right colours; your mindset during problems; or showing initiative in gathering supplies. Make a list of a few examples and write down a few key words, such as “teamwork” and “initiative”. This helps calm the nerves before any interview as you are now armed and ready to speak about a personal experience.

At Meta Prep, we offer interview practice to successfully prepare pupils for selective secondary school entry. We offer in person and online interview sessions with experienced Senior Teachers who are experts in 11+ preparation. Your child will come away feeling confident and have a greater understanding of the process. They will also learn to speak with people they do not know and most importantly, they will have fun answering interesting questions and reflecting on their answers and experience.