11+ and 13+ interviews for UK independent schools can be a daunting prospect. It is however easiest to look on an interview as just a question and answer session, the purpose of which is to tell someone who does not know you, a little more about you. The interviewer is not there to catch you out and there are rarely right or wrong answers. Whilst we might not be able to alleviate your fears completely, we hope that the below advice will help make those 15 minutes go as well as possible.
- Whilst it is impossible to know exactly which questions will come up, it is likely that certain themes will arise. Pupils are often asked variations of why they specifically want to come to this school. Give some thought to these areas in the preceding weeks and how you might answer them.
- HOWEVER, there is a significant difference between preparing and rehearsing. Do not feel tempted to teach yourself rehearsed answers to be repeated verbatim. It is a conversation, not a lecture, so talk naturally. It will be very obvious to the interviewer if you recite learnt lines.
- On the morning of the interview, get your mind ticking by reading a few news articles and doing some mental arithmetic on your head.
- Dress. It is important to dress the part. Dress smartly, shirts tucked in, hair tidy, shoes polished. T-shirts and trainers are best left at home. A collared shirt usually does the trick.
- Eye contact. When you meet the interviewer, look him or her in eye, shake hands and introduce yourself.
- Smile! There’s no easier way to give a positive first impression than to smile.
- Posture. Set yourself up well from the start by sitting upright, bottom to the back of the seat. If there is a table, tuck the chair in under the table. This will help to minimize fidgeting, leg swinging and slouching all of which might distract the interviewer.
- Don’t rush. It can be tricky to think on your feet but do not feel rushed into answering. Instead, pause and think about what you want to say before responding. Take a breath. Don’t be scared of the silence. There is nothing wrong with taking a few seconds to compose an answer in your head before responding. Otherwise, you risk losing the thread of your point, waffling to fill the gap and therefore not saying anything of substance.
- Clarify the question. If you are not quite sure what the interviewer meant by a certain question or word, do not feel embarrassed to ask him or her to clarify or explain a bit further. This is better than answering a different question to the one which you were asked.
- Avoid repetition. Try to avoid the noticeable repetition of words. Similarly, if possible it helps to use a wide range of words that demonstrate a good vocabulary. Try to find alternatives to ‘nice’ and ‘fun’.
- Avoid answers that are too short. Avoid giving just a monosyllabic answer where possible (“Do you play any sports? Yes”). Remember that the interview is a short opportunity for you to tell the school a bit about yourself. So instead of just saying a quick yes, try to build your answer over a few sentences, increasing in information. “Do you play any sports? Yes, rugby’s my favourite sport. I have played it since I was six and I play on the wing for the school team. This year I joined a local club and have made it to the final of our league.” This serves to give a fuller, more complete answer and prevents the interviewer from needing to ask further questions in order to get the information out.
- Give balance to your answers. Other than on certain academic questions, there is no right or wrong answer. So do not feel that it is necessary to choose one side or another in an open question. Instead, it can be good to talk through your logic and thought process, arguing both sides. “On the one hand, I think this. But on the other…”
- Relaxed, but not too relaxed! Occasionally we meet interview candidates who appear a fraction too casual; the language can be a little laid back for the situation with slang or informal words. One suggestion is to approach the interviewer as though you were talking to a friend’s parent or grandparent; a little more measured, a little more polite, a little more focused.
- Current Affairs. You may well be asked about current affairs so remember to keep an eye on the news in the weeks running up to the interview.
- Future School. Towards the end, it is likely that you will be asked if you have any questions that you would like to put to the interviewer about the school or school life. As mentioned above, give some thought to this in days preceding your interview. What don’t you know that you wish you did? If you play the guitar perhaps you might want to know if there is the chance to join any groups or band. If you enjoy tennis, you might be keen to find out if the tennis team ever goes on any tours to other countries. If you have seen that the school plays a game with which you are unfamiliar (fives, rackets, the wall game) you may want to ask more about the rules and how it is played.
Do give the team a call if you would like to schedule a practice interview with Keystone's director of education, Ed Richardson.
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