If there’s one thing that’s sure to instill fear in the heart of a Hong Kong parent, it’s the prospect of Early Years and Primary school admissions interviews. It’s perfectly understandable – we know how our children behave at home and what they are capable of, but how will they come across in an interview situation? Will they be clingy? What will they say? Will they say anything at all?
With interview season on the horizon, we reached out to the schools to find out what parents and children can expect, what they should do, and, perhaps more importantly, what they shouldn’t do!
Early Years Admissions
The first thing to point out about Early Years admissions processes is that there is rarely a formal, one-on-one interview. Of course, each school’s approach varies, but the aim of the sessions is for the schools to see the kids in action so that they can assess their abilities and gain an insight into their personalities.
With younger children, this is often done using informal activities, much like those they would encounter on a typical day at kindergarten.
Harrow International School Hong Kong, for example, sets a carousel of activities up in the classrooms. Each station is manned by an experienced teacher who interacts with the children as they play. Because the children are relaxed, it’s a great way for staff to assess the level they are at when it comes to things such as fine motor skills, numeracy and language ability.
German Swiss International School (GSIS) adopts an informal approach in Early Years too, with children applying to the English International Stream taking part in small group sessions led by the relevant year group leader. As well as age-appropriate physical and English language skills (children are expected to demonstrate fluency in English equal to that of a native English speaker of a similar age), staff are looking to see that the children are socially and emotionally developed for their age. Can they separate from their parents? Can they play nicely alongside other children? Do they have basic self-help skills?
As with any age, what the schools are really looking to establish is whether they and the child will be a good fit for one another. As a parent, you may have your heart set on a particular school, but bear in mind that every child is different – what’s right for one may not be right for another, and if your preferred school doesn’t suit your child’s personality or way of learning, it may be better for you to consider other options anyway.
When it comes to Year 1 admissions, it’s a similar story to Early Years, with schools running relatively relaxed sessions. Key things they look out for are whether children can sustain focus for a short period of time and whether they are engaged – do they ask questions and express opinions, for example?
As the applicants get older, they may be asked to take part in more formal assessments, including interviews and academic tests. Children are evaluated on skills such as reading, writing, verbal and nonverbal reasoning, and cognitive ability.
And while language skills in the younger years are not necessarily the be-all and end-all, children do need to be able to understand what is going on, and for older children in particular, they can make a difference. Of course, if you’re applying for a place in bilingual stream, having age-appropriate skills in at least one of the languages is fairly essential.
So, what about the interviews? What sort of questions do the children get asked? According to the school admissions teams, typical questions cover things such as hobbies and interests, family, favourite subjects and previous schools, however it’s not uncommon for more abstract topics to crop up, such as ‘what would you take to a desert island?’
The reason schools place so much emphasis on assessments is they need to ensure that any children they accept will be able to keep up with the curriculum. If a child is going to join a school at Year 4 or 5, they have to be able to hit the ground running to a certain extent. If they have too much to catch up on, they’re likely to struggle.
Remember that the purpose of Primary interviews is not to exclude or trip anyone up – it’s to ensure that each child ends up in an environment that suits them and in which they will thrive.
Schools in Hong Kong are looking for students who have a good attitude towards learning and who will enhance the school community. If they behave badly during the assessment process, they’re unlikely to be accepted. If, on the other hand, they display enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, they’re in with a good chance.
Preparing for interview
With all this in mind, what exactly can parents do to help their child prepare for assessment?
When it comes to Early Years, the answer is: not a lot. Children develop at different rates and are a product of their life experiences to date. All you can really do is make sure they are well rested on the day and go in feeling as comfortable as possible.
With older children, let them know what will happen on the day. Explain the sorts of things they might be asked about, and keep the chat positive. Don’t pass any stress you may be feeling on to your child – they need to know that mum and dad will support them whatever the outcome.
It’s also important that you don’t overprepare your child. Schools tend to advise against paying for formal interview tutoring, as it can cause more problems than it solves – the last thing you want is your child standing there and giving a perfectly rehearsed speech, then being unable to answer when they are thrown a curveball. On paper, the average Hong Kong learner is very good, but if they don’t have the attributes the schools are looking for, no amount of prep is going to change that.
Top Schools’ Top Tips
Do ask the school what will happen on the day so that you can explain the process to your child in an age-appropriate way.
Make sure you arrive a few minutes early, but not so early that your child becomes restless while waiting.
Dress appropriately – both you and your child.
Get plenty of rest the night before, and give yourself ample time on the day to get ready.
Don’t answer on behalf of your child – let them express themselves.
Don’t overprepare your child – you want them to come across naturally.
Don’t be a difficult parent – while you may not be the one being interviewed, your actions and attitude count too.
Don’t panic! If your child doesn’t get into the school of your/their choice, remember that there are other options out there!
Ruth Benny is founder of Top Schools, a company that provides extensive, factual information and guidance on Hong Kong schools and their admission process.