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A guide to private school interviews

By Atom | Jan 31, 2024, 3:01 PM

Young boy and adult female teacher sitting at a table and smiling at each other. The boy has an open notebook in front of him and the teacher is holding a digital tablet.

Is your child applying to an independent school? They might be invited to a school interview as part of the admissions process.

Keep reading to:

  • Learn why private schools use interviews

  • See examples of questions your child might be asked

  • Get tips to help your child prepare for their interview

  • Download a free resource to help your child feel confident and ready!

Why do schools interview candidates?

Lots of private schools include an interview as part of their entry process. This can seem like a daunting extra step, but it's a useful part of the process for the school, for you, and for your child.

An interview can provide a more holistic insight into your child's abilities and interests than test scores. Your child's interviewer will be looking for qualities such as:

  • An interest in learning for the sake of learning

  • A passion for interests outside of academic subjects

  • A willingness to be part of a community

  • General good communication skills and, of course, good manners!

How you and your child feel about their interview can also help you make a decision about the school. If your child didn't enjoy the experience, you might decide that the school isn't the right fit for them.

What questions do they ask at private school interviews?

Most schools put a lot of effort into making the interview process engaging for your child. It's in the school's best interests for your child to enjoy their experience. While the offer of a place isn't in your control, it's up to you to decide whether to accept or reject an offer.

Admissions interviews often include practical elements, such as creative tasks and show and tell, to make the experience enjoyable.

Academic questions

In addition to the main entrance exam, some interviews include a short academic task. This might be used to assess your child's skills in areas such as verbal communication or mental maths.

Your child might be asked to read a piece of unseen material – such as an excerpt from a short story, a poem, or a news story. The interviewer will ask them some questions to test their understanding of the text and probe them to think analytically.

They might also have a real-life scenario in which they will need to use mental maths to solve a problem. For example, they might need to work out the discount when buying promotional items in a theoretical shop.

How to prepare for academic questions

The best way to prepare for these types of tasks is to build skills into your child's everyday routine. Help them develop critical thinking and analysis skills by reading current affairs together. We recommend CBBC Newsround as a wonderful child-friendly (and free!) resource. Ask your child to choose an article that interests them and discuss it together. What were the main facts? Does the author have an opinion about the subject? What is your child's opinion of the subject?

It can also help to get your child involved in activities around the house. Cooking and baking together, and getting them involved in the family food shop, can help them develop mental maths skills. For more ideas, take a look at our top tips for helping your child with maths at home.

Extracurricular questions

Independent schools often invest a lot of money in their facilities and extracurricular activities. Pupils are expected to make the most of these opportunities.

In the interview, your child will likely be asked about what they enjoy doing in their free time. The interviewer will be looking for evidence that your child is willing to get involved in the extracurricular programme. They might also want to see if they have any particular talents that the school can support and develop. Asking your child about their interests is also a great way to get them to open up and feel confident. Most children aged 10–11 enjoy talking about themselves and their interests!

How to prepare for extracurricular questions

It doesn't matter what your child's hobby is. The main thing is that your child has an interest, or interests, beyond their school life. However, it can help if their interest aligns with an extracurricular activity the school already has on offer.

Do your research before the interview. Is your child an amateur violinist? Encourage them to express their interest in joining the school string orchestra. Are they a budding artist? See if there are any art workshops or clubs they could attend.

Show and tell

Some schools ask candidates to take an object to their interview. The admissions team will let you know if this is something your child needs to do.

In most cases, the object can be anything your child likes. Some options include a piece of schoolwork they're proud of, something related to one of their extracurricular activities, or an object of sentimental value. It doesn't usually matter what the object is – just that your child can talk about it and answer questions.

How to prepare for show and tell questions

Practise typical questions and answers with your child at home ahead of time. If your child’s favourite object is a particular book, ask them to describe the main characters and how they might have ended the book differently. Have they chosen a piece of schoolwork? Ask them to talk about the process behind the work and the skills they developed along the way.

Free resource

School interview handbook

Help your child feel confident for their admissions interview with this free printable handbook. Includes examples of typical questions, practical tasks and top tips!

Get your child's handbook now!

What are the most common private school interview questions?

Here are some of the most common questions your child might be asked in their interview. No matter what question your child is asked, they should consider specific examples to help them 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?

Top tips for private school interviews

As with any interview, politeness and manners are a must. The school will be looking for children who are well-behaved, can get on with others, and will be a pleasure to teach. Your child should treat the interviewer as they would a teacher or a friend's parent. Saying please and thank you, and remembering to shake hands, can help create a positive first impression.

It's natural to feel nervous about the interview (particularly at 10 years old) and the interviewer will expect this. However, it's important that your child engages with their questions. The interviewer needs to get detailed answers from your child to learn more about them and decide whether the school would be the right fit for them.

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School interview preparation

Every Thursday in November at 5.30pm. Help your child learn important interview skills, including effective communication, answering challenging questions, and how to make a good first impression.

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Interview FAQs

Find answers to some frequently asked questions about school interviews.

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

Some schools only interview shortlisted children. These are children who have performed well in the entrance exam. If your child is shortlisted, they might be interviewed in January in the year of entry.

Other schools interview all candidates to try and create a fair and personable experience. If your child's target school interviews everyone who applies, the interview might be held any time from November to January.

Prepare for private school admissions with Atom

Is your child applying for entry to a selective independent school? Boost their progress and confidence with Atom – the award-winning exam prep platform.

With one subscription, you'll unlock:

  • Unlimited online mock tests for exams including the ISEB, CAT4, CEM Select and more

  • Adaptive learning journeys that match your child's learning style and pace

  • Intelligent progress tracking with detailed data insights

  • Expert support with fun live lessons and parent webinars

Plus, add on expert private tuition to get the best of both worlds. Your tutor will use the platform's learning reports to create a personalised tutoring plan. With targeted lessons and learning on the platform outside lessons, your child will be unstoppable!

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Begin your child's journey to their dream school today. Use the full features of Atom free for 5 days – cancel anytime.

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Ask us anything

We understand how important this next step is for them, and for you. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions you might have about school interviews or admissions.

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