One of the most cutthroat application processes in the country takes place in Manhattan preschool classrooms, as 4-year-old students — and, to be honest, their parents — vie for a spot at one of the city’s elite kindergartens.
To better understand how a school chooses its kindergarten class from the hundreds of families trying to get in each year, Business Insider spoke with Stephanie Sigal, a speech therapist who also helps potential kindergarteners prepare for their interviews. She helps them prepare for the two major tests students take to get into a kindergarten class — the ERB, which evaluates IQ and ability, and the new AABL, which tests “a child’s development in verbal and quantitative reasoning, early literary and mathematics.”
An interview will consist of two parts — group play with other applicants such as story time and a one-on-one evaluation with a school representative.
“They’re looking for a kid that can separate from their parents, who can go in and play a variety of games with their peers,” Sigal said.
During the interview, a prospective kindergartener will sit with either a teacher or administrator, who will ask straightforward questions like “What’s your name,” “Where are you at school, “What’s your mum’s name,” and “What does your mum do.”
The questions sometimes get more specific. For example, if an interview is taking place on a Monday, Sigal said, the potential student could be asked “What did you do this weekend?”
The school might be looking to see if the child can recall specific events or details that happened, Sigal says.
Schools still use one of the more “old school” methods of kindergarten admissions, Sigal said — the self-portrait. They ask kindergarten applicants to draw a self-portrait to demonstrate whether they can include the necessary details to distinguish their drawings from others.
During the one-on-one interview, the teacher or administrator may also play verbal games that highlight analogies or patterns.
In interviews, Sigal said, the school representative might give the potential student a group of pictures that are arranged randomly and say something like, “I dropped these on the way to school today, can you help me put them in order?” The student is evaluated on their ability to put the images in the right sequence, and on their verbal skills and whether they can communicate an accompanying story.
Schools will also ask “why” questions — such as, “Why do we look both ways before we cross the street?” — which have a more clean-cut series of responses.
“There are only so many answers to that that are correct,” Sigal said.
Some activities, though, don’t have just one right response. For example, kindergarten applicants are sometimes asked to sort animals in order to show whether they can devise a set of categories to divide them.
These methods place a lot of the burden of admissions decisions on the school itself, especially as they move away from the ERB admissions test, which solely tested a student’s IQ.
“I have a lot of faith with admissions people,” Sigal said. “They know who is going to fit in well at their school.”
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