Guide to Acing McMaster CASPer

This guide was written by a team of Canadian doctors to help you prepare for the CASPer Exam. We hope you find this information helpful!

One of the most competitive medical schools in Canada is the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. As of 2011/2012, the pre-interview formula for McMaster Medical school is:

  • 32% CASPer Score
  • 32% Undergraduate Grade Point Average
  • 32% MCAT Verbal Reasoning Score
  • up to 4% Graduate degree (1% Master's degree/4% PhD)

Now that your GPA and MCAT are already determined, your CASPer score is the only thing left in your control. Thus, how well you do on this one test could be the difference between an interview and rejection.

To help applicants out, here is our Guide to Acing McMaster CASPer. We hope you find this helpful!

1. Familiarize yourself with the history of CASPer

Over 7 years of research and work at McMaster University has gone into the development of CASPer. There is a lot to be learned from publicly available research articles about its development and we encourage you to read them. You may gain insight into what they are looking for in applicants. Our very own MedHopeful has written a great summary of that information here. The citations for those articles are:

  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.

2. Learn your medical ethics

Medical ethics are likely to be on your CASPer scenarios. Know your principles of medical ethics (autonomy, beneficence, non maleficence and justice) and how they apply in different medical situations, such as patient confidentiality and respecting patient autonomy. Check out a great online resource from the Canadian Medical Association Journal to get yourself started:

http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/collection/bioethics_for_clinicians_series

3. Understand the Canadian health care system and Canada Health Act

You might be asked for your opinion on challenges facing the Canadian health care system today. This requires an understanding of how our health care system works, problems patients, health care workers, organizations and governments are facing, and an awareness of ideas that could help improve the system.

To start you off, Health Canada provides a great introduction to our health care system:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/system-regime/2011-hcs-sss/index-eng.php

In addition, ethical scenarios will often be based on recent, real life health care dilemmas. We suggest following Canadian health care news for any of the major stories going on. In the news, you are likely to encounter the different prespectives on challenging, controversial issues, which will help you to formulate your own opinions ahead of time.

Here are some good links to check out on a regular basis:

Also, learn the Canada Health Act: a piece of federal legislation from 1984 that funding for our health care system is based on. Understanding its 5 key principles are important for addressing scenarios on how we fund and deliver health care in Canada. You can learn more about the Canada Health Act here.

4. Self reflection

To better prepare yourself for CASPer, you must get to know yourself better:

Know your own experiences and skills

spend some time going over your CV and autobiographical sketch and reflect on experiences that are important to you. For each event, write down what happened, what was your reaction, how did you resolve or failed to resolve it, what skills did you utilize or have learned from it, how did the experience change your perspective about medicine and other aspects of life.

Know your family and friends

repeat the above exercise with close family members and friends who are willing to share with you their experiences. Ask them the same questions and ask yourself how would you have handled it. Spend much more time reflecting on these events and mentally experiencing them as if they did happen to you. Keep doing this for the next few days until the test, and you will subconsciously think of the most optimal strategy (combined inputs from everyone you know) when you encounter a difficult situation. Keep doing this whenever you can because the more you practice the better you will perform.

Know your environment

know where you will be taking the CASPer test and the hardwares (computer, internet connection, browswer, set of keyboards you feel comfortable with, where to place your study notes, and the list goes on and on). Also, identify and eliminate any sources of distraction. These seemingly minute details when combined can have a profound effect on your performance. You have to create the perfect environment for your big day.

Know your mindset

how motivated are you to prepare for CASPer? How confident do you feel about competing against 3500+ candiates?  Surely, future doctors should be more collaborative than competitive, but the unfortunate reality is that the current admission process requires us to compete for a few spots. There are simply too many qualified candiates for the number of spots in medical schools. If medical school is your dream, you need to prepare as much as you can to optimize your chances of admission. You need to be willing to compete and you need to be willing to put in the preparation and hard work.

Know how to treat yourself well

while you might be busy preparing for the test, don't forget to eat well, exercise, sleep, and breath! Staying healthy is important because a lifelong and rewarding career is just ahead of you.

5. Reflect on personal experiences

4 of the 12 sections will be “Personal”. We expect answering these questions to often require bringing up your experiences on leadership, communication, team work, health care, volunteering, professionalism, etc. Five minutes is not a lot of time to think of examples - you need to have these examples thought of ahead of time.

The CanMEDS roles are well-known competencies that doctors are expected to meet: Medical Expert , Communicator, Collaborator, Health Advocate, Manager, Scholar and Professional. We suggest being able to provide an example where you demonstrate each of the CanMEDS qualities. It’s likely one of these CanMEDS roles will match the sections and questions that ask more about you personally.

For more information on CanMEDS:
http://www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/canmeds/framework

6. Make a study guide and have it next to you

While you must take CASPer on your own and without help from others during the test, there is nothing against making a personal study guide and having it next to you while you take the exam. Fill your study guide with medical ethics ideas, health care system facts and personal experiences you might want to draw from to support your answers. If you get lost, then you can quickly look at it to get some ideas!

Remember, time is valuable! You are only given 5 minutes for 3 questions. While CASPer limits each answer to 1024 characters (approximately 200 words) and would not expect essay-type answers, you certainly cannot provide a simple one or two sentence answer (we often see this happening simply because students blank out and panic!).

Having said that, the more scenarios you see and incoporate into your study guide, the less likely you will blank out during the exam. Now you've seen the importance of compiling notes, here are some tips for optimizing your study guide:

  • the contents of your notes: this is the easy part. Unless you know them inside and out, at the minimum you have to include: meaningful and unique personal experiences, recent healthcare controversies and policy trends, CanMEDs roles, bioethics, and categories of scenarios you have encountered and an approach to solve them.
  • study your notes: this is slightly more difficult because you have to figure out which method is most efficient for you.The ultimate goal here is to know your stuff inside and out and make your notes as concise as possible. You can then find the information you need quicker on the exam.
  • add to your notes: always read more and practice more scenrios to add to your notes. This step and the previous one should occur on a continual basis. Get into the habit of continuous learning as it will benefit you in medical school and beyond. Remember, doctors are lifelong learners.
  • practice using your notes: this is the most vital step. If you don't practice using it, you will not only blank out during the exam, but also wasted time preparing the notes! Practice finding the information you need as quickly as possible. When you see the questions, don't jump straight into answering them. Don't be afraid to spend 30 seconds reading your notes and plan out a few points you want to mention for each question because this is the hard part. 30 seconds is a long time to think through the issues and come up with your plan, and you will have ample time to answer the questions (this is in fact the easy part). With practice, you can perhaps shorten the 30 seconds to 20 seconds, or  even 10 seconds.

7. Explore all sides of the issue

The scenarios and questions will be challenging. There will often be ethical dilemmas where there may be no correct answer - there will be many options you can take, each with different consequences. But FIRST, identify the issues at play! It is important to show that you can appreciate all sides of the issue. You can show a lot of maturity by being able to recognize the different options available and how the potential consequences for each of those actions. If you are being asked to make a decision, explore the pros and cons of each. Explain how your decision might affect the different players involved in the situation. Explore the future repercussions of such a decision on the rest of society. Make your answer as complete as possible.

For example, consider a CASPer scenario where a patient becomes unconscious and requires a blood transfusion. However, you learn that she is a Jehovah's Witness who expressed prior wishes to not have any transfusions under any circumstances.

Begin by asking yourself - what are all the options and consequences?

Option 1 - Transfuse. Consequences: Patient's life wil be saved, however it goes against her expressed wishes, and does not respect her autonomy. Her family will also be extremely unhappy. Finally, the medical code of ethics requires you to respect her wishes even though it may cost the patient her life.

Option 2 - Do not transfuse. Consequences: Patient will die, but her autonomy and expressed wishes are respected. In addition, you will not be breaking the medical code of ethics (and thus, not breaking medical law).

As you can see, breaking down a scenario by options and their consequences can help you to systematically explore scenarios, even if you're not sure what to do!

8. Read ALL the questions first - then start

Each scenario presented to you will be followed by up to 3 questions. We strongly advise that you read ALL three questions first before trying to attempt them. Why? For a few reasons:

  1. It’s quite likely that all 3 questions are worth the same marks. Don’t get stuck on a hard question and forget to do the easy ones. Quickly figure out which questions are easier for you first, get those out of the way, and then do your best on the hardest one. That way you will feel good knowing you got most, if not, all of the answers done well.
  2. Sometimes subsequent questions can give you ideas about what the judges might be looking for in answers to the earlier questions.
  3. You might have decided to focus on a certain point in Q1, but if Q2 actually asks for that specific point, then you'll know they want you to talk about something else for Q1.

Essentially, you should quickly look at the entire page of questions and plan your strategy accordingly. Always be planning - whether that be weeks before the exam or even during the exam. A good plan will lead to good results.

9. Answer ALL of the questions

It is tempting to be a perfectionist and try to get every single question perfect - but that might mean not completing every question. You want to avoid that. While it is not clear exactly how CASPer is marked, we suggest you work quickly to attempt all of the questions on a page. For all you know, you get a minimum mark just for trying. Don’t leave anything blank. Work quickly and efficiently!

10. Keep calm and carry on

The video scenarios may display difficult and emotionally charged situations. It's important to keep your cool and not be overwhelmed by the emotions of the situation. Aim to be objective and focus on the issues at play. It is of course okay to feel compassion or concern for the characters in the situation, but do not let that impair your ability to think critically about the situation. CASPer is a timed exam - so keep your focus!

11. Be smart about your answers

CASPer has 4 personal sections which ask for your own perspectives and experiences. This serves the same purpose as an admission personal statement or the previously used 5-question autographical sketch by McMaster Medical School. This is really an opportunity to let the admission committee know you better.

You might have a hard time deciding on which experiences to share, simply because most people have many meaningful experiences. Therefore, you must be selective in your answers and be smart about the process:

  1. Identify what skills and abilities medical schools are looking for. This can be found here.
  2. Find out what kind of future medical students Canada needs by viewing the FMEC website.
  3. Based on what you found in steps 1 and 2, collect related personal experiences that are most life-changing for you. Spend time reflecting on these experiences. The more you reflect on and practice right now, the less likely you will blank out on the real thing.
  4. While it's important to share with the admissions committee why you are the most ideal candidate, keep in mind that your experiences must also be unique. You need to be distinguished from 3500+ other candidates!
  5. Answer honestly! Admissions committee are well trained to spot fraudulent answers.

12. Practice, practice, practice

CASPer is not like an interview where you can just practice with a friend. It’s not like your university math course which provides you with practice tests. CASPer is a unique, online, timed test.

13. Get feedback

So...you've been compiling exam notes and practicing CASPer, what now? Get feedback! This will help you improve tremendously in order to perform better on the real thing. A few sources to get useful feedback:

  • close friends and family: people who are most honest with you and will not hesitate to point out areas which you can improve on. They will help you in your best interest.
  • complete strangers: feel free to share your thoughts and approaches on solving the CASPer scenarios with strangers on various forums and blogs. Because they don't know you and have no conflict of interest with you, their opinions will likely be objective.
  • medical students and doctors: do you know any medical students or doctors? Don't hesitate to ask them how they would deal with certain ethical scenarios. Since they are trained in the medical system, their approach to ethics is most in line with what medical schools are looking for. For complex or controversial situations, there are often no right or wrong answers, and your reasoning behind your decisions is what's most important. It's this reasoning that admission committees behind medical schools and assessments like CASPer are looking for. While medical school admissions committees don't necessarily expect you to know all the ins and outs of medica legal issues, wouldn't it be nice to know the most appropriate solution and stand out among 3500+ candidates?
  • other healthcare professionals: do you volunteer in hospitals, clinics, rehab facilities, etc? Repeat the above exercise with other healthcare professionals because they may offer unique insights. The practice of medicine is evolving and patient care cannot be sufficiently delivered by doctors alone. Get to know your future healthcare team and be ready to support each other when you become a doctor.

Of course, you might want to get feedback on how you are doing from actual medical students. Here at MockCasper, you have the opportunity to not just practice for CASPer, but actually learn how to improve from real Canadian medical students. Click here to get started.

Thank you and good luck

Whether or not you choose to work with us at MockCasper, we hope you found this guide helpful and we wish you the best of luck on your CASPer test and in the rest of the admissions process. Medicine is an extremely rewarding career, and if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can do it!