What power in the senior school interview?

With 11+ interviews drawing to a close for another year it’s useful to reflect on the interview process. I wanted to put down some thoughts to help parents with children in Year 4 and Year 5 or even younger. You might ask, why younger? Why prepare my child for interviews any earlier than that? 

The power of the interview

The interview has moved from being a simple ‘meet and greet’ to being front and centre of the admissions process. Before we go further, it’s worth highlighting that interviews are, currently, only part of the independent schools’ assessment process, not that of the grammar school’s (other than some of the state boarding ones). That will undoubtedly bring a sigh of relief to parents solely targeting grammar schools. But I’d urge everyone to keep reading – after all, your child being able to present ‘the best version of themselves’ in an interview is a life skill that goes far beyond senior school entry assessments.

Back to the importance of the interview. The reason schools highly value the interview is it allows them to look through the ‘over tutored’ child. Exam focused private tutoring has become so commonplace, many of the schools feel as though exam results fail to highlight the candidates they are looking for. Being able to ask interview questions that ‘can’t be prepared for’ gives them a better insight into the ‘true’ qualities of candidates.

The content of the interview

First of all what does the interview look like? Despite the increasing prevalence of group interviews (more on those in future blogs) a typical interview lasts 10-20 minutes and is conducted one-to-one with a member of the admissions team, a senior teacher or housemaster/mistress. Sometimes there is a second one-to-one interview. Of course, this year most interviews have taken place over Zoom (or similar) rather than in person but everyone will be hoping and wishing for a return to face-to-face again next year. 

Irrespective of the medium, to prepare for the interview you need to know what’s being looked for. Each school, indeed, arguably each individual interviewer, is looking for something slightly different but the table below provides an excellent overview.

Interviews are more than just a conversation, they are seeking to identify these key attributes.

First impressions count for even more when time is so short, and body language and the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly is therefore vital. ‘Icebreakers’ are there, in part, to make candidates feel at ease but are an important part of assessing some of the qualities in the attitudes and interpersonal skills columns. 

Ultimately the question that any interviewer will be judging a candidate on is, “would I want this child in my class?” Are they enthusiastic, intellectually curious and keen to learn?

Assessing thinking processes

Once past the small talk, questions are not the closed type that look for knowledge recall with a correct answer. No, they are the open type, designed to explore your child’s higher order thinking. 

Bloom’s Taxonomy was reworked by Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001

Your child won’t be faced with “Spell the word rap in three different ways?” more likely will be “Can you create a rap about something you love?” Questions can range from, “How would you appease an aardvark?” to “Would Zeus be a good dinner guest?” 

Gulp… is it possible to prepare for that? The answer is absolutely. Essentially, schools are seeking the thinking behind the answer. 

  1. Is it logical? 
  2. Have all aspects been considered? 
  3. Is it original?
  4. Does it show the ability to create something new from their existing knowledge? 

Developing Thinking and Interview skills

All these things can be taught. Developing this type of thinking and the ability to communicate it is at the heart of Meta Prep’s teaching approach. This methodology has the additional benefit of answering the parent concern that “my school is saying we shouldn’t do any preparation for interviews or my child will come across as overly prepared.”

The Meta Prep approach of developing its pupils underlying ‘way of thinking’ leaves them able to answer any question that is posed to them with confidence, rather than trying to memorise the answers to possible questions that are unlikely to ever come up. It will also set them up for the type of more challenging questions they will face once they get into their senior schools and beyond. 

To conclude, how can I help my child prepare for the interviews? Start early and start to ask the sort of questions and provide the sort of opportunities around the house that will develop your child’s higher order thinking. They’ll need these uniquely human skills for the interviews and to succeed in a 21st century increasingly influenced by robots. 

Thunks are an excellent way to give your children questions that require original thought: 

  1. If you say sorry but don’t mean it, but the person to whom you have apologised thinks it is genuine, does it count?
  2. Can you ever be grateful for bad things happening?
  3. Can a dog be kind?
  4. If I borrow a million pounds, am I a millionaire?
  5. What colour is Tuesday?
  6. Is it ever possible to learn nothing?
  7. Is there more future or more past?
  8. What colour would a zebra be if it lost all its stripes?