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CASPer Test Prep Tips By a Former CASPer Test Evaluator
What is the CASPer test?
It is a Computer Based Sampling of Personal Characteristics. The name itself does not offer much of an explanation. If you are familiar with Multiple Mini Interviews, it is easier to imagine the CASPer test as an online MMI. During CASPer you will review written or video prompts, and then you may be asked about your thoughts on the case, how you might resolve the situation, or even how your perspective would change if one of the variables was different. Of course, all of this has to be typed in a limited number of characters and in a limited amount of time.
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CASPer Test Prep Tip:
As an initial step you can begin your CASPer test prep by reading newspapers so you are up to date with current events, or by paying particular attention to patient cases and court rulings that are related to your future profession (e.g. medico-legal cases). You can also, as part of your early preparation, begin reviewing ethics. And of course, since CASPer is a test of your personal characteristics, spend some time reflecting on your own past experiences and how they have helped you develop certain non-cognitive skills such as having the capacity to problem solve, resolve conflicts, or collaborate with others. CASPer will not use prompts that exactly mirror your past personal experiences, but by going through the reflecting process of contemplating your past experiences will be able to identify similarities between what you have learned and the prompts you are given, and thus you will be able to formulate a response quickly and appropriately. Lastly and most importantly, in order to ensure that you are adequately prepared for the CASPer test, it will become essential to put your knowledge to test through the utilization of realistic CASPer test simulations, and having others who have more expertise give you feedback along the way.
Where CASPer test differs from the MMI is in timing applicants. It is like an MMI without being given time to prepare your response and with less time to state your answer. It also takes more time to respond in writing, rather than verbally. For this reason, most applicants find providing what they think is enough of a response to be extremely stressful. And the time pressure is immense. But there are strategies to overcome this. Prepare yourself as best you can. Manage your anxieties on test day and keep your wits about you. Focus on the quality – not quantity - of your response.
Here's how each section is REALLY evaluated:
You might hear that there are no right or wrong answers. Is it really that ambiguous? Not really. CASPer raters do not have an answer key so there is technically no right answer. Rather, responses are analyzed to see if they reflect the qualities of a good, moral professional. There are often a few reasonable responses to a given scenario. No answer is truly wrong either. However, there are responses that either do not reflect good personal or professional qualities or are inappropriate. If you would not share your answer in a face-to-face interview, you are on the wrong track with your response; if you cannot imagine a professional saying it, don’t say it. Answers that are poorly composed or demonstrate limited understanding and reasoning will score poorly. Answers that are unprofessional can result in a red flag for an entire test.
With the pressure of performing well, some applicants wonder if it might be possible to have someone write their CASPer test for them. Every application cycle there are at least one or two “urban legends” about how responses are verified or how to get away with this. Frankly, it’s not important to discuss whether or not it is possible to have someone respond for you. It’s dishonest and unprofessional and those are reasons enough not to do it. You’re asked to write it yourself and this is what you must do.
The CASPer test is marked on a numerical scale that reflects how well your response either meets, does not meet, or exceeds the assessors’ expectations. Simply answering the questions is likely enough to receive an average score. However, average scores for all your responses are not enough to succeed. To exceed expectations, you will have to provide excellent reasoning for how and why you formulated your decision through an effective communication style. It’s not impossible to score well,, and this can be done with preparation and practice. Click here to find out exactly how the test is scored.
CASPer Test Prep Do's & Don'ts:
1.) Time yourself with practice
In any testing situation, success is best achieved by practicing under conditions that resemble the actual test. One of the most stressful aspects of the CASPer test is the limited time. Timed practice will help you figure out how to articulate your thoughts more efficiently and you’ll be able to quickly adapt to the actual test. Therefore, practice using realistic simulations and make sure you receive adequate feedback on your performance.
2.) Use your own voice
Responding with what you think an assessor wants to read stands out for the wrong reasons. Those who respond with what they believe is the “right” answer, can sound disingenuous or impractical. Usually these responses sound inauthentic or are poorly constructed because the emphasis is on showcasing a particular quality rather than on developing a response. It’s best to state what your gut reaction is, explain why you feel this way, and what other perspectives you consider.
3.) Make a decision
If you’re asked a “What would you do?”-type question you must include the action you would take in your response. It is not enough to demonstrate that you can look at an issue from multiple sides or identify the difficulty in the scenario. What resolution do you propose? The task that is required is answering what you would do after considering these different perspectives and challenges. Demonstrating that you are capable of following through on your decisions – even if you know others might disagree – is often the difference between an exceptional and average score.
4.) Make statements
If you’re asked a “What would you say?”-type question, you also have to include your statement in your response. Many people respond with what qualities they would like to demonstrate in their response or how they hope another person would perceive their response, but very few include what words they would actually use. For example, “I would want to be empathetic” does not answer the question as effectively as “I would say ‘I am sorry for your loss.”
5.) Shake it off
Nothing is going to go perfectly all the time. You can expect to make a few fumbles in some of your responses. In a rapid-fire test like CASPer, you must shake off any anxieties about a question before the next. Focus on the task at hand. Individual questions are marked by separate assessors, so each task is a fresh start. Worrying about a previous answer while working on a response in the present is a sure way to derail your responses.
1.) Don't forget the little things!
Make sure your caps lock is not turned on, avoid slang, and try your best to be grammatically correct with minimal spelling errors. Your answers will not be graded on your use of English, but capably putting your thoughts into words means you are probably a good communicator.
2.) Don't quote directly from your preparation material
Most, if not all, assessors are very familiar with common preparation resources, like “Doing Right”. Using the same language as these tools makes your ideas appear unoriginal. For example, prefacing your response with “According to the principle of justice….” does not sound as authentic as “In order to be fair to everyone involved….” Use your own words!
3.) Don't leave an answer blank intentionally
Assessors know how challenging the CASPer test is. They also know that the issues with which you will be presented will not be resolved in the time you have to craft your response. If you have difficulty coming up with any response, explain why that is. Is the situation emotionally volatile? Do you have limited experience working with the people involved? Who would you ask for guidance? Blank answers can be an opportunity to show that you can recognize your limitations and know how to overcome them. Of course as we discussed in this blog a blank answer or two in each section won't necessary get you poor marks for that section provided that your responses to the other questions are excellent.
4) Don't listen to people who say "you can't prepare"
This is misguided at best. Of course you can prepare in advance. After all nobody is born with personal and professional characteristics. These skills are learned behaviors. In fact, our study has shown that students on average can improve their practice scores by up to 23% with appropriate preparation.
There is still plenty of time in advance of CASPer to work through these suggestions as you practice on your own (N.B: We recommend that you do not begin practicing on your own without having someone holding your hand at first, as it is challenging to navigate through the various question types and more importantly, without having expert feedback at first you will not know whether your responses are appropriate, mature, and professional). The more familiar you become with the CASPer test format and how to structure your responses the more relaxed you will be. Drawing from personal experience and other resources to learn more about current events and healthcare related issues will make your responses more efficient and effective. Practice and preparation will take you a long way in this test!
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About the Author
Dr. Natalie Lidster is a former admissions committee member at McMaster, former CASPer rater, and anesthesiologist.
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