McMaster CASPer Resources and Thoughts


Want to practice before doing the real McMaster CASPer?

Dr. Joshua Liu and other Canadian doctors have created MockCasper:

  • 6 different full length practice simulations
  • Feedback on your answers from actual medical students
  • A comprehensive CASPer guide loaded with tips for success

Start practicing now


Disclaimer: We are in no way affiliated with McMaster Medical School nor with anyone involved with the development or implementation of CASPer (Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal characteristics). All information in this article is publicly available through a simple Google search. Furthermore, this article provides links to all of those resources, and we encourage you to read them for yourself. The purpose of this article is to simply consolidate publicly available information on an interesting and innovative medical school admissions tool and promote discussion.

Why CASPer?

The assessment of non-cognitive skills is a crucial component of any medical school admissions process, and is usually done through the evaluation of personal essays, autobiographical submissions, and interviews. However, interviews are resource intensive (need interviewers, rooms, etc.) and cannot be done for all applicants. In addition, while all applicants can write personal essays/autobiographical submissions, it is hard to know how much of application is the writing of the applicant or that of outside help.

In recent years, McMaster has performed studies (see here and here) analyzing the effectiveness of its five question Autobiogaphical Submission (ABS) pre-interview tool. These studies have shown the ABS to be limited in both reliability and ability to predict future candidate performance. As a result, they developed a “Computer-based Multiple Sample Evaluation of Noncognitive Skills (CMSENS), which eventually became CASPer. More information about the CMSENS and the original research article can be found here.

CASPer Basics

As quoted from the McMaster’s official webpage on CASPer, “CASPer, the Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal characteristics, is a web-based assessment of interpersonal skills and decision-making, to be completed at a computer.” All applicants to McMaster medical school are required to complete the CASPer beginning in fall 2010. Please see here for more official information.

Being used for the fist time, CASPer consists of twelve sections. Each section involves providing short-answers to two or three questions. Eight of the twelve sections begin with a one-minute video-clip showing a certain situation, followed by a few questions. The other four sections involve “self-descriptive questions”, also followed by a few questions requiring short answer responses.

You will be allowed five minutes to provide answers for each section, and you are also allowed up to 15 minutes of break time halfway through the session. After last and 12th section, you must complete an exit survey to finish. The CASPer will takes approximately 90 minutes in total.

What to Expect on CASPer?

As we have never seen or used CASPer, we cannot be certain. However, the resources publicly available have given us a basic idea of what we might be able to expect. From that, we can develop some ideas on how to best prepare for CASPer given the limited information we do have.

The article on CMSENS mentioned previously provides some brief information on the type of concepts being tested for with the videos, and it’s possible (and rather likely) the same or similar concepts will be assessed on CASPer.

The video clips used in the CMSENS presented “ethical dilemmas and group dynamic challenges, all lacking an obvious response”. The topics in the videos covered issues like professionalism, confidentiality, communication, and collaboration. These scenario video clips were followed by a few questions.

The self-descriptive questions used in the CMSENS were “similar to traditional interview questions”, and one example provided was “What makes your heart sing?”. These self-descriptive questions were also followed by a few questions requiring short answer responses.

Do we have any idea what an example section on CASPer might look like?

Surprisingly we do, thanks to a presentation given by McMaster at AACRAO’s 96th Annual Meeting in April 2010. You can find a copy of the slides for this presentation here. You can skip to slide 22 if you want to go straight to the CASPer information.

To summarize the important points from the presentation, there is an example CASPer section. In it, there is a video clip showing some sort of situation involving a surgeon, followed by the following three questions posed to the applicant:

  1. You must make the decision now (as the surgeon). What is your answer? Why?
  2. Should insistence for this surgery relieve the surgeon of all liability? Explain.
  3. Should a patient be allowed to sue if the surgeon refuses to operate in these circumstances? Defend your response.

You are allowed up to 1024 characters for each short answer (which is about the size of a decent paragraph). Although we can’t watch the video-clip, it seems pretty clear that it is an ethical dilemma revolving around a surgeon’s decision to operate in a situation where there is no obvious answer.

In addition, it may be worth nothing that the marking scheme for each question is on a 9 point scale ranging from unsatisfactory to superb.

So how should I prepare for CASPer?

Again, it’s hard to say given that there is very little public information on what an example CASPer would look like. But based on what we’ve learned so far, there are a few things we suggest you keep in mind.

First, based on McMaster’s published research studies, it seems very likely that the eight video clip sections will ask for your approach to situations involving ethics, professionalism, confidentiality, communication, and collaboration. It might be worth doing some research into theory and concepts relating to these areas, as well as common problem types that arise and how to approach them. For example, when it comes to communication and collaboration, ideas surrounding conflict resolution would be good to know. I would personally suggest forming a group of friends to research these topics and possible scenarios to discuss and debate (keep in mind that you must complete the CASPer alone, but teamwork can be very valuable during preparation time).

As for the self-descriptive sections, there is very limited information available. The best advice I can suggest is to know yourself as well as possible. What are your experiences and what did you learn from them? Why medicine and how have you prepared for it? What are your goals for the future? What are your strengths/weaknesses? What do you enjoy doing? What motivates you? What annoys you? How do you deal with failure? Just really look into yourself, so these ideas are on the tip of your tongue (or rather, tips of your fingers).


Want to practice before doing the real McMaster CASPer?

Dr. Joshua Liu and other Canadian doctors have created MockCasper:

  • 6 different full length practice simulations
  • Feedback on your answers from actual medical students
  • A comprehensive CASPer guide loaded with tips for success

Start practicing now


A Reminder

We want to remind everyone that we do not have any inside knowledge regarding CASPer, and all that we do know and the ideas we have discussed are simply the combination of publicly available information on CASPer and our own thoughts. Take everything we have written with a grain of salt, please read all of the resources we have mentioned for a more complete understanding, and good luck!

References

1. Hanson M, Dore K, Reiter H, Eva K. Medical school admissions: revisiting the veracity and independence of completion of an autobiographical screening tool. Academic Medicine 2007;82:S8-S11.
2. Dore K, Hanson M, Reiter H, Blanchard M, Deeth, Eva K. Medical school admissions: enhancing the reliability and validity of an autobiographical screening tool. Academic Medicine 2006;81:S70-S3.
3. Dore K, Reiter H, Eva K, et al. Extending the interview to all medical school candidates–Computer-Based Multiple Sample Evaluation of Noncognitive Skills (CMSENS). Academic Medicine 2009;84:S9-S12.
4. CASPer — Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics. 2010. (Accessed July 11, 2010, at http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/mdprog/casper.html.)
5. The Multiple Mini-Interview: Origins and Opportunities. 2010. (Accessed July 12, 2010, at http://handouts.aacrao.org/am10/finished/R0115p_H_Reiter.pdf.)