How to ace the CASPER exam?

The modern trolley problem Posted by Ahmad Azizov on May 02, 2020

What is Casper?

CASPER stands for "Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics" and was developed by Dr. Harold Reiter and Dr. Kelly Dore of Mcmaster university and has been in use since 2010. It is designed to test the non-academic aspects of the applicant and is informally known as the ethics test. The formatting of the test includes 12 various scenarios (some written, some video) on a computer. After each scenario the applicant is given 5 minutes and 3 open ended questions to answer. The whole exam takes place within 60-90 minutes with a 15 minute break halfway through. It is important to note that this whole time the applicant's web camera is on and CASPER reserves the right to void the results of those applicants who use assistance during the test. Once all is said and done, you are given a score of 1-9 on each question (x 12 questions) and this score is sent directly to the schools you apply to. You as an applicant do not know what your CASPER score is and what a competitive score is for a given school. Additionally, all scores are only valid for 1 application cycle, meaning that many applicants have to complete this exam multiple times before landing a successful application. 

Although Mcmaster was the first school to have started using CASPER in 2010, many medical, dental and nursing programs have since adopted it into their own admission process. What is more is that many CARMS resident programs have started to implement this exam, meaning that premeds and medical students should really try to understand this exam and learn its intricacies for the long term. Below is a list of all the undergraduate programs that have implemented CASPER into their admission process. 

Program School
Medicine McMaster University Medical School
Medicine University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine
Medicine University of Alberta
Medicine Dalhousie University
Medicine McGill University
Medicine University of Montreal
Nursing  McMaster University
Nursing  York University
Nursing  Mohawk College
Nursing  Conestoga College
Nursing  Trent University
Nursing  Nipissing University
Nursing  University of British Columbia
Optometry University of Waterloo
Optometry University of Montreal 
Dentistry University of Montreal
Dentistry University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry
Pharmacy  University of Montreal
Pharmacy  University of Laval 
Pharmacy  University of Waterloo

Table 1: List of undergraduate programs that require the CASPER exam. 

How should I approach CASPER?

Many people state that one cannot study for this exam since it tests ethics. This is simply not true. Some applicants who struggle to land an interview with CASPER requiring schools, manage to do so after preparing for the next cycle. Just like any other exam, you can study for CASPER and improve your scores to the degree of a successful interview. I have compiled many tips for CASPER from my own application cycle and from many other successful applicants. Let's look at an example from the official CASPER website

Case 1

You are a cashier at a retail store. A customer comes to your store wanting to get a refund for a toy he purchased earlier. The store policy requires you to see the receipt for a cash refund and in the absence of a receipt, you are required to give store credit instead. You convey this message to him, however, he tells you that he has lost the receipt and needs the money badly to pay for his daughter's pneumonia medication. What do you do?

     1. Framework

Come up with a simple framework that will apply to most of the questions. I say this because every scenario you will see in this exam is going to be a surprise to you. You need a standard framework that can quickly be deployed and give a good impression. Remember people scoring you are humans and a simple and easy to understand framework will set your answers apart. Your framework has to be simple to understand, but not useless. 

Mine was roughly like the following:

  • a) State why I am in a place in terms of decision making, b) explain my responsibilities and aims and c)talk about the stakeholders or pros and cons (this one is explained in point #3)  d) start stating solutions in an if-then tree.

For the example above, I would start by stating that I am in a difficult position because as a cashier I am supposed to solve most of the customer issues and at the same time make sure I do not break any of the company policies as the policies are there for a reason. My responsibility in this instance is to balance the store policies and customer orders. Talk about perspectives or pros and cons as per #3. First I would try to contact the manager as my manager has a higher say over the store policies than I do. if this fails, I would ask the customer to see if he can find the receipt. If these steps fail I would tell the customer to call us back or visit us when the manager is back or ask her to borrow money from friends until the manager is back.

The idea for these questions is not to panic and do something dumb (break store policy without asking a manager, or straight up reject the customer).

     2. Critical thinking  

Come up with solutions that are unique but viable. It is important that you don't make fake attempts at a solution. I say this because, given the time limit, you have only so many sentences to write. Make sure each one counts. Additionally, don't make assumptions when coming up with your solutions. 

Examples of not making assumptions: 

You are meeting with a drunk teacher??? Make sure you mention that he/she may appear drunk due to some  sort of medication.

Your co-worker is afraid of flying on a plane? Talk to your boss to see if she can Skype in before you take sides and create extra conflict. 

You saw a pilot coworkers of yours drink from a liquor bottle before flying? Talk to him/her to make sure that wasn't just water. 

    3. Ethical vs policy question 

Questions you see on the exam will mainly fall into one of these categories. Ethical questions will be like the example given above and usually have multiple participants. For these questions, I usually talk about the perspectives of the stakeholders. For example, for the above question, you can talk from the point of view of the cashier (you), customer, manager and other customers without a receipt. 

Example:

From the customer's perspective, he is in a difficult position because although he knows what he is asking for is against the store policies, his daughter is very sick and he needs to try his best to get a refund. From the managers perspective, the manager cannot allow everyone to get refunds with no receipt or else the store might lose too much money and be forced to close down. From the cashier's perspective, she cannot do the refund because she is not given that authority. She may face harsh punishments for acting without the permission of the manager. From the perspective of the other customers, allowing one of your customers to get a refund without a receipt is unfair. There are many customers who would prefer cash and not a store credit. 

This is clearly a very long answer and you are unlikely to have this much time on the real exam. But mentioning just a few of these shows that you are capable of assessing the situation from multiple angles. 

Policy questions are the ones that state an event and ask for your opinion. 

Case 2

Toronto decides to allow BUBER, a ride services company, to operate in the city without a taxi licence. All the taxi drivers are very mad about this and want this policy to be reversed, while banning BUBER and similar technologies indefinitely. What do you think should happen?

For this policy type of question, my framework was to divide it into pros and cons, instead of perspectives

For this example:

A policy like this has huge implications and like any policy affecting large numbers of people it has benefits and harms. One of the biggest benefits is the integration of technology in order to make transportation easier for the customers. This is good because more people will end up using the service, resulting in less load on public transport while providing many drivers an alternative source of income. Another benefit of this policy is that it is easier for the city to manage the ride service drivers. Instead of using the old systems, they can just communicate with BUBER for driver details. However, this policy also has a number of negatives. Many cab drivers have paid huge fees for their licenses and have special insurances which cost money. This is bad because now there is an uneven playing ground for these 2 types of drivers. 

I hope that you can see the difference between these 2 questions. The frameworks I have provided aren't the only two possibilities, but these are good enough to be used for most of the questions and maintain simplicity and a good format. 

     4. Practice

This one is relatively simple. Practice with friends under the same timed conditions. Let them judge you on your answers and thoughts. Make sure you practice with multiple friends to avoid bias. I had a week to do this, but the more the better (although I wouldn't do this for months at a time due to burnout). 

     5. Content 

My personal opinion is that CASPER scores are mainly used to determine red flags. You should try to be average. Avoid saying things that are too extreme. Don't say things that are wrong or things that you obviously wouldn't do in real life. I remember one question about a cheating friend. Many people think that the right answer is to snitch on your friend. I tend to disagree because this is not what the applicant would do in real life. Instead, talk about the responsibility the course coordinator has to make the exam difficult to cheat on. You could also make an anonymous report to the course coordinator that someone is cheating without snitching on anyone specific. This is much more realistic while also being ethical (shows that you care). 

     6. Typing speed 

I went for 3-6 sentences for each question, always finished my thoughts. I type 60 words per minute on a good day. If you are slower, make sure you improve using the free websites. This is often overlooked by applicants but if you cannot type enough you cannot type enough of the right answers. The good news is, practice for CASPER will improve your typing speed but you may also choose to do one of those online typing speed tests. 

     7. Questions you will most likely see

In many ways, CASPER is designed to be a screening tool for the interview. In other words, it saves schools a ton of money and time by simulating the interview and eliminating applicants. As such, there are many classic questions that are likely to come up on your set of 12 scenarios. Below is a list of a few of these. 

  • State a time you dealt with conflict with a superior.  
  • What are your strengths and or weaknesses?
  • A time you treated someone wrongly and what you did to fix this. 
  • a time you demonstrated professionalism 
  • Talk about coping with stress.  
  • State a time when you showed leadership. 
  • A time you collaborated effectively 
  • Who is your role model and why?
  • Why do you want to do medicine?
  • How do you deal with failure? 

The reason these questions are important is that many people prepare for these beforehand. This means that if you don't spend time thinking about these questions beforehand, your answers are not likely to stand out. Spend a few weeks before the test date and come up with good points for each one of these. Discuss them with friends and medical students and make them perfect. The idea is not to memorize the whole answers but to have a couple of solid points for each that can be deployed quickly in case your question set includes one of the above. 

     8. Bonus 

Here is the google doc I and a friend put together for CASPER. This document contains what a bunch of people who aced CASPER thought. We emailed and asked those who got interviewed with low CARS or GPA into Mcmaster university medicine. 

How much do I need to prep for this exam?

It depends. Usually, applicants complete their CASPER exams a few weeks before the application deadline. Given the long applications, reference letters and professional exams (such as the MCAT, PCAT, etc) many of us can only spare a few weeks. The good news is a few weeks is more than sufficient for many applicants and months of practice is probably overdoing it. 

What about doing right?

I read the first 40-50 pages of "Doing Right", but can't say that it was too helpful. 

For practice questions, google "free Casper practice" questions and you will see many such as this

Other than that also got a practice package ($40 I think) that just had 12 questions with no feedback. I don't think it matters which company you go with. These are good because they psychologically prepare you for the real deal.

Good luck!

All information provided on this website is for educational purposes and does not constitute any medical advice. Please speak to you doctor before changing your diet, activity or medications. 


Written by
Ahmad Azizov Member since April 2020
Interested in Vascular surgery resident at Western U

nico • December 02, 2021
thank you so much for this. :) i feel like i would've done much worse without this article.
reeeeese • October 24, 2021
so nervous. but thank you so much for this. i will study as best as i can and the universe can do the rest
Natasha • October 18, 2021
Thank you so much for these tips! I feel a lot more confident going into the test.
Maryana • September 22, 2021
???????!
Sel • January 27, 2021
Thank you so so much!!
Kelly • November 28, 2020
You are the real MVP
aq • November 23, 2020
thanks
big brainz • October 22, 2020
this was so helpful!
han • May 03, 2020
Amazing! You are the casper master ? BUBER for lyfe!!