Busting 4 Myths about the CASPer Test
The medical school admissions process is one of the most challenging experiences many students will experience. Students go through countless hours of prep work, a lot of dedication, and many nights of restless sleep anticipating to hear back from programs. Having a strong support network through friends and family, online communities (e.g., Reddit, Premed 101), and student groups can be of tremendous help in managing some of the stress.
Sometimes though, these networks can also unintentionally (and on rare occasions, intentionally) spread misinformation. The admissions process can often seem like a black box – programs want to be transparent to their applicants for fairness, but at the same time, don’t want complete transparency or else students may find ways to game the system and collapse the integrity of the selection process.
As a test publisher, we are also balancing between these two values – we want to provide applicants with as much information as possible so they feel comfortable before the test and ensure that the information we release will not compromise the integrity of the test. With that said, however, we have noticed that there are a number of things we should directly address based on the feedback and the information we’ve gathered from online forums. Our support team is always there to help if you are unsure or unclear about anything related to the CASPer test. We are a friendly group trying our very best to make sure that everyone’s experience is a positive one, or at least, as positive as it can be for such an important exam!
Below, we highlight some of the “myths” about CASPer that we think warrants attention.
1. “Altus Assessments runs their own CASPer Test Prep Course”
We firmly believe that test publishers should never offer a paid test prep course, as it will further distance applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who are already disproportionately shut off from pursuing a career in medicine. Equity is one of the ten competencies of CASPer, and also one of our core values as a company, as we want to level the playing field as much as possible to increase the diversity of incoming students from all different backgrounds.
All official test prep material we provide is free and accessible through our official takeCASPer website under the tabs “Test Prep” and “Resources”. Take some time to read through what CASPer is about, check out our resources page and go through some sample questions, and our free test prep materials to familiarize yourself with the format of the test. About 70% of test-takers from last year reported preparing for fewer than 2 hours for CASPer, so we don’t anticipate more prep work is necessary beyond that.
We DO NOT, and will never ask you to pay for a prep course or any prep materials for the CASPer test. Additionally, we do not offer any additional sample questions to sell to applicants. Even though many third-party companies may have the word “CASPer” in their name, they are in no way affiliated with our company, Altus Assessments, and we do not endorse them. They have all been asked directly by us to make sure that they are being transparent with applicants that they are not associated with us or the CASPer test. We have no specific book or article recommendations, and anything we believe would help you improve your score will be directly communicated to you through the official takeCASPer website.
We’ve received feedback from previous applicants requesting for access to more practice questions. As a response to this request, beginning in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, we are providing applicants with a full 12-section practice CASPer test that closely mimics the look and feel of the actual CASPer test experience. To access this practice test, you will need to sign up for a CASPer account in order to access the CASPer System Requirements Check where you will be prompted to complete the practice test if you wish to do so.
2. “The CASPer Test is machine-scored”
Many standardized exams have moved toward automated machine scoring of essay and short answer responses to handle the sheer volume of answers that need to be graded within a tight deadline. While it may be attractive to automatically score CASPer responses for various reasons, we currently DO NOT score any section of the CASPer test using a machine. Every section of the 12-section CASPer test is graded by a human rater, who goes through extensive screening and training to ensure that the scores they provide are fair and accurate. While there have been great strides in Natural Language Processing (NLP), current research on the reliability of NLP has not yet reached a level where it can accurately capture all the nuances that human raters can appreciate.
One of the downsides of using human raters is that you will have to wait for some time before the responses are scored and sent to the programs, which at the moment takes about 3 weeks. We are working towards reducing this duration (last year we were able to complete rating within 2 weeks for 97% of tests) and recruiting more raters (at the moment we have over 500 raters) to help reduce this time lag. If you are curious about how your responses are evaluated, check the FAQ page, “How is the test evaluated?”.
3. “You can get your scores back if you ask Altus Assessments (CASPer)”
One frustration that we are hearing from applicants is that you do not get to receive your scores back after the responses are rated. We hear your frustration and understand your concerns. You want to know how you did on the CASPer test so you can have a better understanding of why you may / may not have been invited to an interview, or to help you figure out if there are ways to improve your performance for the next admissions cycle.
But test scores like the MCAT also determine where students apply. It would likely be a waste of time for students to apply to programs where they don’t meet the minimum MCAT requirements. Applicants who didn’t do so well on the MCAT would likely avoid applying to fiercely competitive programs. The MCAT has been around since the 1960s, programs and students have become used to the MCAT – it is a requirement for virtually all medical schools in the U.S. and students know to prepare well in advance for the test. Programs have had almost 60 years to figure out the optimal ways to incorporate MCAT scores into the admissions process that aligns with their institutional goals.
In contrast, CASPer is a relatively new test, which was used in the first U.S. medical school in 2015. Many schools are collecting CASPer scores to find ways to incorporate the scores in a way that works for them. As medical school admissions make life-altering decisions, they strive to be incredibly careful and data-informed when making any changes to their admissions process. Each school has adopted CASPer in different ways: some incorporate it into their holistic file review process, some adopt a relatively conservative threshold, and others are monitoring and adjusting the weighting placed on CASPer as they continuously refine their admissions process. We do not want applicants to withdraw from applying to a program because they did poorly on CASPer as there are many other components of the application, such as GPA, clinical volunteer hours, and MCAT, that are taken into consideration alongside CASPer. The goal of the admissions committee is to be able to see you more holistically, and CASPer is just one of many pieces that they take into consideration when deciding whom to invite to the interview and accept into the program.
As time passes, however, and programs become more comfortable and more rigid in their approach to incorporating CASPer, we will also be more comfortable in releasing scores to all applicants. The MCAT has had their time to work this all out, and we will also need time for this to happen. At the moment, we do not want applicants to shut themselves out of a race that they still could have won.
4. “You must always stay within the view of the webcam.”
Partially True, Not during the break
This myth is only partially true. You are required to stay within the view of the webcam during the test, as applicants are continuously monitored to ensure that the person who registered for the test is actually the one taking the test. However, you are free to leave the view of the webcam during the optional 15-minute break that occurs in the middle of the test. You do not need to ask us for permission to do so. This is your time to do whatever you need to do in order to come back refreshed to complete the rest of the test. So feel free to go to the bathroom, walk around your room or grab a quick drink or snack. We are able to tell from our end if you are in the break section of the test, so we will not be penalizing you in any way if you leave during this time.
During the test, however, your webcam must always be on and you must be in view at all times on every section of the CASPer test. This is for the purposes of proctoring, we do not use your image in any way to influence the outcome of your CASPer score. There is no need to dress up or clean your desk!
We hope this post was useful in addressing some of the misinformation that you may have heard about the CASPer test. If there are any others that you feel we should directly address, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also an opportunity at the end of the CASPer test to provide feedback, and we do read them so please be as honest and detailed as possible in your response. We always appreciate your feedback and we want the CASPer experience to be as seamless as possible alongside all the other mountains of work you have to complete to apply to medical school.