Before I give you some specific strategies to ace CASPer, it’s important to step back and talk about where this test comes from and what it’s all about.
CASPer stands for Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics. Yes the name is unusual, but it’s much better than the original name: “CMSENS”!
What is CASPer? CASPer is essentially an assessment of your professional and personal characteristics. It claims to be designed to test some of the core competencies medical schools deem essential for future medical doctors, such as teamwork, cultural competence, ethical responsibility, communication, resilience, and others. For a full list of core competencies defined by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), including those that are not tested by CASPer, click here.
While the name is unusual (and gets confused with Casper mattress or Casper the friendly ghost), just like any other test, there are specific ways to prepare for it.
All behavioral traits are a result of life experiences and active learning. In fact, life-long learning and self-improvement are the hallmarks of an excellent medical doctor – and not coincidentally, traits tested by CASPer. Therefore, you can and should prepare for this test!
First, remember this is an assessment of your professionalism. With that in mind, here are my top 10 strategies to ace any CASPer question:
1. Read all questions and answer the easiest question first.
The advantages of this strategy is twofold: A) answering the easiest question first ensures that you have answered at least one question before the time is up, which may still get you full marks as you will see below, and B) since you have read over all the questions, your subconscious mind will be busy formulating a response to the more difficult questions while you answer the easiest ones.
2. Identify the most pressing issue.
Your first task is to figure out what the most pressing issue is that you are asked to address. Is someone’s safety at stake or are there larger implications for the society as a whole? Generally, the most pressing issue in (almost) all CASPer scenarios is the well-being of those under your care. For example, if you are a doctor, it’s the well-being of your patients. If you are a teacher, it’s the well-being of your students. If you are the captain of an oil tanker, and the tanker is leaking, the most pressing issue is the well-being of your crew and the immediate and long-term impact of an oil leak on the environment as a whole. This is really important and it comes with practice.
3. Remain non-judgmental at all times.
CASPer scenarios are often intentionally missing key information to see if you are going to make a hasty conclusion or if you are going to gather all the facts before making a decision. A professional always reserves judgment until after he or she has all the facts. This brings out our next tip, and I’ll give you an example there.
4. Gather all the facts. Don’t make any assumptions.
I just mentioned above that you have to remain non-judgmental until you have gathered all the missing facts. Let’s assume a CASPer scenario implies that a person is potentially intoxicated and is walking to their car to drive away. How can you be 100% sure they are intoxicated? What if the person has diabetes and what you smell on their breath is ketoacidosis? What if they are indeed drunk, but are simply going to grab something from their car? You don’t know until you gather all the facts. Importantly, if gathering facts involves having a sensitive conversation with another individual, make sure you explicitly mention it will be a private conversation. As a professional, you never want to have a sensitive conversion and potentially embarrass another person in front of others, unless it is absolutely urgent.
5. Figure out who is directly or indirectly involved.
As a future professional, you need to show that you understand that real-life situations often impact not only those directly involved in the scenario, but others who are peripherally involved as well. So let’s say you are about to fire the assistant coach of your college basketball team for professional misconduct. Who is directly involved? You, the coach, and the rest of the team. Who is indirectly impacted? The college, the college basketball community at large, the coach’s family, etc.
6. Learn to identify and have a strategy for each type of question.
It’s impossible for you or I to predict what the actual questions are going to be on your real test, but if you learn to identify the different question types and have a strategy for each, you’ll have a better chance to ace any possible question you face during the test. For example, is the question about solving an ethical dilemma or is it asking your opinion about a specific policy? Is it a case of conflict resolution or does it involve professional boundaries?
7. Provide the most rational and common sense solution that causes the least amount of harm to those involved, using simple “if, then” strategy.
A lot of times, applicants spend a considerable amount of time reading advanced medical ethics books, but that’s not necessary and often leads to frustration. Remember, CASPer is meant to test your professionalism – so all you need to do is show that you can make common sense decisions and come up with rational decisions that cause as little harm to others as possible. This is best done using a simple “if, then” strategy. For example, “If after gathering all the facts I am convinced that this person is indeed intoxicated, but is grabbing their phone from their car to call a cab, then I would not interfere, but rather offer help calling a cab for them. On the other hand, if I am convinced that they are going to drive away intoxicated, then…”
8. Don’t rush. It’s OK if you miss a question or two.
Unlike popular belief, CASPer is not a test of your typing speed. Therefore, it’s okay to miss a question or two, because CASPer raters are instructed to assign an overall score for each scenario even if you have missed a question or two.
9. Practice using realistic CASPer simulations.
It goes without saying that just like any other functional skill, the only way to improve your CASPer performance over time is by deliberately engaging in the task over and over again. This is why simply reading books about CASPer is generally an ineffective method of preparation, unless it is coupled with practicing realistic and timed simulations. Simulations also remove the element of “fear of the unknown” and make you less nervous and more confident on the day of the exam.
10. Remember that PERFECT practice makes perfect.
Lastly, it is important to note that only perfect practice makes perfect. After all, practicing forms habits, and if you are practicing using inappropriate strategies, you are going to form bad habits… which may impede your ability to do well on this test. This is why going over sample questions or doing a few practice tests without feedback is insufficient. It is critical that you ask an expert – a mature professional, such as a practicing healthcare professional, a medical doctor, a university professor, or anyone with a higher educational background at PhD level or above – to go over your responses and give you specific feedback on how to do better.