How To Prepare For School Admissions Interviews

How to help your child – and what not to do

Robert Lomax
Robert is a teacher and educational author. His books and online materials are popular in the UK and internationally. For a full biography, click here.

Parents are often unsure what preparation is appropriate for interviews at 11-plus and 13-plus.

Schools generally don’t help with this, saying simply that no preparation is needed. This contains an element of truth, but it is misleading.

Recognising that such advice is unrealistic, some families over-compensate in the opposite direction, engaging tutors to provide interview training.

City of London School For Boys have previously made an interesting statement: that “no specific preparation is required or expected for the interview” (my highlighting).

This is very carefully worded. It suggests that, unlike many other schools, City recognise that a degree of general preparation can be valuable.

If so, they are right.

If children receive no help at all before an interview, confident talkers flourish, and others lose out.

Admissions staff may believe that they are able to see past this; but they are teachers, not psychics.

If a child isn’t comfortable expressing their ideas, they will not give as good an impression as a child who is. This unfairness isn’t desirable for your child, or for the schools who want to get to know them before deciding whether to offer them a place.

Fortunately, there are certain habits that you can encourage in your child to help them feel more secure in an interview, by giving them a surer sense of how to express themselves.

What you absolutely must not do is help them rehearse ready-made answers to certain likely questions – despite lots of bad advice to the contrary that can be found online!

Some adults can do this effectively before job interviews, but children are very likely to give themselves away as they parrot answers that don’t precisely match what they have been asked – with damaging consequences for their chances of success.

Instead, there are a few things you can focus on talking through (and possibly practising a little) with your child, which will help them to show themselves at their best.

1) Many children believe that their task is simply to give correct answers: they feel that they have done their job if a question can be accurately dispatched with a “yes” or a “no”.

However, a good interview is a discussion – a conversation – rather than a list of questions and answers. It’s an opportunity for your child to talk.

They need to get into the habit of giving examples to back up their points, so that they explain them fully.


(2) It is very important to answer the question which has been asked and not a slightly different one.

However, it is absolutely fine to take a question as a starting point, and – having answered it – lead the conversation towards a related point which is of interest.


(3) Your child will help themselves give a good impression if they can get used to sitting confidently with both feet on the floor, and without fiddling. This is easier said than done, especially under the pressure of a real interview!

While this is worth practising, it isn’t something to worry about unduly.

(4) A very popular interview question is about a child’s recent reading.

Don’t make them read Flaubert in the week before the interview, in order to sound impressive.

Do encourage them to think intelligently about what they have really read – even if it’s Harry Potter!

It’s useful if they have some thoughts about the characters, themes and setting of the books they have read.

Also, it’s always impressive when people can create comparisons with other books, films, songs etc., rather than talking about a thing in isolation.


(5) It’s very helpful if they have a clear idea of what they like about the school, with ideas which go beyond the generic “it’s very academic” or “I like sports”.

What are the specific qualities of the school which make it attractive? It can be useful to have a conversation with your child about the open day you both attended, and perhaps sit down together and rummage through the school’s website, so that they have a clear sense of what most appeals to them.

Some schools (e.g. Latymer Upper) have a policy of not asking children what they like about the place, because they feel that it is an unfair question and an invitation to offer insincere praise.

This does not mean that other schools won’t ask something along these lines, however!


(6) Step 5 may well turn up some questions about the school which your child would like to ask in the interview. I wouldn’t invent these artificially, but if a child is geniuinely curious to know more about something, the interviewer will be delighted to discuss it with them.

What’s more, this is a good opportunity for candidates to demonstrate that they have an enquiring mind.

If your child asks a question, they should be prepared to engage in a short conversation about it.


(7) If your child is given a maths question or a short text to talk about in the interview, this should be nothing to worry about.

They passed the exam, so they have already demonstrated that they are intelligent enough.

The reason the interviewer is asking your child an academic question now is that they want to see how they think.

Your child needs to get used to leading the interviewer through their ideas as they work towards a solution. Even if their answer is wrong, they will have given them a positive insight into their way of thinking.

In summary, do help your child learn good interview habits – but do not train them to answer specific questions!

If you found these interview tips useful or if you have a question, please leave a comment below! I’d love to have your feedback. (Tick the “Receive email updates” box to receive an email when I reply.)

For the most comprehensive range of resources to help with preparation for the 11+ exam, you might like to try 11 Plus Lifeline (with a money-back guarantee in the first month). Every practice paper has full example solutions, with a detailed discussion and explanation for every question – like being taught by an excellent private tutor.

According to Tutorful, it’s “the gold standard for independent and grammar school 11-plus preparation”.

If you’d like further advice about DIY 11-plus preparation, my free video series gives some helpful pointers, and comes with an extensive set of free RSL practice papers, example answers and solutions:


  1. Carlos Monteiro


    • Robert Lomax

      It’s a pleasure!


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