If I were to ask whether all of you have been interviewed before, some of you might say that you haven’t and that you are finding the prospect of having an interview at a senior school rather alarming. Certainly the word ‘interview’ can conjure up daunting images of stern figures asking impossible questions; but if we pause to consider the meaning of the word for a moment we will quickly grasp that all of us are in a sense being interviewed all of the time: the rather tiresome relative who at Christmas wants to know all about our new school, the teacher asking us what we thought of the story we’ve just read, the friend demanding to know every detail of the school match he missed – all these people’s questions and the answers we readily give them are in a sense a form of interview and something we take in our stride. An interview at a school is simply a question-and-answer session conducted with a little more formality; it should not be a frightening experience because it is absolutely not in the interest of the person asking questions to intimidate you: he wants to find as much as he can about you in fifteen minutes, and to do so he will want to put you at your ease, not make you shut up like a clam!
What is the interviewer looking for?
Before preparing for an interview it is always worth putting yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and asking yourself what is he looking for. He will be thinking: if I offer this boy or girl a place he or she will be at my school or in my house for five years. What has he or she got to contribute or add to my school? Will he or she be keen on study, eager to learn new things, responsive in class and a pleasure to teach? Will he or she be a good team player in the widest possible sense, able and willing to get on with others and enthusiastic about taking part in games, music or drama? Has he or she any particular talents which it would be a delight for the school to develop? Is he or she a positive, well-mannered sort of person who will thrive in a community?
How to prepare?
A strangely reassuring fact about an interview is that it is impossible to predict the questions you will be asked and therefore you don’t have to and indeed shouldn’t mug up a whole list of stock answers. However there are some obvious and simple ways in which you can prepare yourself.
Physically: Make sure that you are well rested and have drunk and eaten sensibly before the interview. Arrive at the school early so you have plenty of time to work out where the loos are and where the interview is being conducted. Make sure you look smart and have combed your hair, polished your shoes, done up your tie properly and tucked in your shirt.
Mentally: Get up early to make sure your brain has plenty of time to get going. You might like to read a page of a newspaper or a magazine after breakfast so your mind has something to challenge it and will be stimulated. Answering a few obvious practice questions from your parents or a friend on the way to the interview will also help to sharpen your mental faculties.
How you present yourself physically is important, so don’t forget to shake the interviewer’s hand confidently at the beginning and end of the interview, to sit up straight, to look the interviewer in the eye and to smile.
Whilst it is impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked, certain questions are very likely to come up:
Why have you chosen to apply to join this school?
This you do need to think about carefully. A school does not want to be told you have chosen it because you failed to get into your first choice or don’t fancy your chances at getting in somewhere more demanding! You should have looked at the school’s prospectus and preferably have visited it and spoken to someone who attends it. You might then be able to say you like the school’s grounds/buildings, its location, the fact that it offers boarding/weekly boarding, its excellence in games/music/drama/academic study, the range of clubs/activities it offers, the fact that boarders have their own studies after the first year, its friendliness which you have heard about from a current pupil etc. Try to have something genuine to say which shows you are making an informed choice.
What do you feel you could contribute to this school?
Don’t forget they will be looking for hard-working students as well as ones who have talents outside the classroom, so mentioning both your academic and extracurricular interests would be wise. Stressing that you are really keen on joining a particular team, playing in the orchestra or taking up something new would come across well.
What is your favourite subject and why?
In answering this, try to think of something specific you have studied recently which you found really interesting. Give examples of experiments/poems/battles/myths which grabbed your attention. Perhaps mention something which you found difficult and puzzling but which got you thinking.
Which film/novel/play have you most enjoyed seeing or reading recently?
Again have specific examples at your fingertip, making sure you can remember who the author/director was, and be prepared to say why you enjoyed it. What did it make you think about which you hadn’t considered before? How did it make you see the world anew? You could ask the same questions of galleries or historic houses or places abroad you have visited.
Which scientist/explorer/artist/mathematician living or dead would you like most to meet?
If you have said you are keen on science/maths/the classics/history you need to have the names of experts in your favourite field in mind and be able to say why these characters fascinate you and what you think their peculiar contribution to their subject has been. If you say you would like to meet Einstein, make sure you can say why and talk a little bit about what he discovered. If you say you like the work of Picasso or Monet, make sure you can name a picture by him which you especially like.
General, ‘philosophical’ questions:
- If you can’t quite grasp what the question means, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat it.
- Give yourself time to answer; don’t think you have to say the first thing which comes into your head!
- Don’t pretend you know the answer to something when you don’t!
- Don’t feel that there is a definite right or wrong answer to a question or that the problem mentioned can be easily solved. Be prepared to say, ‘That depends’, or ‘In certain circumstances’ or ‘On the one hand this would work, but on the other it might be better to…’ Try not to be too black and white in your answers when thinking about moral issues.
- Try to keep going; you will impress if you can present a train of thought which lasts over a minute or so.
Have you any questions you would like to ask us?
Do be prepared for this one and again have ready an enquiry leading to your being giving information about the school which you would genuinely like to receive: class sizes, dormitory sizes, can all boys get into school teams, do trebles sing in the choir, how often does each house present a play, can the youngest boys take part in the school play…
Finally: be yourself and try to enjoy the experience as much as possible!
Keystone can provide face to face mock interviews in both London and Singapore. For more information get in touch. We can also offer interviews via skype for students based outside of the UK or Singapore.