Getting ready for 11 plus interviews is a difficult but very worthwhile area of preparation for any student hoping to secure a place at the school of their choice. In the article below, Keystone’s tutors have provided a range of good advice and guidance for anyone looking to show their full potential in these challenging interviews.
In this video Keystone's founder, Will Orr-Ewing, and Director of Education, Ed Richardson, share their insights on tackling the 11 Plus entrance interviews for independent schools
What is the interviewer looking for?
Before preparing for the 11 plus interview it is always worth putting yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and asking yourself what are they looking for. They will be likely thinking: if I offer this child a place they will be at the school for five years. What will this child contribute to the school? Will they be interested in studying and eager to learn new things? Will they be a good team player, able and willing to get on with others and enthusiastic about taking part in sports, music or drama? Does the child have any particular talents which it would be a delight for the school to develop?
Keystone Tutor Steph gives her top tips for preparing for the 11+
"To prepare for the 11+ I would recommend that children are allowed to engage in real life mathematical based problems eg working out a budget whilst shopping, measuring and putting together DIY etc.
I would also recommend quick weekly revision of fundamental maths skills such as times tables and key mathematical facts.
I strongly recommend regular reading or audiobook time on a daily basis with children allowed to pick a diverse range of good quality texts.”
11 Plus Interviews: How to Present Yourself
- Dress: First impressions are key so ensure that you are dressed smartly - shirts tucked in, hair tidy and shoes polished. T-shirts and trainers are best left at home.
- Eye contact: When you are introduced to the interviewer, remember to look him or her in the eye, give them a firm handshake and introduce yourself. A smile will also go a long way – it is the best way to give a positive first impression!
- Posture: Set yourself up well from the start by sitting upright with your bottom to the back of the seat. If there is a table, tuck the chair in under the table.This will help to minimise fidgeting, leg swinging and slouching, all of which might distract the interviewer. Try and keep your hands clasped together in your lap to stop you playing with them.
How to Answer 11 Plus Interview Questions
- Don’t rush: It can be tricky to think on your feet, especially if you are nervous, but do not feel rushed into answering. The interviewer would much prefer you to take some time to think about your answer rather than rushing in and losing the thread of your point, waffling to fill the gap and therefore not saying anything of substance. Pause and think about what you want to say before responding. Practice counting out 5 seconds on your hands. This is a good amount of time to gather your thoughts and think about your answer - don’t be scared of the silence! Rushing in can often cause you to use a lot of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ which should be avoided and replaced with thinking time.
- 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 them 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. Remember adjectives that you have been taught at school and seek to find alternatives to words such as ‘nice’ and ‘fun’.
- Avoid answers that are too short – P.E.E: Whenever possible, avoid giving just a monosyllabic answer (such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Focus on the use of P.E.E (point, explanation, evidence). Give your answer, explain why that is your answer and attempt to give an example to prove this: ‘Do you play any sports’ ‘Yes, I love many sports, but rugby is my favourite. I have played it since I was six and I play twice a week at my school where I am in the A team, and I also play at the weekends with my friends’. Remember that the interview is a short opportunity for you to tell the school a bit about yourself and to steer the conversation to highlight your strengths and achievements. 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 therefore you should 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: On occasion we meet interview candidates who appear a little 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; a little more measured, a little more polite, a little more focused.
Whilst it is impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked in the 11 plus interveiew, certain questions are very likely to come up. These questions tend to fall into two categories: Core and Extension.
Core 11 Plus Interview Questions
The areas that are often covered in shorter interviews (typically 15-20 minutes) include:
- Family (e.g. How do you like to spend time as a family?)
- Your school (e.g. What is your favourite thing about your current school?)
- Reading (e.g. Tell me about what you are reading at the moment)
- Academics (e.g. What are your favourite and least favourite subjects?)
- Extracurricular (e.g. What interests would you like to pursue further at your new school?)
Extension 11 Plus Interview Questions
In longer interviews, as well as covering the topics above, the following might be raised:
- Hobbies (e.g. What do you like to do in your free time?) The interviewer wants to learn as much about you as possible so they will often ask what you enjoy outside of the classroom. It is good to have a few things that you can discuss with enthusiasm to show your interests.
- Achievements (e.g. How would you like to be remembered?) You could be asked about your greatest achievement to date. It doesn’t matter if this is big or small, as long as you can explain why it means so much to you. It can be anything from finishing a long book, to winning an art competition, to getting into a sports team.
- Ambitions (e.g. What would you like to do in your adult life?) You could be asked what you would like to be when you grow up and the reasons behind this. Again, you do not want this answer to appear rehearsed, but it may be helpful to have thought of some potential answers for this and be able to talk about them.
- Strengths (e.g. How would your best friend describe you?)
- School choice (e.g. What is it about this school (the one being applied for) that most excites you?)
- Logical thinking (e.g. Is it better to be nice or right?)
- Task (e.g. Imagine I can’t see this picture. Describe it for me.) Some schools may give mental maths problems, pieces of literature or poems to discuss, or potentially ask some moral questions. You may well practice these at school but in the weeks leading up to an interview it can be useful to try a few at home so that they are a little more familiar to you.
- Poem (e.g. What do you think this poem is about?)
- Mental maths (e.g. If P = 4 + 2m, find ‘P’ when ‘m’ equals 6)
- Object (e.g. Tell me why you brought this object.)
- Piece of work (e.g. What are you most proud of in this work?)
Regularly asking these questions of your child can help them develop their thinking around these areas, as can challenging them on why and how they have arrived at their answers – as can letting your child ask you the same questions and giving them your own best answer!
Keystone Tutor Tom gives his top tips for preparing for the 11+
- “Don't start too late, as otherwise what can be a stressful period can become overly stressful.
- Be realistic: pick schools that you like, but which also fit the potential for your son/daughter, as determined not just by parents but also by teachers and tutors etc.
- Work out, in advance, what the demands of the different admissions procedures (in terms of testing) are, so that you can work out where energies in terms of preparation need to go.
- Keep on top of schoolwork and progress in school, as a good school report is helpful, and much of the content in the tests is geared towards school curricula - tutoring is an addition to this, not a replacement.
- Keep life going as normally as possible - variety, non schoolwork things etc. Don't go mad and overwork - it backfires. Maintain perspective - stay sane!
Oh and one more addition for 11+ - Keep reading! This will go very far in developing comprehension and creative writing skills.”
Do you have any Questions you would like to ask us?
Towards the end of the interview you are likely to be asked if you have any questions about the school that you are interviewing for. As above, give some thought to this before your interview: what don’t you know that you wish you did? Perhaps there is a specific sport, musical instrument or extra-curricular activity that you are interested in and you would like to know if the school offers. Have a look on the website and see what jumps out at you, and then ask more questions about this. Along with the website, it can be useful to talk to anyone that you know who either goes to the school, or used to go to the school, as it can help you get a better idea of the school. The interviewer will want to see that you are excited about the prospect of coming there and that you (not your parents) want to go there!
Finally: be yourself and try to enjoy the experience as much as possible!
Keystone Tutor Emily gives her top tip for preparing for the 11+
“As well as making sure students are secure in their knowledge of the syllabus, for the 11 plus examinations it is essential they work on exam technique, as students lose lots of marks through simple things such as not reading the question with enough care, or not double-checking their working. Also important is their ability to work under time pressure, and being able to allocate time appropriately during the exam.”
Tutors for 11 Plus Preparation
Each year Keystone supports many students preparing for the 11 plus. The tutors we represent are experienced in the intricacies of the 11+ exams and how they differ between schools' assessments. We would normally recommend that preparation begins around 12 – 18 months before the exams. Tutors will devise a programme tailored to the specific circumstances of the student.