DSA Interviews - what makes a difference?

As an Interview Coach, I work with adults and children on their interviews on a daily basis. Listening and talking to people and understanding their challenges forms part of my speciality. Most importantly, it is about stepping into their shoes, helping them improve their delivery and content and inspiring them to communicate confidently about their stories, their aspirations and their motivation.

One of the earliest interview opportunities in Singapore for any student would be the DSA Interview. Set up for Primary 6 students, this is an opportunity that may be suitable for some students and if so, what truly makes a difference between a good interview and a standard one?

It is not just about the answers per se. It is definitely not about memorising other people's suggested answers or being groomed to present a defined set of answers. Doing well in an interview is being able to speak in a genuine manner, in a way that best defines who you are and what your stories are. Many factors can impact how you speak, the word choices you use, how you reflect on yourself and others. Some of the key factors that are highly influential in determining the content and delivery style of a candidate include:

Sincere passion for the talent area

This is a critical success factor for the DSA Interview. There are usually 2 different angles to consider here - one is whether the student genuinely has interest in the talent area and two, if he/she does have an interest, can he/she express it in words?

Genuine interest can only come from the student themselves, and this is crucial - not only as a success factor for the interview, but for the wellbeing of the student. Committing to the DSA requirements will require genuine passion, and should not be due to any other push factors.

Where interview coaching comes into play is providing the student with a discovery process of how he/she can express their interest better. Digging deep and reflecting on why they truly enjoy that sport/art/academic subject/service is a very important part of being able to answer well during an interview.

For example, many students like to use the word "interesting" as their reason for liking something. So answers such as "I like mathematics because it is interesting" is very common. Contrast this to someone who expresses sincere enjoyment by saying "I just like doing mathematics all the time. It is fun to me and I find myself wanting to just challenge myself by doing harder and harder questions. Its like playing a puzzle game, and I want to be able to solve the puzzles faster and faster." It is not about an answer that is perfect or complex. It is about an answer that is genuine and sincere, which reflects an inner level of delight and fascination about the subject.


Being self-aware is one of the most powerful tools that any person can have, especially when one is only 12 years old. Self-awareness is indicative of someone who is objective with themselves, is able to align their emotions and adapt comfortably to many different situations. Self-aware children are also much more inclined to have a direction towards self-improvement. Questions such as "what is your greatest weakness" are designed to understand the child's self-awareness and ability to discuss their own challenges and improvement.

A balance of confidence and humility

A key part of the interview is for interviewers to discover the student's attitudes and their values. Much of the student's future and their ability to fit into the school depends on their mindset and behaviour. There is a fine balance in confidence and humility that many successful students who have been selected by schools have. The ability to understand that they have what it takes to succeed, but at the same time, also understand gratitude, humbleness and have a willingness to continuously learn, re-learn and improve. Showcasing growth mindset and a learning attitude is very crucial.

Preparing for the interview

The 3 factors above shape the overall approach that the candidate takes towards all of their answers. It influences their choice of content and delivery style and many do not realise that it is these underlying factors that actually drive what they say and how they say it.

When preparing for the DSA Interview, it is important for the child to understand that it is about being sincere and being themselves. However, expressing their thoughts, dreams and aspirations does take some practice. It is no different to what they have been doing for the things they excel in, which is practice. While it may seem awkward initially to talk about your genuine interest in the talent area chosen, or how you have learnt to take negative feedback after being told off by your coach or teacher, the ability to deliver these stories in a comfortable manner will come with practice.

Written by Siew Ling Hwang, Founder of Discovering Potential

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