Welcome to CASPer: the newest addition to medical school applications. The medical community has increasingly come to recognize the importance of bedside manner. Medical schools and residencies are no longer just interested in students with the highest test scores. Yes, they want students who know the material and can learn quickly and apply what they’ve learned, but they also want students who can empathize with patients to deliver care in the most effective and human way possible.
But how are we supposed to measure empathy or emotional intelligence? Enter: CASPer. Unfortunately, CASPer is relatively new, and there are still some pieces of information missing. Luckily, we’re here to share everything we know, and everything you’ll need to know to do well on this novel test.
What is CASPer?
CASPer stands for “Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics”. True to the name, this computer-administered test is designed to assess characteristics and personal skills outside of academics. Though the test was created in 2010, it has only recently gained popularity. As recently as 2016, there were only 8 schools using CASPer. In 2018, there were 11. In the past year, there’s been rapid growth, and now, 35 medical schools ask you to complete the CASPer assessment as part of your application.
We know you may be frustrated about adding another thing to your already full plate, but here’s some good news!
- CASPer only takes 1-1.5 hours.
- It costs $12 to take the test and another $12 to have it sent to schools, so it’s significantly cheaper than most other tests.
- It doesn’t require much studying! (If any.)
- And finally, your scores automatically get submitted to the medical schools you’re applying to.
Do You Need to Take It?
While CASPer has become more popular, not all med schools require it! Check out this list to see if your school asks for CASPer with your application. If you’re interested in other medical professional schools such as nursing or dentistry, you should also check out the list, as a handful of these schools require CASPer as well.
Test dates also vary between schools. The general testing season is from May until October, November, or December depending on the school. For example, the last CASPer test available for Boston University was offered on October 13, 2020 while CASPer tests for Rutgers New Jersey Medical School run until December 10, 2020.
How to Answer CASPer Questions
CASPer questions don’t have right or wrong answers, but there are some answers that are better than others. Here’s what you should keep in mind:
1) Demonstrate that you understand both sides of the situation, and then pick one.
CASPer questions are not puzzles that you have to figure out. They are situations with no black-and-white answer, and graders want to see how you operate in the gray. When first answering the prompt, it’s good to acknowledge that you understand the different perspectives in a situation. Once you’ve laid that foundation, be decisive and pick your course of action. Again, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong course of action. However, you do need to justify why you are choosing that path as opposed to another one.
2) Be true to yourself.
The ability to understand other perspectives is an incredible skill, but if you come across something that you really believe is wrong, say that. Medical schools are using CASPer to get a sense of who you are and how you think. So be honest, and speak from the heart.
Example of a Personality-Test Question
Here is an example of a personality assessment scenario. (This was actually presented to me when I was applying to my college’s EMT training course.)
You and your friend are supposed to fly out tomorrow morning to present your research at an important conference. You’ve been working hard for months now, and the time has finally come. This conference is important, as it could give you the opportunity to win a huge grant to support further research.
But unfortunately, your friend has just discovered that she’s terrified of flying. She knows it’s statistically the safest way to travel, but it still frightens her. You are not allowed to present your research remotely.
What do you do?
For more examples, and to actually take a CASPer practice test, visit the official website.
Preparing for Test Day
You should not prepare for the CASPer as you would a normal test. In fact, there isn’t a formal way to prepare for it at all. CASPer is not an interview. It’s a computer-based test where you are asked to reflect on and respond to varying scenarios. Often these scenarios include ethical dilemmas or ask you to respond to a situation where there is no right or wrong answer. Instead of assessing correctness, CASPer looks at how you think and respond to these different scenarios. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to get you ready for test day.
DO go on the CASPer website, do trial videos. This is the biggest one! Practicing with questions on the CASPer website is the best way to get a feel for what the scenarios and questions are like. Plus you can practice using our tips on how to answer questions!
DO familiarize yourself with the format. Knowing the format can help ease some anxiety and also allows you to be more efficient with your time. Here are a few basics to know: The test is made up of 12 sections and is 60-90 minutes long. There are 8 video-based scenarios and 4 word-based scenarios. Each scenario is accompanied by 3 questions. You are allowed 5 minutes to type your responses for each answer section. Which brings us to our next point.
DO practice your typing speed. If you’re not very proficient as a typer, you may want to practice your typing speed before you sit down for the test! While you won’t be graded on minor grammatical errors, major errors could impact the ability of the grader to understand what you are saying.
DON’T purchase a course from a company. Many medical school preparatory companies are taking advantage of the recent popularization of CASPer and are creating prep courses or guides. Be careful! As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you really don’t need to do much to prepare for the assessment. If you’d like, you can find several examples of morally ambiguous or difficult interpersonal situations and see how you’d respond.
DO register for the test at least three days in advance. Also, make sure that you have the necessary information/equipment to register. This includes a Government-issued photo ID (English/French), a valid email address, a working webcam, and a working microphone.
Another piece of advice that is generally recommended is to brush up on current topics regarding health. This includes healthcare news and common medical ethical issues. Healthcare news should be fairly easy to stay on top of with online news sources such as the New York Times. And you can brush up on common ethical issues around health with websites such as the University of Washington’s Ethics in Medicine, MedScapes ‘Common Ethical Dilemmas for Doctors’, or Santa Clara’s ‘Cases in Medical Ethics’.
How is CASPer Scored?
Being a personality assessment, CASPer is obviously scored differently than other tests such as the MCAT. There’s not a lot of information available about exactly what raters are grading on, but here’s what we do know:
- The CASPer website identifies 10 different qualities that the test assesses. Collaboration, Communication, Empathy, Equity, Ethics, Motivation, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Awareness, Resilience. (We believe empathy is among the most important of these qualities.)
- Each section is graded independently and by a completely different rater.
- The test takes about 3 weeks to score. Note: You will not receive your scores, but they will be sent to the schools you’ve chosen.
- Scores are only good for one application cycle!
While we can’t know exactly what rubric the raters are using, it’s likely they are considering things such as: Did the test-taker answer the question? Can he/she see different perspectives? What are the underlying motives or values of this person? This is why we advise you to demonstrate your understanding of both sides when answering, and why we encourage you to be yourself!
In all, CASPer shouldn’t be something you’re overly worried about. If you practice with the questions on CASPers website and use the tips we gave on how to answer questions, you should be just fine!
As always, remember that CASPer is only one part of your medical school application. There are many different factors at play as schools try to assess whether you’re a well-rounded applicant.