11+ / 13+ interviews at selective schools: what are they looking for?


    Ahead of our next one-to-one interview practice session with the former Head of Admissions of Eton College on 29-30th July, 26-27th August and 2-3rd September 2017 (if of interest, please contact us to be put on the waiting list), a number of parents have asked us recently what do school admissions officers really look for when they interview candidates in Year 6 (or Year 7). We therefore thought it would be valuable to highlight and discuss some of the core areas that all schools are looking out for when interviewing 11+ candidates.

    Many people find the interview process at selective schools scary and daunting, and why wouldn’t they? “I’ve no idea of the questions that will come up!” “They’re going to trick my son into saying something mortifying!” “They’re going to make my daughter reveal what a terrible parent I am!”

    Put yourself in the role of the head teacher

    But hold on a second – if you were the head teacher, would you want to deliberately trip up a potential student with something baffling? Of course not. You’d want to create an environment and ask questions that would help every student show their full potential for learning and for socializing with other students. You’d be looking for the best learners, and the best new members to contribute to your school community.

    The most common questions

    You would want a student to talk about him/herself in a way that shows they’re a good learner and a good person. You’d want to hear about their hobbies. You’d want to hear about what books they’d read and what inspires them. You’d want to know about what lessons they enjoy at school, and how they work with others in the classroom. You’d want to know if they had some understanding of their role as a citizen, as a member of the human race. Before you know it, the 15-25 minutes is up, and hopefully you’ve managed to find out enough about the candidate to make sure you’re not going to miss out on a really great student!


    At some schools, the head teacher would expect the student to have made some preparation, so that in the face of questions such as, “What’s your greatest achievement?” or “What’s your favourite book?” the student can answer quickly and easily. But in general, the onus should be on the interviewer to help the student, not the other way round. How else are they going to find out who the best students are?

    Academic questions and problem solving

    At many selective schools (like Eton, Westminster, Winchester, St Paul’s and City of London for example) the interviewers give students literacy or numeracy problems and are looking for evidence that they can work in a classroom situation, not just an exam hall. The best thing that students can do here is be honest, and try to start a dialogue with the interviewer: don’t worry about politely asking what words mean, talking about how you might tackle this problem if you were at home or in the classroom, or even asking for more general guidance if you need to. The interviewers want to see students who are keen to learn and are going to bring the right attitude into the classroom. That’s worth ten times more than “the right answer”.

    Group interviews

    Some schools, like Sevenoaks, have adopted an interview process that is entirely based on a group interview. You might think that the candidates who succeed here are the ones who shout loud and proud, and secure supreme dominion over all the other candidates. But of course, nobody wants a student like that in their classroom. Teachers and head teachers are looking for students that offer their opinion in response to other students’ words, show that they have listened to others, or have even helped shyer students to feel valued and respected. In group-interview tasks, there is rarely a “right answer”; the interviewers are looking for the students that contribute to an inclusive and productive atmosphere.

    Body language

    At all schools, there are some things that never go out of style, like positive body language. When we help students with interview practice, we encourage them to smile, even in response to a challenging question. We tell them to relax, to use their hands when talking and to show their palms in the spirit of openness, and to point their feet at the interviewer. We also tell them to look at the interviewer in the eyes; or in the point between their eyes, if that’s easier.

    Final thought

    Head teachers and interviewers want to feel that a student is listening to them, responding to them, and enjoying spending time with them. How do we know this? Because it’s what everybody wants; we’re only human.

    For further information on the school interview process or My Tutor Club’s one-to-one interview practice and feedback sessions on 15 January 2017, please contact us at hello@mytutorclub.com