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The Sassy Mama guide to international school admission interviews

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If you’re applying to international school, Jones Lang LaSalle’s education expert, Gill Keefe has put together some basic information about admission interviews and some tips on how best to prepare your kids for them.

It is a known fact that Hong Kong has a very competitive schooling system where demand exceeds supply. Schools often receive several times the amount of applications than the number of available places and aside from the basic bundle of application forms and supplementary documents; students are usually required to go through interviews or assessments as part of the selection process.

International kindergarten and pre-school admission interviews

Many international pre-schools do not require interviews or assessments. However, for those that do, the format tends to run along similar lines.

Typically these are group interviews of 45 minutes – 1 hour, with parents sometimes accompanying the child at the session for through-train schools; the school may also request a chat with the parents. There will be some kind of play-based activity, similar to those undertaken in a pre-school or kindergarten setting and the assessing staff will engage the children with some basic questions.

Skills assessed:

  • Basic command of English in some schools
  • Communication, conversational, and social skills
  • Ability to follow instructions

Primary school admission interviews

These can last anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

For younger primary students this can either be a group or a one-on-one interview. For older primary students, the interview may be one-on-one but schools often offer assessments in groups to save time.

Regarding activities, younger students may be observed in a group scenario to observe their interaction with peers before being drawn to one side for a chat or an interview – formal or informal – on an individual basis. This may include oral comprehension, drawing a picture, discussing a picture or counting. Older students will find the process to be more formalised with oral and /or written comprehension, story writing, maths tests, etc., and some parts can sometimes be completed online.

Skills assessed (depending on the age of the child):

  • Verbal and written English language skills (Chinese language skills may be assessed, depending on the school and background of the child)
  • Mathematical skills
  • Comprehension, conversational and social skills
  • Overall suitability for the school

Secondary school admission interviews

These are typically a one-on-one interview, lasting between 1 and 3 hours, along with an individual assessment. Sometimes these are offered in a group setting to save time for the school.

There will be activities along the lines of  an interview or discussion to gauge oral comprehension; written English comprehension, essay writing  or verbal reasoning; and a maths test. Some tests may be given online.

Skills assessed:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Suitability for school
  • Potential learning needs

After the Interview

Depending on the school, parents may be notified on the same day, or up to several weeks later, whether their child has passed the entrance criteria. Please note this does not necessarily mean the student will be offered a place at this stage. Usually Principals and Heads of School give final approval of admission, and have the discretion to approve or reject any application.

Preparing for the Interview

When preparing the child for an admissions interview, parents should undertake the following research: check out the school web site and the curriculum as well as the school’s teaching methods. Arrange to go on a school tour and whilst there, learn about the admissions processes and get an idea of what is expected in the assessment.

If the assessment for little ones is in a group scenario and relatively relaxed, then get your child used to playing with other children and sharing toys. Exposure to the language they will be assessed in – not only in a classroom setting but also in a play setting – can be helpful e.g. signing up for a sports activity in the target language could be a good option.

With regards to maths preparation – it is possible to find out the standard level for a national curriculum as a guideline. Remember that some entrance assessments pitched at a higher level than even the school is expecting, so don’t worry if your child cannot complete all the questions!

Good manners, politeness and an ability to converse on subjects that may be of interest to the student, such as their home, holidays or weekend activities are all positive attributes, even for the youngest children. For older students, this translates into being aware of current affairs, so discussing these within the family may be a good habit.

When all preparation is done, the most important thing is to relax and not to place undue pressure on your child. Let them be his or her natural self at the interview, and encourage them to enjoy the process, (and not take it personally if they don’t get a place this time!)

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