In my last post I said I would make a future one about OMSAS, I lied. Well med school happened, and I have been drowning in work with the frequent mastery tests and the anatomy and histology bell ringer I had today. So I apologise for this but, I will deliver on CASPer tips, since CASPer can be quite the mystery.
What is CASPer?
CASper is a 90-minute test that is done on your computer at home that evaluates an individual’s judgement and reactions to various scenarios from conflict resolution amongst friends, to giving advice to an individual in a dilemma. This test is required for multiple medical school admissions. In Ontario, McMaster and uOttawa medical schools require students do the CASPer test as they play a role in admission selection. According to McMaster’s website at the time of me writing this, CASPer makes up 32% of the pre-interview score which is equal in weight to their CARS and GPA weighting. This means that if your CARS or GPA are not as competitive as you’d like, you can still get the interview by killing CASPer. uOttawa is not as transparent as to how much of the pre-interview score it constitutes, but in conclusion CASPer performance is essential in getting an interview.
Structure of the Test
The test has 12 sections, each containing 3 open-ended questions with 5 minutes per section to answer the lot. There is some diversity in the sections. Some sections have videos off which the questions are based, while others involve answering stand-alone questions. There is a 15-minute break period half way through, but this is optional as you take this test preferably in the comfort of your own home. There are hardware requirements for the test, a web-enabled computer equipped with a webcam and microphone are necessary, both of which are fully accessible to the test proctor. This is set-up to prevent cheating, to ensure that you are the one writing the test and not someone else.
So… How do I prepare for this?
CASPer is a tricky test to prepare for. Part of the issue is the limited amount of resources online to prepare for this test because it is a relatively recent addition to medical school admission’s processes, and is being predominantly implemented at Canadian universities over American ones. Smaller markets lead to less supply. I will share with you the steps I took to prepare for this test, which I like to think I did well in since I managed to get an interview at both uOttawa and McMaster, and my CARS score was at the lower end for McMaster.
The first thing I did was learn as much as I could about the test itself and obtain every available resource. There are several practice scenarios you can find online from various websites I will not mention since I do not want to endorse them, but it shouldn’t be hard for you to guess which ones I am talking about if you run a quick internet search. What is important for CASPer is not what your answer is, but how you articulate it. A large majority of individuals will reach the same, or a very similar, end result on any ethical situation so what differentiates individuals is not the destination, but the path.
For instance, let’s say that we are dealing with an issue of theft in a workplace by a co-worker of yours that you notice. They tell you not to inform your manager, and the test asks you “what do you do?”. Do not just answer “tell my manager”. I can guarantee you every single person that isn’t socially inept will decide to inform the manager at the end, but what matters is:
- Have you identified the issues involved?
- Have you taken into account both perspectives?
- Have you explored some possible options and their consequences?
- Have you weighed the pros and cons of each possible action?
- Have you discussed your concerns with the other individual involved?
- Have you clearly articulated to the other individual involved what your ultimate actions will be?
- Have you clearly stated at the end what you would do and conclude it with your ultimate reasoning?
While every scenario is different, that is a general framework I developed when trying to write the test that I would try to nail down on every answer. You always want to start broad with the situation at large and work your way towards the end result. As you answer the question, the pipeline for your thought process should be evident and the reader should be able to understand it in a clear and organized manner. Don’t jump around the place; be very clear. You only have 5 minutes for 3 questions that involve a lot of writing. No need for fluff words, and don’t check your spelling or grammar, just write as simplistically as possible so it is very obvious what you are trying to get across.
To get use to how to respond to various situations, I found it to be very helpful to read the introduction and first few chapters of the very famous “Doing Right: A Practical Guide to Ethics for Medical Trainees and Physicians” by Philip C. Hébert. His introduction chapter helped me develop a general baseline for how to approach ethical situations and reading a few of the chapters on various ethical dilemmas helped me apply it. Do not, however, spend too much time reading this book, especially the later chapters. CASPer is not a medical ethics test. Most of the scenarios you will get are not medically related. A few might be, but most are not. I believe the reasoning for this is that you will get medically related ethical scenarios come up at your interview, so they want to test your ethical decision making across the whole spectrum. Another reason not to spend too much time on this book is that you will start to answer questions not how you would answer questions, but how the author would answer questions and guess what, you’re not the author. You will fall short of how the author would approach scenarios, so instead of devoting all your time to a single resource, diversify across multiple resources. Try to really apply what you learn from the various resources to your own thought process and answer it genuinely. While I do not know the grading criteria, I can assume that there is a lot of flexibility in the criteria how you answer and your approach. Some questions will not have a correct answer, and your final decision will not matter. Instead, your justification of your position bares the weight.
Another helpful resource, which is once again medically related, is the University of Washington School of Medicine, Bioethics page. They cover many medically related topics, the issues involved, what the current guideline is, and give cases for you to work on with discussions of the case. Once again, this is a resource you should definitely look at, but not spend too much time on since it is strictly medically focused.
Once you have run through those briefly, the next best thing is to spend some time doing practice scenarios you can find online. Just searching up practice CASPer scenarios you should find some video scenarios with questions which you can run through and answer as if they are the real deal. For the first few you do, do not time yourself, but rather try to answer them completely. Once you do a couple where you can fully answer to the best of your ability, start to restrict the time. My reasoning behind this process, is it allows you build up the method of answering scenarios enough that it becomes somewhat second nature. Your thought process is faster, which comes into play for the timed ones. If the amount of online resources are insufficient, find a friend and make up fake scenarios for each other. I did not have the luxury of doing this since I started preparing for this way too late (typical me) but I can see it being very helpful not just for CASPer prep, but all the preparation you do for this will help you for interviews down the line.
Closing Remarks and Unorthodox Tips
CASPer is a tricky beast to conquer. The biggest issue is that you never get your score back, so no one really knows how they did, and anyone that says with confidence they did well in CASPer either has inside information or are trying to gloat. Like I said, “I like to think” I did well in CASPer, and my reasoning is based on the interviews I got, however, I cannot say with certainty I did do well. Maybe I bombed it, but my GPA and CARS was good enough for the applicant pool for McMaster, and uOttawa weighted my other components heavier. Who knows, but I thought it would be helpful to post some tips on what I did just to add to the lack of available resources for the test.
An additional tip I will provide which is a bit unorthodox and difficult to improve in only a week or two would be typing speed. Doing well in CASPer, unfortunately, requires you type fast. This is just because of the way the test is structured and you will be able to articulate a lot more in the time period to add sustenance to your answer if you type faster. I am not the fastest at typing, but my years of software programming, and doing everything on the computer since I was young, in addition to a brief period of PC gaming have definitely helped me type faster. Remember that they do not mark spelling, so don’t waste time fixing spelling mistakes or hitting the backspace key unless you are trying to change a thought, or you spell something completely such that it is indistinguishable. Also, learn keyboard shortcuts on your computer to save those seconds. Are you the type of person that hits the backspace button for every letter in a word? If you are, then you really should reconsider your methods. Hitting backspace while holding the control key on Windows will delete the previous word, and if you hold that key and press the directional arrows you can skip between words. This can be similarly done with the command key and arrows on OsX (Mac). That is the most basic shortcut I can provide, but if you want to learn more then just do some searching online, these can add up and save you tons of time. One last tip would be doing some self-reflection since some of the questions will ask about your own personal experiences, so making up a list of different scenarios you have encountered throughout your life can be very beneficial. This will aid in interview preparation, so no time is wasted.
Remember that this is just one test out of the many you will write and only contributes to a part of your application which the admission’s committee will look at in combination with what else you have to offer. This test does not define you, just like no other test does, and do not stress too much about it. The amazing thing about this test is that you really do not need to prepare too much if you have experience with conflict resolution in real life, or if you build your framework and just follow through.