Private School Entrance Exams, Interviews, & Assessments

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions about Kindergarten Questions about Middle School & High School

School interviews for 5 year old, help!

Feb 2013

We would LOVE some idea of what our 5 1/2 year old son is heading into for private school interviews. He'll be 'interviewing' for first grade for 3 hours plus by himself, 3 days in a row at 3 schools! He'll be going to The Berkeley School, Bentley and Head Royce. He's a very emotional kid and does well when we prepare him for what to expect. We hope to learn if the schools are good environment for him (intense, emotional, probably 'gifted', sweet, sensitive.)

We are also hoping to be able to peek into some public elementary schools (we're moving to the area) - but is that allowed? BUSD, Rosa Parks? And if the housing market allows, Piedmont elementary schools? Sorry to keep asking questions, but if anyone knows if Rosa Parks ever has open spots in the bilingual program for 1st grade? THANK YOU SO SO MUCH! This network is making our move back to the bay area as parents now so so much easier!

I don't have direct experience with all the schools you mention, but in general, interviews for private school kindergarten are not really ''interviews.'' Typically, 4-year-olds will join a small group of kids for something like preschool circle time, where teachers can observe and interact with the kids. There may be a snack, there may be free play. It's low-key and low-pressure. They know there is a range of kid temperaments, so it's not like a job interview or anything. At one academically-focused school we visited, there was no reading and writing test per se, but the kids were asked to write their own name tags, and teachers were attentive to which kids had trouble with that. It is very similar to a morning in preschool. Since your son is going into the 1st grade, there may not be many other kids of that age applying to the school, so he may be solo, or in a much smaller group, or they may have him sit in on a current class of kids his age. I would assume the experience will be very age-appropriate. We are looking at middle schools now, and I always tell my son ''this is a chance for you to see if you would like going to this school.'' so it might help to look at it that way. Admissions directors are usually very informative in terms of what to expect, so do ask them what the interview will be like.

As for Berkeley public schools, yes you can usually observe classrooms. Many schools conduct regular tours for prospective parents this time of year, often led by a parent or even the principal. Phone individual schools or visit the office in person to find out about this. I just had a wonderful 2-hour tour with 4 other parents at Williard Middle School, lead by the principal. We arranged it in advance with the office. I think you'll find that the Berkeley schools really make an effort to reach out to prospective families and the community.

In terms of enrollment and open spots, you really need to check with the district -- in person is usually best, especially this time of year. Check the BUSD website for details. Hope that helps local mom

Private school interviews with a shy child

Nov 2008

My child is very shy and has some attachment issues. I'm very afraid of the admissions process b/c I don't think my son will go in a room with strangers. He's very bright and once he warms up he's fine, but what should I do to get him in the room? Can anyone give me any advice on what to do? Katie

I have a very shy son and was convinced he'd NEVER make it through a private school interview. I had a wonderful experience at St. Paul's Episcopal School that I'd like to share.

At the school tour I pulled the Admissions Director aside and told her of my concerns. She immediately made me comfortable and assured me there are many families in the same situation and that we could repeat the assessment on the next available date if the first one didn't work out for him. We decided the best thing to do was take a tour the day before so my son could meet some of the staff and see the room where the assessment would take place. When we toured the school we happened to meet one of the evaluators. She was warm and friendly and made my son feel very comfortable. She told him she'd be the person who'd come and talk to him the next day.

The St. Paul's assessment is very gentle and fun for the kids. The children and parents assemble in a room and then a group of evaluators come and greet the children and take their hands and lead them into the classroom where they have fun activities planned.

I didn't tell my son about the evaluation until the day before because he has the tendancy to work himself into a frenzied state over fear of unknown situations. The fact that I felt so comfotable with the process myself really helped because my son reads my energy and responds accordingly.

So to my amazement the day came and my son marched right into that room and had a great time. I'm STILL shocked about it.

A little boy we know ended up having a difficult transition. He was scared to go into the room and he cried. He was quiet during the assessment and his mother was very concerned that it would affect his chances for acceptance. This little boy did get accepted despite his behavior because the team of evaluators here could see what an amazing little boy this was despite not being ready yet to walk into a room full of strangers without his parent.

Both this boy and my son now attend this amazing school. Our children are thriving here. My son's ''shyness'' is hardly recognizable. He's already gained so much confidence in just a few short months. I couldn't be happier. Jessica

Dear Mother of a Shy Child,
We also have an extremely shy child. In fact, our child did not talk on any of the private school assessments. She ended up getting into the schools that cared enough to call her preschool teacher to see if she was talking in preschool. We ended up going to Windrush School because they cared enough to visit her at her preschool. She is now in 2nd grade and is thriving at Windrush. If a school does not understand that the assessment process is stressful for your child, then it is not the school for you. Mother of a shy child

My son was 'slow to warm' and we too were quite concerned about the private school assessments. We talked to the experts at his pre-school who gave us some tips on preparing him. The night before his first assessment, we explained to him exactly what would happen, then actually acted out what would happen. At his first assessment, he got very shy and clingy when it was time to separate and did not go bouncing into the classroom like all the other children. The admissions director very calmly and sweetly talked to him, then picked him up and carried him in. 30 minutes later, he came out perfectly calm and happy. After he had one under his belt, the assessments at other schools were much easier. He knew what to expect -- really nice, fun teachers and cookies! What's not to love??

I do think how a school handles your shy child is a good indicator of whether or not that's a good school for your child. And, keep in mind that it takes all kinds of kids to make up a class, and being shy is not going to be seen as a negative. (Can you imagine a classroom full of outgoing, extroverted kids?!) FYI -- we were accepted at all 4 schools we applied to, but ended up sending our son to the first school with the really understanding admissions director.

The assessment process for private schools can definitely be stressful. We just went through 5 of them last year! Have you thought about talking to the admissions director beforehand? that might alleviate some of your stress. And the response you get will also probably be very telling about what the school is truly like and whether it will be a good fit for your child. I also noticed that at some of the schools (St. Paul's in particular), the teachers were extremely warm and nonthreatening with the kids as they led them to the class room for the assessment, and I noticed one parent who spent some time with her child at the assessment because he was crying and feeling shy. (And I happen to know that he was admitted to the school because he is at St. Paul's with my child now and is totally thriving--I share this in case you are worrying about how this will all play out for admissions). It also helped me to tell my child that these are fun playdates--he'll get to draw and play, etc. But I recognize that might not be enough to do the trick. Good luck! survivor of the assessment process

East Bay Independent High Schools and ISEE Scores

Jan 2007

I need help with any experienced parent regarding scores on the ISEE required to get in to the private east bay independent high schools. Does anyone know the lowest score they would consider for acceptance into CPS, Bentley HS, Marin Academy, Lick, IHS, or Head Royce? Otherwise good GPA, lots of sports and activities. We are trying to figure if we should even continue with the applications and fees. Inqusitive Parent

Those schools usually are looking for students above the 85% percentile. In your applications, make the most of your child's extracurricular activities, desire to learn and desire to make the most of the prospective high school and especially highlight any past service learning (volunteerism) in your child. Letters of recommendation from coaches, former teachers (especially math/English teachers or principals) or youth group leaders can be helpful if the prospective school will accept them. Showing that you are a supportive family overall doesn't hurt. I've never parented a child through this process, but I've researched the entrance criteria for many high schools A Few Helpful Tips

This is purely hearsay, but I was told last year, when in the throes of the application process, that Lick looks for kids who get an overall score of 80% or better; for what it's worth,I know of a friend who scored in the high 80s who was admitted there. One very academic private high school that has their own test, and does not require the ISEE or PSAT is Maybeck, in Berkeley anon

Shy 5-y-o & Private School Assessment

December 2002

My 5-y-o is academically advanced but very shy. Although she's finally comfortable enough in interacting with teachers and students at her preschool, she rarely talks to people, including other parents, our neighbors and even relatives, whom she doesn't know well. We're applying for independent schools (kindergartens) for the 2003 school year and each of them requires a group and/or individual assessment as a part of the application process. We're worried because she may not be able to separate herself from us when we (parents) have to leave the assessment room, for example. We also feel that she would not talk to teachers in one-on-one interviews. With many assessment dates coming soon, we'd like to know how we can help her and make this process easier for her (and for us too). Thank you.

My son is also beyond extremely shy. He never did (and still will not) respond to an adult in any kind of ''new person'' situation. He talks to me and my husband, most kids and a handful of adults.

We're about to go through the same situation as we are applying to private schools for next year from our local public school. My son is in 2nd grade. Hopefully I can offer you some advice based on our experience having done this already. Tell the interviewer about your child's shyness and suggest that you be present.

If your daughter is invited to attend class for a day or morning suggest that you be allowed to sit in back till she warms up and is ready to let you leave. When I did this at one time when my son was 6, he clung to me the whole time and never did warm up enough to let me leave. He's not as clingy in new situations now and though he still may not talk he will respond with nods and will allow me to leave after a while. Suggest to the interviewer/teacher that it may be helpful to have a few visits with your daughter so that the situation will be more familiar to her.

Above all let them know that pressuring her will increase the shyness anxiety...they should have no expectations that she speak to them.

Try to speak to the teachers alone before hand so they know what to expect and know that she is talkative in other situations. My son has a social phobia called Selective Mutism...he talks to some people and not usually, some adults, NEVER new adults. I'd be happy to talk to you more about this if you want to contact me. Good luck. June

It sounds like your daughter is exactly like my son was at that age. I know how hard it is. Here is my recommendation: Talk privately to the admissions people at schools you are considering, and tell them what you think may happen at the ''interview''. IF they are not willing to make any accommodations to help her succeed, i.e. let you stay in the room, even in a remote corner away from your daughter, while she does the interview, then let your daughter try it once. She may surprise you. However, if your fears are realized, and your daughter just can't separate from you in a strange place with people she doesn't know, then remove her from the situation. You've just identified a school that would not be the right place for your child or your family. Keep calling schools until you find one that is wise enough to make some accommodation for your child. Most will say no -- we only found one, which ultimately did admit our son and has turned out to be a really great place. Now in second grade, our son is very bright, has lots of friends and is a valued member of the school community. He has gained lots of confidence and is still cautious about unfamiliar situations. Best of luck to you, A Mom who's been there

What I have heard from private schools is that if you have a child, for instance, who may take some time to warm up, and is particularly shy, that it is helpful to let the school know this information before the interview. This can help facilitate the process for everyone. Also, the reason the schools have children come and meet a teacher one-on-one, as well as put them in an experience in which they interact with other children in a group, is to get a look at the characteristics of each child and where they are at developmentally. In addition to motor coordination, vocabulary, literacy and number skills/knowledge, they look for social skills, ability to transition from one task to another, maturity level, what a child's activity level is like, hands-on skills, verbal skills, the ability to pick up on physical cues, the child's response to stimulation (are they easily distracted?), and many other things. Many of the schools look at the whole ''batch'' of applying children and put together a group that fits nicely together; they don't only take into account the individual, but the whole as well. The ''competition'' factor that parents feel regarding entry into ''the right'' private school for their child can be very stressful on the child--and I think it is important to remember that four and five year olds are wonderful no matter whether they are perceived to have ''kindergarten readiness'' or to fit into a particular school group or not! And the range of development is tremendous at this age--So, whatever you can do to make this process as fun as possible for your child, and to stay in touch with her being just right for her, in spite of this process, is so important for all of you! ivy

Will 4-year-old be traumatized by Kindergarten assessment?

Nov 2003

Can anyone tell me just what the Kindergarten assessment at Bentley or Head-Royce consists of? I've heard horror stories of 4 year olds ''flunking'' because they were unable to draw the ''inverse'' of an overlapping circle and isoceles triangle. Is this really the type of question that is asked at the assessment? I've also heard stories of children being somewhat traumatized by the pressure at the assessment. I have a very physically active son with minimal small motor skill development (not yet writing or drawing well) and want to minimize the potential for trauma on his part. Concerned Mom

We went through the kindergarten assessment at: Bentley, Head Royce, Redwood Day and The Academy. None of them were horrible in any way shape or form. In our experience, all of the schools seemed to go out of their way to make it as comfortable as possible for the children. In fact, there was one child that I recall that had a very difficult day, had a meltdown and had to leave midway through an assessment. Interesting enough, that same child was subsequently assessed on another day and accepted for enrollment. I don't think it's as bad as people make it out to be.

But I guess as always, the experience depends on the child. My child was attending preschool at the time and was very comfortable with the 'school' environment. As parents, we explained to her that it was her opportunity to experience the school and teachers and did not let on to her that she was being 'tested' to avoid any pressures on her.

As far as I can gather from 'grilling' (you bet I wanted to know what they did with her) after each session was that most of the schools tested for the following in varying degrees:

  •  gross motor skills - jumping, running, etc.
  • small motor skills - drawing, writing, handling scissors,  making something with paper and glue
  • ability to follow instructions - draw a picture of  yourself, draw a picture of your family, etc.
  • ability to listen to and follow instructions - run to the  other end of the room and jump 5 times
  • ability to answer questions (verbal multiple choice)- Where  does a whale live? a. forest, b. ocean, c. house
  • counting - count to 5
  • ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet
  • ability to work in a small group
  • ability to recognize shapes and to make associations 

How they rate the importance of these activities I don't know, but these are some of things I think came up last year.

Just one last note. The first couple were lots of fun for my daughter... but she was really getting bored with the process by the time she got to the fourth one. They are tiringly for the children and scheduling too many might be a disadvantage if your child starts losing interest, etc.

Best of luck in your selection process. All-in-all, I think the process worked well in allowing us to find the right match for our child. It seemed to be the case with all of the parents at our preschool. We all ended up at different schools, but it seems to working well for all of us.