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Selective schools are increasingly relying on interviews to help them as part of their final selection decisions. Some schools will use the classic one-to-one interview, some prefer group interviews, and some use a combination of both approaches. The keys to success in this form of assessment are letting children know roughly what to expect and helping them be prepared to converse with adults and cooperate with their peers.
Children in group interviews are usually put together into groups of six, which immediately puts children off their guard as it excites them to be together in a group. As a result, the children lose their inhibitions and reveal themselves to the teachers observing them while they are distracted by the other children and what is going on around them. Children need to be prepared for this environment and for the impact made on them by the other children and the props and activities that might be used. They still need to present themselves well, think on their feet and behave appropriately even if they are excited, and they need to remember that they are being watched all the time!
The teachers running group interviews will not only be looking for academic ability and knowledge, but also how a child applies their knowledge, how they behave, and how they interact with and show respect for the others in the group and the teacher in charge. Listening skills are key and should be developed carefully whilst preparing for interviews. Many children will be very keen to speak up and share their knowledge or ideas, but they need to show they can listen to others and allow alternative suggestions to be considered.
The length of time taken for a group interview can be as short as twenty minutes or as long as a whole morning, sometimes including joining a class in session. In addition to group discussions, the cooperative tasks the groups are asked to complete might include to build something using edible materials, or to design, make and present something as a team. It will be fun for the children, but they need to remain aware that whatever they do and say will be carefully observed, noted and assessed.
The main difference that separates individual interviews from group ones is the obvious fact that the child is on their own, interacting with one or two adults. An individual interview is typically quite short, between fifteen and twenty minutes, but this can seem a long time to a child, so they need to feel confident and this comes from feeling prepared.
The interviewers will be looking for how well the child considers and formulates their answers, how they interact with adults and how well they can express themselves. Schools are looking for how well a child deals with questions, so if they have an answer to give and can explain it, rather than saying nothing or saying “I don’t know” straight away without any thought, the child will have done a good job.
The interview questions are different every year and obviously differ between schools, so we cannot prepare children to answer a set of specific questions, but neither would we want to. Learning answers to questions off by heart completely defeats the purpose of interviews, which is to reveal who the child is and how they think and communicate. We can however help children to have the confidence to discuss whatever topic is raised, whether it relates to their opinion on what makes a book a good book, or why they want to go to the school interviewing them. What’s important is to have an answer – and to then be able to explain it. The question itself is never the most important thing and there is never a right or wrong answer, because schools are primarily looking for how the child deals with any question.
How to prepare
There is one key thing the two types of interview and every year’s set of interviews have in common: that they are used to give an insight into a child’s way of working and communicating that cannot be obtained from a written test. The answer teachers give us whenever we ask them what they are looking for in entrance interviews is this: They are simply looking for children they want to teach and to have in their class!
Parents are often concerned that interviews will be a barrier to their child’s chances if the child is more introverted and less outgoing than their current classmates. This is not the case, as teachers will be looking for a balance of personality types in their classrooms; any child’s nerves and shyness can be overcome with preparation and lots of practice discussions. Parents can help enormously with this at home by asking their child lots of different questions and then helping them explore, articulate and explain their responses on a wide variety of topics and apply their knowledge.
Mock interviews are invaluable for any child feeling daunted by the prospect of facing interviews, coupled with the introduction of breathing techniques and lots of extra practice questions and exercises. The experience given by mocks can also help children control their nerves – and their excitement – on the day, by helping them to set themselves targets, stay focused on the tasks and remain calm, managing their body language. Above all, children should go into interviews being themselves, but presenting the best version of themselves they can!
Lorrae Jaderberg – JK Educate
JK Educate specialises in bespoke support for children’s learning, with schools advice, child assessments, specialist subject tutoring, and entrance exam preparation including mock exams and interview preparation. You can contact them on 020 3488 0754 or via jkeducate.co.uk .