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How can you help prepare your child for school entrance interviews?

Once again we have reached another milestone in this disrupted academic year. As our children dive back into school for the last few weeks of term I find I have a moment to draw breath from homeschooling and refocus on what I need to do to prepare my child (who is in Year 6) for her senior school entrance interview.

I start with a word of warning - be careful not to ‘over prepare’ your child. An interviewer can spot a child who has been coached a mile off. It will not create a favourable impression. Our aim as parents is to build a child’s confidence so that they can talk engagingly about their own opinions and interests.

Firstly, make sure you know when and where the interview will be held. Will it be online or in person? Given the current COVID situation plans may well be fairly fluid. It may be the senior school has already contacted you with details. Ask your child’s current school if they help prepare your child?

The sooner you start your child’s preparation the better. If you embed some of the ideas I discuss here into your child’s everyday routine, their ability to become interesting conversationalists will be natural and not forced.

Broaden your child’s general knowledge by encouraging them to:

  • Read a wide range of material including good quality fiction and non-fiction books (see our suggested reading list here). This will broaden their vocabulary and give them interesting books to talk about. Ask them to tell you about what they are reading. Some children may need extra help with this skill if they struggle to express themselves verbally. Informal chats at home can be hugely beneficial. They will need to order their thoughts and talk about their ideas with confidence.
  • Read the newspaper or watch the news and documentaries as often as possible. Ask them to talk about what has caught their attention and why? Ask their opinion on what they have read or heard. If they don’t have much spare time they could read a weekly news magazine such as First News or The Week Junior.
  • Take trips (when you can!) to museums, places of historical and geographical interest or to the theatre. If this is not possible, encourage them to think about places they have visited in the past and to talk about what they remember.

Develop their conversational skills:

  • Being able to talk effortlessly and engagingly is a great skill to have.
  • Take any opportunity you can, in the car or at mealtimes, for example, to discuss a wide range of topics.
  • Ask challenging, unusual questions. Good reasoning skills (critical thinking) will make a good impression. For example, are there any people they have learnt about in history that they would like to have met? What questions would they like to have asked them and why? Encourage them to present an argument, explain the reasons why something happened and the effects it had.
  • Ask them to retell stories to friends or relatives.
  • Practise speaking slowly, clearly and with expression. If they babble they won’t be understood.

Reflect on experiences:

  • Spend time thinking through any experiences they have had or any challenges they have faced.
  • Have they volunteered for anything or raised money for charity?
  • Do they have any hobbies or interests?

Prepare some questions to ask:

  • It is a good idea to prepare some questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Make sure they don’t ask questions that show they haven’t really bothered to find out about the school. For example, you wouldn’t want to ask ‘do you play rugby?’ when rugby is mentioned as a sport on the website!
  • Having looked at the school website, think about questions they haven’t found answers to:
    • Are there any extra-curricular activities they do now that they would like to continue?
    • Your child might have a particular academic interest they want to pursue – do they have speakers coming into the school? Do they have societies they can join?
    • Your child might have done some charity work at their school. You could ask whether there is a way to continue this work.

There are more ideas and suggestions, on what type of questions may be asked, how to present yourself (that’s the child of course) and how to behave in the interview itself, in Hodder Education's (formerly Galore Park) Study Skills for 11+ exams and pre-tests.

Writing this article has made me realise that in fact there is a lot I can do with my child to stimulate intelligent conversation, encourage critical thinking and to help build their confidence. I just need to get on with it!

Target: Make the next journey to school or mealtime an opportunity to start my daughter’s interview preparation...!

Louise Martine is a Freelance Publisher and Business Consultant, and is also a school governor. She has four children who have all been through the entrance exam journey, which has given her an insight into education and how to guide the various personalities through school, revision and school exams. Louise is also the author of Hodder Education's (formerly Galore Park) Study Skills 11+: Building the study skills needed for 11+ and pre-tests and the 11+ Maths Revision Guide, as well as Achieve Times Tables.

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