For the 2020-2021 academic year, U.S. allopathic medical schools had more than 53,000 applicants, with fewer than half gaining acceptance and matriculating, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. With the volume of applications received — more than 900,000 that cycle — med schools have developed strategic methods to evaluate and scrutinize applicants.
One such tool is the Situational Judgment Test, or SJT, where an applicant’s personal qualities such as empathy and critical thinking are evaluated. The Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics, or CASPer, is an example of an SJT required by more than 40 U.S. allopathic med schools. In the last several years, the number of M.D. programs requiring this exam has increased, meaning applicants to some med schools must add this as another step in the already daunting task of applying to medical school.
Being a physician requires sound judgment, the ability to effectively communicate, critical thinking and reasoning skills, and the ability to solve problems in diverse and often unexpected circumstances. CASPer examines these and other baseline personal characteristics of med school applicants and is useful when admissions committees evaluate prospective students.
CASPer, which is administered by Altus Assessments Inc., is available online and can be accessed by applicants anywhere. Test-takers can participate at a location they choose if they do not want to go to a testing center.
The test cost varies but in the U.S. is $12, plus an additional $12 for each med school where scores will be sent. CASPer takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete — there’s an optional 10-minute break — and consists of 12 sections, each with a scenario and three open-ended questions. The scenarios are presented via video or text.
In addition to medical school applicants, those interested in other health education such as a physician assistant graduate program or an undergraduate nursing program may be required by a particular school to take the test. Thus, the questions are not geared specifically toward being a doctor. The scenarios present hypothetical dilemmas, and individuals are tested based on the effectiveness of their responses to specific circumstances.
The 10 competencies that are commonly assessed on CASPer are:
— Problem solving
The exam website provides practice scenarios and a sample test so that individuals can gauge what to expect on the actual test. One example is: “Think of a time when you had to make a sacrifice in order to accomplish a goal.” The three questions that follow for this example scenario are:
1. Briefly describe the situation and the sacrifice you made.
2. Do you regret your decision to make the sacrifice? Why or why not?
3. Did you learn anything from this situation that can be applied to your desired career? Explain your response.
Each section is scored individually by a rater who is trained on how to evaluate the scenario, and each section is assessed by a different rater.
As the exam tests an applicant’s response to particular scenarios rather than scientific knowledge, preparation is limited. Before taking the assessment, test-takers should review the CASPer test website to familiarize themselves with the test format, timing and technological requirements. In addition, applicants should review practice questions and practice writing out answers in the given time frame.
Those who are getting ready to submit their med school applications should schedule an exam date if a desired med school requires the CASPer test. Each school has a different deadline, but in general, applicants should plan on completing this test by the end of July. Exam results are sent to designated schools two to three weeks after the test date.
Snapshot, a video interview tool that is a newer offering by Altus, gives test-takers a chance to “put a face” on their CASPer responses. It also allows med schools to more deeply probe an applicant’s motivations and communication skills.
Snapshot has the feel of a traditional interview, in contrast to the test’s situational-based questions. It consists of three standardized questions, each with up to two minutes to read the question and respond, all of which is recorded.
Individuals have the opportunity to complete a practice question and response before proceeding to the actual interview. The best way to prepare in advance for Snapshot is to practice delivering responses to typical interview questions and recording the time of your answers. Basic interview preparation and getting familiar with video interviewing are also helpful.
Some med schools require Snapshot while others make it optional. For schools where it’s mandatory, it must be done within 10 days of taking CASPer. There’s no additional fee for this component.
Duet, the newest component of the three-part Altus Suite, is a values-alignment assessment designed to help institutions determine how well their program and an applicant may match. It assesses the strengths of what an applicant wants in a medical school and professionally, and how that lines up with the school’s program. The results are objective “fit” scores across various categories.
Duet is composed of a series of questions that must be completed in 15 minutes. Duet complements CASPer results and helps identify the best applicants for a specific school. Since it primarily evaluates applicants’ personal and professional preferences, there’s little that can be done to prepare for it other than reviewing a school’s mission statement and understanding how it intersects with your goals and interests.
Altus recommends that Duet be taken within 14 days of CASPer, although there is flexibility based on program requirements that may vary across med schools. Like Snapshot, there’s no additional fee for Duet.
Here’s a list of allopathic medical schools in the U.S. that use CASPer, as currently listed on the CASPer website:
— Augusta University
— Baylor College of Medicine
— Boston University School of Medicine
— Case Western Reserve University
— Central Michigan University
— Drexel University
— East Carolina University
— East Tennessee State University
— Florida Atlantic University
— Hofstra University
— Howard University
— Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
— Indiana University
— Medical College of Wisconsin
— Meharry Medical College
— Mercer University
— Michigan State University
— New York Medical College
— Northeast Ohio Medical University
— NYU School of Medicine
— Oregon Health & Sciences University
— Penn State University
— Rosalind Franklin University
— Rutgers New Jersey Medical School–Newark
— Rutgers Robert Wood John Medical School–New Brunswick
— State University of New York
— Stony Brook University
— Temple University
— Texas A&M University
— Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
— Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center–El Pasao
— Tulane University
— University of Colorado–Denver
— University of Illinois–Chicago
— University of Miami
— University of Michigan
— University of Nevada–Reno
— University of Rochester
— University of Texas Health Science Center–Houston
— University of Texas Medical Branch
— University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
— University of Vermont
— University of Washington
— Virginia Commonwealth University
— Virginia Tech
— Wake Forest University
— West Virginia University
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What to Know About the CASPer Test for Medical School originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 08/05/21: This article has been updated with new information.