Cracking the School Interview
A guide to helping your little one prepare for their big day...
Congratulations - your child has been invited for an interview! But, now’s not the time to relax - the competition for school places is fierce, the admissions process is difficult and your little one needs to be prepared for the interview. What can you do to help? The following information covers the areas your child will be tested on during the interview, some useful tips, and a selection of common questions from parents.
Reception & Primary One
To help transform your child from a wallflower to a social butterfly, bring them to new and different social situations, like restaurants, offices or family gatherings where they can interact with “approved strangers.” Teach them to introduce themselves by making eye contact, shaking hands and answering simple questions. Encourage them to order their own meals at a restaurant, or to answer the phone at home.
Encourage your little one to listen carefully, make good eye contact, and smile when greeting and bidding farewell to the teacher. If he/she is confident and forthcoming from the offset, the teacher will be very impressed and likely believe strongly in them. It’s also important to remind them not to mumble or interrupt the teacher. Try to train them to speak slowly, clearly and loudly in the days leading up to the interview with frequent reminders and exercises (see tips below).
A typical interview will begin with the teacher asking your child a host of questions about themselves, their families, their preschools and their favourite things: When is your birthday? Have you ever been on an airplane? How many siblings or pets do you have? What is your favourite colour? The more they can open up and elaborate, the better. This is usually followed by comprehensive exercises like “draw and tell”, story-telling, briefly describing a picture and sequencing a story. The interview will then finish off with several questions about toys and puzzles.
Many schools will ask the children to draw both basic and irregular shapes, such as squares, rectangles, hearts and even hexagons, as well as personal portraits and of their family members.
“A child who draws members of their family in different positions/heights and adds glasses or earrings to a figure, shows a much higher level of development than a child who only draws family members with eyes and a mouth.”
Reading comprehension skills can easily be practiced during story-time at home. Rather than drilling kids and making them robotic, incorporate skills into daily routines and normal play. Not only is it better for a child’s learning, but it can assuage schools on the lookout for too much test prep.
While most kids are accustomed to just listening as parents simply read them a book, group interviews typically involve reading comprehension. During the story, teachers may ask them why characters feel a certain way, what they think will happen next, or why something happened.
Remind your little one to sit up straight and to avoid nervous habits, like playing with their hair or pulling on the sleeve of their sweater. And last but not least, remind him/her to show their best manners, and to alwaysremember their please and thank yous.
It’s important for your child to cooperate and listen to instructions – and to follow the instructions given by the teacher. Teachers have no way of assessing their ability if they do not do what is asked of them.
To help develop dexterity, parents can ask kids to participate in household activities, such as pouring their own juice, cleaning up toys or putting away dishes.
Many educators say a lack of basic motor skills can be an indication of larger learning challenges. To test this, teachers assess things like how youngsters grip their pencils, or copy a series of shapes or builds with blocks. They may also be asked to walk a certain number of steps (ie. “Simon says take three steps forward”) or walk down an internal staircase, or even observe how they cope on playground equipment.
Q & A: Common Questions From Parents
What is the typical process admissions staff / principals go through to evaluate applications?
Teachers and principals genuinely want to get to know a child before their final decision. This profile is gleaned from a combination of student and family interviews, the application, school reports and teacher recommendation reports. They seek families who will make a positive contribution to the school and children who have the personalities and interests as well as academic criteria that show they have something to offer.
In addition to wanting to understand the “whole child and family,” schools are looking for a good fit. They want parents who share the school’s values and who are choosing the school because they genuinely feel it is a good match.
What are the most important things parents need to have represented on an application?
Understanding and genuine appreciation for the school and why that particular school is a good fit for their child. Each school has a unique ‘personality’ such as a set of values and attributes that families should take the time to understand, especially as it relates to their own child.
How should parents go about determining the culture of a private international school, and whether it would be a good fit for their children?
Talking with other parents or former parents is useful, but always should be taken with a grain of salt. School is a very personal experience and what works for one child may not work for another. The best way to get to know a school is to spend time there. Go at drop-off time and observe. You’ll want to see whether the other parents share your values. Are the children welcomed by a Principal or Vice Principal in the morning? Going to a play, concert, school fair, or sporting event speaks volumes.
What are the most important things parents need to have well represented about themselves when meeting with Admissions Directors / Principals?
That they are eager to partner with the school for the benefit of their child and all children, whether this means being a class mother, accompanying the class on trips, or financial support (if that is feasible for the family).
That they are objective about their child and will be open to feedback, both positive and negative, as well as able to collaborate with teachers to provide their child any help and/or resources that will be beneficial.
Lastly, that they will respect the teachers as professionals - and will not try to overturn policies and practices for the benefit of their child.
How can a parent best prepare their child for admissions interviews?
Before the interview, a parent should explain to his or her child that this is an opportunity for the teachers to get to know them and for them to get to know if they would like to attend the school.
Parents should coach their child to look an adult in the eye, shake hands, and talk in an audible voice, which will serve them well for the interview and for years to come. It is useful for a parent to role-play some simple questions with a child to make him or her more comfortable when s/he arrives for the interview.
It is also advisable to visit the school before the interview to familiarise them with the environment. Tell your child some nice things about the school and if possible, attend an open day or a family event with them.
Making sure kids are familiar with the books they’ve read, the music they listen to, the movies they’ve seen – and their reasons for each – can give teachers a kick start to a conversation.
Finally, tell your child to ask for help if there is something they can’t do or if there is something they don’t understand.