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Your Guide to CASPer

Letters of recommendation, Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, and countless essays—applying to medical school was never a walk in the park. It takes a dogged effort on the part of the matriculant. But just when you thought the process was difficult enough, the CASPer MCAT test gets thrown into the mix. 

Come on!

As with most new additions to long-standing paradigms, it’s hard to say at this point how the CASPer exam will fit into the admissions process in the long run. For now, here are some of the basics you should know regarding exam registration, preparation, and what to expect from this new kid on the medical school admission block. 

Note that medical education as a whole is moving away from the old school metric-based numbers-determine-viability. Remember when Step 1 was changed from a scaled CASPer score test to a pass/fail test? The world of medical education and residency rank lists was turned on its head. 

As with most things in medicine, change happens slowly. But be aware of the general shift away from digitized scores toward a place where humanism, compassion, and “soft skills” are at the forefront. 

1. What is the CASPer test?

CASPer stands for Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics. The test creators describe it as a “situational judgment test.” It is a 90-minute, web-based test that helps admissions committees see a side of you that cannot be distilled into a number. 

2. Is this a requirement for medical school?

While not every medical college requires you to take the test, many of them do. You can see a complete list of schools on the test administrators website.

There is a good chance that one of the programs you want to apply to does require the exam, so, at the very least, it’s a good idea to be ready for it.

You will see that the test is not only used for medical school admissions but also for some residency programs around the country (particularly ophthalmology), physician’s assistant programs, physical therapy programs, and veterinary programs, just to name a few. 

3. What are the parts of the test?

The exam is part of a trio of assessments called “Altus Suite”(Altus is the company that administers the test). The Altus Suite test for medical school matriculants is titled “CSP-10111 – U.S. Medicine” and comprises the following:

  • “CASPer” – the situational judgment test designed to assess your professionalism, empathy, and communication skills.
  • “Snapshot” – a video response tool that focuses on communication skills. You will respond to prompts in an interview setting to explain your drive for choosing a career in medicine.
  • “Duet” – your chance to say what you are looking for in your medical education. 

4. How and when do I enroll for the test?

You can use the Altus dates page to sign up for the test.  Select all of the schools you are applying to and find a test date that works for you. For instance, if you are applying in the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, the website will give you the “last possible test date for all selected schools.” I selected four schools at random and was left with mid-October 2022. That said, many programs will accept scores from tests taken all the way into January of the admissions cycle. 

Long story short, aim for the spring of your application year. That way, your scores can be transmitted at the same time as your secondary applications, leaving no part of your application behind. 

5. What does the CASPer test cover?

CASPer is divided into 15 different scenarios that can fall into one of two categories: word-based scenarios, where you respond to a short statement, and video-based scenarios, where you watch a video and then play a particular role afterward. 

Word-based scenarios are very similar to the questions you would normally answer on an application. 

Video-based scenarios are classic conflicts acted out by multiple parties, where you are asked judgment-based questions regarding the characters in the videos. You might be asked how you would respond to office gossip, how you would support a suffering coworker, or what advice you would provide to someone looking for decision-making help.

Response formats also come in two types: typed responses and video responses. 

The Altus test prep page offers an in-depth breakdown of the test and some sample scenarios to give you a taste of what the prompts are like. 

6. What can I do to prepare?

Fortunately, the preparation for this test is what you have been doing your whole life: creating and abiding by a set of values based on fairness and justice. Naturally, not every question you are asked during the exam is entirely black and white, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to arrive at a decision and voice your reasoning for it. 

That said, preparation will add a crispness and forthrightness to your answers that someone going in blind would certainly lack. Go through some practice scenarios and work on vocalizing your answers to a study partner to ensure that your rationale easily gets communicated. 

As far as answers to written prompts, these should be fresh in your mind from your recent applications. Keep some canned answers to classic medical school interview questions in your back pocket. For example, know the three words that describe you, strengths and weaknesses, a time you failed, something you are truly proud of, a challenge you overcame, etc. 

The more exposure you have to all of these scenarios, the smoother you can deliver your answers, and the better your performance will be. 

7. How is the test scored?

The schools that receive your scores will be given a z-score, which tells how much you scored above or below the mean. Scores are released to the programs on your distribution list 2-3 weeks after test completion. 

While you won’t be able to see your CASPer score, you will be given a quartile (first, second, third, or fourth) that tells you how you scored relative to your peers.

8. Enough background information. What can I do right now?!

Head over  to the Altus website and see if any of the schools you are applying to require you to take the CASPer exam. Work through the practice scenarios, and familiarize yourself with the types of scenarios you will have to respond to.

Also, brush up on your answers to the classic interview questions. Practice with a partner to ensure your responses sound as good to them as they do in your head. It’s also recommended to stay up to date with any changes to the CASPer exam to ensure you are preparing correctly.

Remember, this is just another exam in a seemingly never-ending queue of exams. Just be yourself and focus on the task at hand. This is a small hurdle to surmount in the scheme of things, and if you give it the same attention you have to all the other challenges you’ve faced along the way, you will excel here as well.