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How to ace the private school interview

School admissions

Nov 17, 2022, 3:14 PM

How to ace the private school interview: common questions, top tips and FAQs


If your child is applying to a private secondary school (also referred to as independent schools), they may be invited to an interview as part of the admission process. An interview can provide a more holistic insight into your child’s abilities and interests than test scores alone.

What questions do they ask at private school interviews?

The secondary school interview process is designed to be engaging for your child while giving the interviewer an insight into their skills and personality. It’s in the school’s best interest for your child to enjoy their admissions experience – while it’s up to the school to offer a place, it’s ultimately your decision as a family to accept or consider offers from other schools.

With this in mind, the admissions interview will often include practical elements, such as tasks and show-and-tell, to create an enjoyable experience for prospective students.

Questions to determine academic ability

Some independent schools may include a short academic task in English or maths as part of the admission process. While the main entrance exam will give more detailed insight into your child’s academic ability, a short task in the interview may be used to assess candidates’ conversational, analytical and mental maths skills.

Your child may be asked to read a piece of previously unseen material – such as an excerpt from a short story, a poem, or a piece of nonfiction (i.e. a news article) – and answer some questions to test their reading comprehension skills. They may also be provided with a real-life scenario in which they will need to use mental maths to solve a problem – for example, working out the discount when buying items on promotion in a theoretical shop.

The best way for your child to prepare for these types of academic tasks is by building these skills into their everyday routine. Help your child develop critical thinking and analysis skills by reading up on current affairs together (CBBC Newsround is a great free, child-friendly resource). Ask them to choose an article that interests them, then discuss it together afterwards. What were the main facts? What is your child’s opinion on the subject matter?

Involving your child in activities like the family food shop, or cooking and baking together, can also help them develop mental maths skills including number operations and measurement – both of which are key topics in the Key Stage 2 maths curriculum. For more ideas, take a look at our top tips for helping your child with maths at home.

Questions about personal interests

Private schools, by nature, tend to have more extracurricular activities and better site facilities than their state school counterparts. Pupils who are offered a place are expected to make the most of these opportunities alongside their academic education.

In the interview, your child will likely be asked about what interests them – and what they enjoy doing in their free time. While this can be a great tactic to help them feel confident and open up (most 10/11-year-olds find it easy to talk about themselves and what they enjoy doing!), the interviewer will also be looking for evidence that your child is willing to contribute to the school’s extracurricular activities, and to see if they have any particular talents that the school would be excited to support and develop.

Any hobby goes – the school will be looking to identify candidates who are both interested and interesting, and can demonstrate this in their free time. However, it also helps if your child has an interest that aligns with the extracurricular activities the school already provides. Do your research before the interview; if your child is an amateur violinist and you discover that the school has a string orchestra, encourage your child to express their commitment to playing as part of a group in the interview. Likewise, if your child is a budding artist, see if there are any art workshops or clubs that they could attend as a pupil.

Show and tell

Some private schools may ask candidates to bring an object to the interview. If this is the case, the admissions team will inform you in advance.

As for what object the school would like your child to bring, the opportunities can be endless. It could be a piece of schoolwork your child is particularly proud of, an object that signifies their interest in specific extracurricular activities, or something that holds sentimental value. No matter the object, your child will be expected to talk about why they have chosen it and answer questions about it.

Practise typical questions and answers with your child at home ahead of time – for example, if your child’s favourite object is a particular book, ask them to describe the main characters. If they have chosen a piece of schoolwork, ask them about the process behind the work and what skills they learnt while creating it.

Download example interview questions

What are the 10 most common private school interview questions and answers?

Below are some of the most common questions your child may be asked at their private school interview. For each, your child should consider specific examples to help structure their answers.

  1. What is your favourite subject and why?

  2. What is your least favourite subject and why?

  3. What accomplishment (or personal achievement) are you most proud of?

  4. What extracurricular activities are you interested in?

  5. What do you like to do in your free time?

  6. What are your strengths?

  7. What are your weaknesses?

  8. How do you contribute to your community?

  9. What book are you currently reading, or what is the last book you read?

  10. Do you have any questions about our school?

How do you prepare for a private school interview?

Demonstrate communication and confidence

As with any interview, politeness and manners are a must. The school will be looking for prospective students who can demonstrate good behaviour, will get along with others (i.e. can be a team player) and will ultimately be a pleasure to teach. Ideally, your child should treat the interviewer as they would a teacher or a friend’s parent; ‘please', 'thank you’, and remembering to shake hands all go a long way in helping to create a positive first impression.

While it’s natural for your child to feel nervous about the interview, it’s important that they try to exhibit at least some level of confidence. If your child is particularly shy and struggles to provide detailed answers to questions, the interviewer will not be able to gather the information they need to make a well-informed decision about your child’s personality and abilities.

Pay attention to personal presentation

Your child’s prospective school will likely place value on how they present themselves at the interview, so it’s important they make a good impression.

Body language is key. Simple things like making good eye contact with the interviewer, maintaining a good posture (sitting upright) and avoiding fidgeting demonstrate positive language, signal confidence, and will show the interviewer that your child is alert and interested. This is a good indication that your child can demonstrate exemplary behaviour in the classroom.

The admissions office will usually specify whether your child needs to wear their current school uniform to the interview. However, even if they are invited to attend in their ‘normal’ clothes, a tidy appearance (e.g. clean clothes, brushed hair and non-scruffy shoes) helps to make a good first impression from the outset.

Prepare your own questions

At the end of the interview, the interviewer will probably ask your child if they have any questions they want to ask themselves.

While this is a great opportunity for your child to ask any burning questions they might not yet have an answer to (e.g. questions about the school’s extracurricular activities, or what a typical school lunch looks like), the interviewer will also want to see whether your child is personally excited by the school and that it is not solely in the parents’ interest. A prospective pupil who can demonstrate their interest in the school by asking questions is also more likely to be engaged and active in school life – which is exactly the type of candidate the school will be looking for.

Before the interview day, go through the school website with your child, letting them navigate to pages that interest them. If they want further information about a particular feature of school life, or if they can’t find an area they’re looking for, this will form the basis of a great question to ask in the interview.

Looking for more tips and tricks?

Watch the video below for more ideas on how your child can prepare effectively for secondary school interviews.

Interview preparation video

FAQs about admissions interviews

Find answers to some frequently asked questions about your child’s interview below.

When will my child be interviewed?

The timing of your child’s interview will entirely depend on the admissions process.

Some schools will only interview the best candidates on the basis of their performance in the entrance exam, with many interviews taking place in January (year of entry). However, an increasing number of schools are now interviewing all candidates in an effort to create a fair and personable experience. If this is the case, your child may be interviewed at any time in the late autumn term or early spring term (e.g. November to January).

Who conducts the admissions interview?

The size of the school (and the number of pupils being interviewed) will normally have an impact on who conducts the interview.

If your child is applying to a smaller school (i.e. around 500 pupils or less), they may be interviewed by the headteacher themselves. In larger schools, they are more likely to be interviewed by another senior member of staff (e.g. a deputy headteacher, or head of Year 7), or a member of the admissions team.

How long does the interview last?

Interviews for private school entry generally last around 20 minutes.

Will I (the parent) also be interviewed?

Most independent schools will not interview the child’s parent(s)/guardian(s) – particularly if the school is large.

However, there are some exceptions; if the school has an especially family-orientated ethos, or if it prioritises candidates according to their religious affiliation (e.g. Catholic schools), you may be interviewed by a senior member of staff. This is often to see whether your own values align with the school’s and to see if you are likely to support its aims and ethos.

Book a mock private school interview with Atom Tuition

Will your child be interviewing for entry to a private secondary school this year?

Atom Tuition offers online mock interviews with experienced tutors who are specialists in the private school admissions process. A one-hour session consists of a 30-minute interview, a 10-minute break, 20 minutes of feedback and a follow-up report.

These mock interviews are an ideal opportunity for your child to:

  • Encounter typical private school interview questions

  • Learn and practice techniques that will serve them well in the real interview

  • Develop their conversational skills and storytelling style

  • Demystify the interview process and know what to expect

  • Reduce any anxiety and feel confident for the real interview

One mock interview, including one-to-one feedback and a follow-up report, costs £115 (or book two mock interviews for £200). Book a mock interview today and give your child the benefits of expert guidance and a confidence-building experience.

Book a mock interview with Atom Tuition



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