By Altus Assessments
CASPer is an assessment tool that is rapidly gaining popularity across the world. By the end of 2017, over 100,000 people have taken the test, and about 50% of all U.S. medical school applicants and 80% of all Canadian medical school applicants will have had to complete CASPer at some point during their application process. CASPer was first created in 2005 at McMaster University and in 2010, the test was incorporated into the official admissions process at the Michael DeGroote School of Medicine. CASPer, which stands for the Computer Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics, is predominantly a situational judgement test (SJT) that presents test-takers with a series of realistic, hypothetical scenarios and asks them to type out what they would do if they were to be in that particular situation.
This year, CASPer will begin its implementation across a number of physician assistant programs along with many more medical schools and other health care programs (see here for the most updated list of programs who are using CASPer). With its rising popularity, there has also been a rise in the number of articles that have been written about CASPer—which unfortunately have not always been completely accurate. In this article, we want to give you an overview of CASPer straight from the source directly responsible for the construction and delivery of the test.
What is CASPer measuring?
A large portion of a student’s acceptance decision to a medical program is based on their academic achievements, primarily undergraduate GPA and MCAT scores. This ensures that students have a strong foundation of knowledge and demonstrate superior cognitive abilities. However, this is not the only aspect that matters in becoming a successful physician. In fact, one seminal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 94% of identifiable causes leading to disciplinary decisions against doctors were due to lapses in professionalism, not due to lack of cognitive medical competence. This has resulted in a dire need for medical programs to not only assess the cognitive abilities of their applicants, but also ensure that their students possess the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills necessary to become an effective physician. This is where CASPer comes in, as it is an assessment of non-cognitive skills, such as professionalism, communication, ethics, empathy, and motivation, and serves to complement the cognitive assessments that are already required by the programs.
What is the format of CASPer?
CASPer is composed of 12 stations with three probing questions in each station. Eight stations are video-based scenarios and four stations are word-based scenarios. The video-based scenarios are all SJTs whereas the four word-based scenarios are a blend of SJTs and behavioural descriptor questions, which ask respondents to talk about a specific past experience. The scenarios are set in a more general context: in one scenario you may be placed in a workplace setting with your boss, in another scenario you may be placed in a party with friends, in another scenario you may be placed in your own living room with your parents. The scenarios are typically not specific to the clinical setting, as we want to make sure that we are not giving an advantage to those students who have had clinical experience. You can take a look at a number of sample scenarios here at the takeCASPer website. Make sure to always check that the sample scenario and question set is from the official source, as many of the sample CASPer sections from unofficial sources are not representative of the actual test.
How is CASPer evaluated?
Each station of the CASPer test is graded by a different person. This means that every student is assessed by 12 independent human raters who come from a variety of backgrounds (e.g., physicians, nurses, educators, policy makers) and demographics (e.g., race, gender, income) to reflect the diversity of the patient population. Raters are trained to omit spelling and grammatical errors when evaluating responses and to focus solely on the content of the response. The 12 independent ratings are averaged, and scores are then standardized to represent the relative rankings of each student compared to their peers. The scores are automatically distributed to the selected programs within three weeks of completing the test. Students do not receive their results because it is difficult to interpret a single CASPer score without knowledge of how everyone else performed on the test.
How do programs use CASPer in the admissions process?
There is no single answer to this question as each school incorporates CASPer in different ways to guide their admissions process. Most programs use CASPer alongside other metrics like GPA and MCAT scores as a prescreening tool to decide who to invite to the interview process. Some programs use CASPer in a more impressionistic approach, to help facilitate decisions on candidates who are on the cusp of whether they are admitted to the program. Some programs implement a conservative cut-off score for CASPer to screen out applicants, while other programs take a closer look at candidates who have exceptionally high CASPer scores. For instance, Dalhousie Medical School will only consider applicants who score above -1.5 standard deviations from the mean for interview.
What can you do to prepare for CASPer?
Unlike the traditional SJTs with right-or-wrong answers, the primary goal of CASPer is not to examine what you would do in a given scenario, but why you would take that particular course of action. This makes it difficult to study for CASPer, as there is no obvious approach in answering the questions the “right” way. The general SJT literature and our own internal research has also shown that more complicated and challenging SJTs like CASPer are resistant to the effects of practice and coaching. While it may be difficult to improve your CASPer scores in the short-term, we have listed a number of ways students can prepare in advance to ensure a smooth test-taking experience—familiarize yourself with the format of the test, double check to make sure that you meet all the technical requirements (have a functioning webcam!), and plan your schedule well in advance to ensure that you are able to complete CASPer in a comfortable and quiet location.
The admissions process to medical school can be a long and daunting process for many students, and the addition of another assessment tool can be seen as another burden on what is already a fairly strenuous process. However, programs want to gather the most accurate and holistic view of their applicants to ensure that they are making the right decisions, as their students will be shaping the future quality of our healthcare. As technology has given patients easy access to a wealth of information right at their fingertips, they are no longer satisfied with just a medically competent doctor. Patients now seek doctors who are also good listeners, demonstrate empathy and compassion, and provide more personalized care. Historically, the admissions process has done an excellent job in admitting the brightest students, but they are now trying to do a better job in making sure that the students also possess the personal attributes that patients want to see from their physicians.
If you would like to get the most up-to-date information on everything related to CASPer, make sure to follow our blog at takecasper.com and our Twitter account @take_casper. Feel free to directly tweet or email us ([email protected]) with any questions or comments you have about the test.
About the Author
Altus Assessments aims to simplify the admissions process for academic programs while making it more effective by creating tools (e.g. CASPer) that help admissions professionals identify positive personal characteristics in admissions candidates that lead to long-term success.