The majority of secondary schools include an interview as part of their admissions process. The purpose for this is to give the school a chance to get to know you, a prospective pupil, as a person, rather than just looking at scores achieved in tests, or data sent from your current school. Therefore, an interview should be seen as an opportunity, not a trial; an opportunity to show how you will fit in to their school and thrive there; to show how positive you are about the opportunities available and what you might be able to offer their school during your time there. You will need to think about how you could communicate these things during your interview. You may not actually have a one-to-one interview, but during any assessments that you take, the staff will notice your behaviour and responses in any conversations that you may have.
Interviews are usually quite open-ended and, although there may be suggested questions for the interviewers to ask, they will be prepared to go with the flow of your answers. There are no right or wrong answers to give when discussing your own interests and strengths, but there are ways to answer questions that are better than others. Make sure you’ve understood the question asked and don’t rush your responses.
- Start confidently
Look your interviewer in the eye and greet them with a handshake and a smile. Sit comfortably and be aware of what you are doing with your hands. Speak politely and avoid the use of casual language - imagine you are talking to the parent of one of your classmates, rather than a friend.
- Do some research in advance
Why do you want to come to this school?
You may well be asked a question like this in some form or another. Answering this with ‘My parents want me to come here’ is not as good an answer as ‘I know it’s a good school because my brother is here’ and this can be improved even further with ‘I visited on the Open Evening and saw the science labs which looked really exciting’. Try to make your answers personal and genuine - interviewers can spot a stilted, practised answer a mile away!
To help frame your thoughts about the school, visit the website and look through a variety of pages - curriculum, lunches, clubs, visits, sports etc. - to find something that interests you. Hopefully you will have been able to attend an open day or have had a tour of the school, so think about what you saw going on during the day. Also think about what you enjoy outside the classroom, such as sport, drama or music - what opportunities might the school offer you that you could comment on?
- Expand your answers to include positives
What do you enjoy about your current school? What is your favourite subject? Why? Is there anything that you don’t like? What sports / hobbies / clubs do you take part in? What would you like to do as a career?
Some questions may seem to require only a one-word or short phrase as an answer, but you should aim to elaborate them in order to show a positive attitude and talk about some of your achievements. Telling the interviewer ‘I don’t like sport’ could be answered better by saying, for example, ‘I’ve found learning hockey hard this term because it is a new sport for me, but I have learned how to tackle and dribble the ball and I am taking part in my first match next week’. Focus on the positives! Replying ‘I like maths because I do well in tests’ can appear to be a bit arrogant and would be better answered as ‘I like maths because I enjoy tackling challenges and finding solutions to problems’.
- Allow aspects of your personality to show
What three words would your friends use to describe you? If you could be anyone at all, who would you be? What period in history would you most like to time-travel to if you could? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Questions like this are asked in order to find out about the sorts of attributes that you could contribute to the school community - are you a team player, an avid reader, a potential leader, an adventurer? Think about your personality and how you could be a positive influence in the school. Try to give some examples to illustrate your choices e.g. ‘ I would love to go back to the Victorian times because I am really interested in how life was so different for poor people then and I’d like to see if I could change anything for the better.’
- Demonstrate your awareness of life outside school
What have you seen / heard / read recently that interests you?
This sort of question might be asked to see what you know about current events. Whatever you say to answer it, you should be able to back up with some more detailed responses if asked. Replying that you are interested in politics or climate change, because you have heard about it on the news, could be backed up with some personal reflection on why you are interested in that particular story. How has it affected you? However, make sure that you are not just repeating what you have heard other people talk about - remember to give genuine answers that are your own ideas. You might be able to talk about a recent film release or sporting event and develop a longer conversation by asking the interviewer your own questions about whether they have seen it and what they thought of it.
- Avoid leaving gaps in the conversation
If you are stuck for an answer to a question, avoid sitting in silence; ask for the question to be repeated or clarified and it may be re-asked in a different way that will help you to find an answer. ‘I don’t know’ is a weak response, whereas ‘That’s a tricky question; let me think about it for a minute’ will allow you time to frame your thoughts. If you are uncertain of an idea, you could talk through your thinking as your answer; ‘I think it would be good to do that because…but on the other hand it might not be so good because…’.
Some schools ask candidates to bring to the interview an object that they would like to talk about. You should have considered in advance what you would like to take and how you could talk about it to demonstrate an interest, achievement or something of your personality. This is a time for you to talk with enthusiasm and passion about something personal, so it is worth practising a little, in order to show confidence and avoid ‘um...er...like’ hesitation and repetition. Too much practice can lead to a very formal, speech-like response though, so try to strike a balance in building your confidence without memorising every word. Think preparation, rather than performance!