Welcome to our private school interview tips.


An Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Rob Williams is a Chartered Psychologist with over 25 years of experience working and designing tests. He is also the author of five psychometric test design books and has worked for the leading global psychometric test publishers including SHL, Kenexa IBM, MBTI, CAPP and SOVA Assessment.

Our Private School Interview tips

How to prepare for your private school interview

This is arguably the most important part of the process: where you come face-to-face with the admissions tutors who decide the fate of your application. It’s also the most difficult thing to prepare for: your personal statement might be discussed in depth, or not at all; areas you know about might be the subject of multiple questions, or none; you might be faced with really friendly, engaging interviewers, or more intimidating ones.

Get some private school interview coaching

  • As with job interviews, there are several companies that offer both one-to-one coaching and group coaching for 11 Plus interviews.
  • That said there are certain questions that nearly always come up.
  • These include ‘why do want to come to this school?’ and ‘what are your interest outside of school?’ So it is worth preparing them

Our full interview tips series

This is part of our top tips for different types of interview’ series, which includes:

Graduate assessments. Smartly dressed lady waiting on chair.
Graduate assessment quality standards. Man looking at laptop.

Private school interview prep

So your child has done all the hard work, right? They’ve passed their 11 Plus entrance exams. Now all they’ve got to do is show up for the school interview and that’s it. They’ll be heading to their chosen school next September.

Well sorry, it’s not quite so simple. Private schools routinely interview children after entrance exams to assess whether they are suitable for the school. Some even interview the parents too! And many consider the interview just as important as the written exams. Indeed they may see it as an opportunity to ‘weed’ out as many candidates as the exam process.

For the schools, it may also be an opportunity to see children who haven’t performed quite so well in their exams. Often these are younger children with birthdays later in the school year.

Nor are the schools necessarily looking for the most extrovert children. In other words, those who are so full of confidence they can engage adults in conversation on a range of topics for hours.

Instead, they are looking for a good balance of children for the school. Those they believe will fit into the environment.

An anxious child will never be at their best and it’s ultimately all about finding the perfect fit.

What are private schools looking for?

Personality, of course, will always be the most variable aspect of any interview and all interviewers have a personal bias. They may hate boastful children, or those who say their favourite leisure activity is computer games; they may prefer Arsenal fans to Tottenham supporters.

The best interviewers can and do overcome the limitations both of the written examination and of the child. ‘Children, even very shy ones, like to talk about themselves, their friends, their families and their pets. Sometimes I even get a child to sing or dance. I am looking for sparkly eyes and interest.

What are Boarding schools looking for?

Most boarding schools feel that the interview can identify serious pastoral concerns. The interview is also very helpful in establishing the academic level the prep school is working at. We ask children to bring in their exercise books. Some London prep schools are so geared up at that point that all the child is doing is practice papers. Country prep schools tend to be more relaxed.’ 

That’s a common theme for those interviews where parents appear — notably in London pre-preps.

Our virtual interview tips

Should you adapt your interview style?

We’ve been asked recently what a candidate should wear for an online interview. What would he or she be wearing if it were a traditional face to face interview? Their current school uniform or anything which is respectable and comfortable should suffice.

Choosing the right private school in London

Should you adapt your interview style?

Choosing the right private school for your child can be a daunting task. In this section, you can find a list of private schools in London. You will find them divided into:

These schools are spread over London. There are around 2500 private schools in the UK. They provide education to about 615 000 children. Most independent schools are members of the Independent Schools Council (ISC). Independent schools that belong to the ISC are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).  This is done according to a framework agreed upon between the various assessment bodies. These bodies include the DfE and Ofsted. These inspection reports are then published and can be very helpful in choosing a school.

Young girl in school uniform. London private school educationIn these lists you will also find:

  • Admissions Info: A list of private schools in London for each subcategory
  • Entrance Exams: A list of private school entrance exam papers available

From these lists of private schools, you can also see which private schools there are in London. This could not only be helpful in finding the best private school for your child but also help you get an idea of what the Admissions criteria for each of these private schools in London. You will also be able to look at and download sample papers for those that make their entrance exam papers available.

Private school interview prep

Visiting the Admissions page for the relevant schools will help you understand the procedures each private school in London uses for admission and you will be able to see:

  • which forms of assessment is used
  • whether it is a day or boarding school
  • whether it is coeducational, a boys school or a girls school

Navigating each private school in London’s website will also provide information regarding:

  • school fees
  • religious affiliation
  • assistance such as scholarships and bursaries
  • religious affiliation
  • age range at each school
  • special education

It is still highly recommended to get in contact with each of the private schools in London that made it onto your shortlist and visit them on their relevant open days.
It is also important for you and your child to get a feel for the school and make sure that your child is part of this process. You might also find my blog on School Open Days very informative and helpful.

Good luck with this very important journey.

Some independent schools also appoint learners as what they call a ‘Don’. A ‘Don’ will give feedback to the teacher on what they (and those in their class) are learning and how they are learning. A Don is, therefore, a student leader in important departments of the school.
They are usually associated with academic departments. You would, therefore, get a Don for Maths or Biology, but there may also be a Don for other departments like Library. These Dons can then do the following

  • Lead activities for younger learners
  • Organise external speakers and organise extracurricular societies
  • Pop up at A level choices fairs to tell potential subscribers “what it’s really like”
  • Offer heads of department feedback on lessons and curriculum
  • Lobby for changes in what and how they are taught

Common interview questions

So, tell me about your strengths… and weaknesses

  • Too many people respond by regurgitating their resume. That’s not what your interviewer wants to hear.
  • The best — and most memorable — answer I have ever received to this question was: “I’ve climbed the highest mountains on every continent, including Everest.”
  • This candidate showed who she really was beyond a piece of paper: an adventurous, curious, goal-oriented and disciplined person.
  • Talk for about 30 seconds, then let the interviewer respond. The goal is to make it conversational.

When have you achieved an important goal?

  • Your interviewer is listening for examples of how you’ve been proactive and results-driven.
  • Describe your motivation and how you used your creativity to solve a problem or identify an opportunity.

What do you bring that no-one else does?

  • This can be a tough one because it’s so vague. But the key is to pick two or three main qualifications for the job and explain how you meet them.
  • For more junior positions, you’ll want to spend more time talking about the technical skills.
  • If you’re further in your career, then focus on highlighting how you manage, work with, motivate and engage with others.

What’s your biggest achievement to date (in your career)?

  • This is one of the most important questions to prepare for. Giving a great answer can land you the job.
  • Just don’t drag on for too long; tell a quick story with specific details. Get comfortable with bragging and using the word “I.”
  • Lastly, quantify the accomplishment: Did you reduce expenses? Increase productivity or revenue? Even something that gave the company high recognition in its industry counts.

Tell me about an important problem or challenge you overcame. Please focus on how you did it?

  • In addition to highlighting your skills and competencies, you can showcase your goal orientation, work ethic, personal commitment and integrity.
  • Overcoming numerous or significant difficulties to succeed requires these qualities.
  • So, demonstrate your resilience by getting real about the challenges you’ve overcome.

Why do you want to come here to work with us specifically?

  • What do you admire about the company, its mission and purpose, products and services, and culture.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, do some research about the person you’ll be reporting to and share what you’d like to learn from them. What have they accomplished throughout their career that you aspire to achieve, too?

Private school Interview prep