One might believe that top independent schools utilise admissions interviews as a means to seek out straight-a students and exceptional all-rounders. However, explains that there is more to admissions interviews than academic credentials and recitation o
n my many conversations with admissions assistants at both local and UK independent schools over the years, the consensus regarding preparation for independent school interviews points to the need for children to be aware of what an interview may feel like through practice—but that they should not feel overburdened by memorising endless lists of facts about the school or a particular subject.
There is a sense that admissions teams are acutely aware of the difficulty that families face in treading the fine line between over-instructing and putting excessive pressure on their children, with costly professional preparation often leading to children handling their interviews in an overly self-confident and boastful manner due to little experience under their belts.
Despite the value of doing research and partaking in practice interviews, we should be looking more towards the realms of conversational competence and soft skills—so sadly overlooked in the 21st century, yet so pertinent when it comes to your child’s interview. Quite frankly, there is no skill more important in the present day than being able to sustain coherent and lively conversation. Children must be taught that, during an interview, they need to be fully present and focused. They cannot multitask, have their minds on other matters or show signs that they are inattentive.
It is imperative that your child comes across as being inquisitive, as the interviewer wants to feel that the school is the child’s dream choice—and not one that has just been selected by his or her parents. With this in mind, the questions that your child asks could be open-ended to elicit more interesting responses, and give the interviewer the impression that the child has thought deeply about the application. Consequently, the interviewer will feel that questions are not just being asked for the sake of asking questions. So, instead of asking “Does the summer break last for six weeks?” (a natural question for any student to ask), your child could begin questions using the forms “Could you describe…?” or “Could you tell me why…?”
With regard to responding to questions, your child may well be asked why he or she would like to attend the school. There is little wrong with taking notes from the school’s website or prospectus about its strengths, and how these may align with your child’s own interests. What about the school’s setting? Which facilities stand out? Is it single-sex or co-educational? In answering, it is vital for your child to appreciate how a wise use of lexis goes a long way. For example, “I am adamant that…” has a more confident tone than “I think that…” Forceful adjectives and avoidance of modesty can place your child at the fore.
Interviewers generally try to make children feel at ease. It is vital that your child understands that an interviewer may ask simple questions to build a rapport so that the interviewee can relax immediately. Indeed, Caitriona Redding, head of international admissions at UK boarding school Oundle School, says: “Once we have established a rapport, then it is much easier to have a meaningful conversation.”
Interestingly, Redding’s questions “avoid recall, but instead encourage children to think creatively.” The important point here is for candidates to recognise the interviewer’s attempt to establish a rapport at the outset—and not rebut it as a means of interrogation. It is also productive to do some research on the interviewer, where appropriate, to establish common interests that could naturally lead to a more fulfilling conversation.
In summary, parents should be looking at elements of conversational competence rather than solely developing subject-based knowledge. A candidate should avoid giving the impression that he or she is weighed down by shyness or nerves. Lexical choice that exudes confidence, as well as open-ended questions and careful listening skills, can and should be used to get your child into a top local or UK independent school.