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CASPer: Does the Test Work?

CASPer Preparation Specialists

Whilst you are preparing for the CASPer examination, you will inevitably wonder whether the test actually works, and why it is being used by an increasing number of admissions teams. You will of course also wonder if you can prepare for the CASPer – you can.

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CASPer: A Psychological MCAT

Seemingly, the team behind CASPer – Altus Assessments – is eager for their examination to be seen in a similar way as the MCAT. However, the MCAT serves a simple purpose. It lets an admissions team understand how well a candidate knows core subjects – biology, chemistry, psychology, sociology – and their ability to reason and apply critical analysis. It assesses their academic ability. Run by the AAMC, the MCAT has an entire syllabus that clearly defines exactly what it will test and how. If the MCAT explains that it requires a skill, this skill will be clearly defined in order that someone can learn and understand it. On the other hand, CASPer provides no way of understanding, truly, what their competencies are. Instead it is left to the individual to define them, or to seek help from tutors. Altus explains that scores are made using a ‘modified Likert scale of 1-9 points’ yet we are not informed any more than this. We are left in the dark as to how the ‘raters’ (as Altus calls their team of assessors) are truly trained to mark papers. We are not informed whether there are certain words or phrases that could be key, nor if there are particular red flags. This, of course, is because the test would immediately be voided if these responses were revealed. This is the peculiarity of running a situational judgement test in which answers are written, rather than selected from a series of predetermined answers.

The CASPer, despite its team’s ambitions, cannot be seen as on a par with the MCAT.

Prep for the CASPer test

Key to its marketing is that it cannot be prepared for. However, alongside some research specifically on the CASPer that found this to be untrue, one would have to only look at the vast range of SJTs across the planet which do have preparatory material that is found to work in order to realise that this is unfounded. Likely the reason that there is still a relatively small group of companies offering CASPer test prep is simply that the test is still growing, and as of yet it is hard to see how exactly it is used in admissions processes. That is changing already, and will change in coming years. Within a few years, if the test continues to be taken up by more schools, expect every applicant to medical school to be using a huge variety of resources in order to do as well as possible.

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Does the CASPer test Predict Outcomes?

The majority of research that one finds online has been performed by researchers with links to the CASPer test itself. If you are interested, have a look online, and see the connections between the researchers and McMaster University, the school that developed CASPer and remains a stakeholder in it. One 2016 paper, entitled ‘CASPer, an online pre-interview screen for personal/professional characteristics: prediction of national licensure scores’ attempted to find a connection or correlation between eventual board scores and CASPer results on entry to medical school. The conclusion the researchers made was that the test predicted for personal and professional characteristics – but this conclusion was based only on a moderate correlation between CASPer scores and the scores in the ‘legal and ethical’ section of the multiple choice examination that those applying to the board sat. Whilst this is some evidence that the test is of use, in reality this conclusion is tantamount to saying that a test for ethical characteristics will predict results in tests for ethical characteristics. Far broader research must be performed in order to draw conclusions, and the research must be performed by a team with no conflict of interest. As it stands, the evidence for CASPer is shaky.

Does CASPer test improve diversity?

One study (featuring two members of the CASPer founding team) looked at medical school applicants to the NY College of Medicine. This study, ‘Addressing the Diversity-Validity Dilemma using Situational Judgement Tests’ was used to perform simulations on the applicant group, to find out if giving CASPer certain amounts of weight in the process would lead to a more diverse intake. It did, but only if at least half weight was given to CASPer – a ridiculous notion in an admissions process that involves grades, references, MCAT, a personal statement and an interview.

Conclusion

As it stands, we cannot reliably conclude that the CASPer works. However, it is used nonetheless – and this means that you are well advised to prepare for it and exploit its flaws.

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