by Jackeline Carter
Since DSA was first introduced by the Ministry of Education eleven years ago, the DSA selection process has gone through many changes. The interviewers of the original IP schools which started in 2004 have interviewed thousands of students over the years and have heard every possible answer each student could have sprouted in relation to the questions asked. To say that the interviewers are jaded is an understatement. Some have even stated that they were tired of listening to answers that were memorised and regurgitated but spoken with a lack of passion and sincerity.
So the question is: “How should you prepare your child for this important interview?” The best advice I can give you is to ensure that the answers are based on what your child thinks and truly their opinion. Your role as parents will be to guide your child so that he/she does not speak in Singlish or come across as judgemental or critical. Try not to come up with answers that you think the interviewers want to hear but instead work on personal views and opinions in order to sound more spontaneous when answering interview questions.
Examples of Interview Questions
There are many possible types of questions an interviewer can ask and each type can be phrased in different ways. Thus it is important that your child listens carefully to the questions and answers accordingly. Answering a question does not mean allocating three to four sentences to an answer instead it is saying what is necessary in order to help the interviewer understand your views. This means that there isn’t a standard number of sentences in replying to a question. Just remember not to restrict it to one word or one sentence. It is also advisable to answer the questions in a succinct manner.
Here are some common questions schools may ask and ways students can think about answering them.
“Tell me about Yourself.”
Most adults have difficulty answering this question let alone a twelve year old who is just beginning to understand himself/herself. As this is a broad question, it is a great opportunity for students to share positive facts about themselves.
Choose to talk about personal values, strengths, interest, achievements or things you enjoy doing. You can select a combination of strengths and achievements. It is not necessary to mention all of the above suggestions or it may come across as rambling off a list.
“Tell us what you enjoy doing when you are NOT attending school.”
This question is asked to determine if students have other interest beyond academics as most schools are looking for well-rounded students.
This is a very easy question to answer, just be prepared to talk excitedly about your areas of interest whether it is music, sports, drama, public speaking, art or another area. You may also want to explain how you will continue in this pursuit.
RELATED: Is DSA right for my child?
“Who is the greatest influence in your life or who do you admire the most?”
Most students will answer this question stating that a parent is the greatest influence in their life. Although there is nothing wrong with this answer, it shows that the student lives a very sheltered life and is solely influenced by parents. Eight out of ten students will answer this way which does not make it exciting for the interviewers.
Instead think about what interest you and the people who have become well-known perusing a similar interest. For example, you may have an interest in art, talk about a famous artist whom you admire and how he has influenced your work. Alternately, if you choose a family member, make sure that the reason you admire this person is due to the challenges he/she have faced in life and how the experiences have influenced important life lessons.
“Tell us about an event that is significant in your life?”
This is an easy question for students who have faced some form of challenge in their life such as coming from a disadvantaged background, going through a traumatic incident, suffering from a health problem (dealing with a sick member of the family) or having a disability. On the other hand, for most of students who have a normal childhood, this is generally a tough question to tackle.
This is where you will need to dig deeper and be more creative. Think of any simple personal experience that teaches an important lesson or creates some form of awareness.
For example, many students are required to do CIP hours involving a visit to an Old Age Home. Most of these students have never visited such a place or are afraid to talk to elderly people who are not related to them. They can use this experience to talk about the importance of interacting with the older generation or the need to practise filial piety.
“What are your Strengths?”
This questions is most often asked during the interview or given as a Free Response Test. It is not asking about academic subjects. The strengths students should be talking about can be one of the following areas:
- Knowledge-based skills – computer skills, robotic skills, language skills (not including English/ Mother tongue), music skills, or any skills that you may have attained.
- Transferable skills – communication skills, problem-solving skills, leadership skills, organisation skills, and so forth.
- Personality traits – punctual, confident, sociable, etc. You can go to this website that list 638 personality traits to identify the ones you have http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html
When talking about your strengths, provide realistic examples to illustrate what you mean. Be truthful about your strengths or examples.
“What are your Weaknesses?”
Do not provide a weakness that is a strength in disguise. Interviewers are not easily fooled. For example: “I am a perfectionist and I spend too much time checking my work’.
All of us have weaknesses as it is part of being human. The interviewers just want to know you better and to find out if you are working on overcoming weaknesses and are constantly working on personal improvement.
The way to answer this question is to acknowledge your weakness and how it has affected your work performance and what you have been doing to overcome this weakness (make sure your methods are practical and realistic).
You may visit this website and look under ‘Negative Traits” to help you identify your weaknesses http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html
“Why do you want to come to our school or how many schools have you applied to and which school is your first choice?”
Interviewers ask these questions to determine how motivated students are about attending the school. The best way to tackle this question is to talk about the academic programs or CCA that the school offers. Visiting the open house and speaking to students, coaches and teachers will help students acquire valuable information. Looking through the school website will also provide more information about the school. Try to avoid common reasons such as ‘Your school is the best school in Singapore” or “My parents want me to attend your school because it can help me get into a top university in the future”. These answers are just too cliché.
As to which school is the first choice, the answer should be the school which the student is interviewing with at the moment. In most cases, schools who ask this question do it as a formality. Answering it with an “I don’t know or I have not decided” will give the impression the student is not serious about attending the school and the interviewers will feel like they have just wasted their time.
“Do you have any question about our school?”
The interviewer may end the interview by asking you if you have any question. In general, the majority of students will say, “NO”. There is nothing wrong with that answer. However, if students want to leave a lasting impression, this will be a great opportunity to show the interviewer that they have done their research about the school or that they are keen to contribute to the school in some way. Students can also ask questions to find out how the school can contribute to their personal growth. For example: “I have a strong interest in debate but I have never participated in any debating competition. Will I have an opportunity to try for the debating club?”
Do not ask questions with answers that can be found on the school website or at the open-house as this will backfire terribly.
The interview is an opportunity for the school to find out if a student will be a good fit for the school. Do not push your children to interview with a school which they are not keen to attend – they will lack confidence and sub-consciously sabotage their chances. Focus instead on sending your children to schools that will bring out the best in them and provide the most enriching experiences.