How to Unlock the Fundamentals of the CASPer Exam for PA School

In the PA education world, one of the hot topics in recent years has been how to assess the maturity level of program applicants.


A comparison of GRE scores, GPAs, and experience hours among PA school candidates is a straightforward, quantitative measure. However, assessing the judgment and decision-making ability of aspiring PAs is much more nuanced, particularly before an interview.


With the rising popularity of the PA profession, PA programs are typically reviewing more and more applications every cycle despite having the same number of seats.

And, programs only have so much time to dedicate to reviewing applications and interviewing candidates — they've also got to train the folks who've already been accepted to their program.


So, as the growth of prospective applicants continues to outpace the number of available program seats, PA schools are looking for ways to identify the most qualified applicants while making the process of doing so manageable for their team.


Some programs accomplish this by increasing the admissions requirements — schools that call for more experience hours, a higher minimum GPA, or make the GRE mandatory will get fewer applications and, to a degree, stem the flood that could result from having fewer requirements.


Many programs use a supplemental application to pose essay prompts that can act as pre-interview questions. Knowing about why you chose their program or what you've done in the past year since your prior application (common supplemental essay topics) can help a school determine who might be the best fits for their program before they dive into interviews.


A growing number of PA programs are adopting the CASPer exam, a web-based situational judgment test, as a component of the application process.


So, if one or more of your target schools is using this tool, knowing how to plan appropriately for CASPer will help you to avoid delaying your application submission and understand what to expect in the exam.


What is CASPer?

 CASPer is a test administered through a web-based program that gives you hypothetical scenarios and asks you particular questions around how you'd handle them. It may sound familiar to the multiple mini interview (MMI) style that many PA programs employ, and it is.


The aim of both the CASPer and an MMI is to tap into your on-the-spot judgment and decision-making ability using made-up (but realistic) situations.


CASPer is used as an applicant screening tool for many different kinds of training programs, including medicine, nursing, PT, OT, dentistry, athletic training, and masters level science programs.


Working through hypothetical circumstances gives you the chance to show your openmindedness, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and maturity, attributes that are difficult to capture elsewhere on your application.


How does CASPer work?

CASPer is made up of twelve sections, each with a scenario presented by video or in written form. After receiving the situation, you'll be asked three open-ended questions and have a total of five minutes to provide typed responses for all three questions.


After your five minutes are up, the exam will progress to the next scenario automatically. So, it's possible your response could be incomplete if you are not working quickly.


When you're halfway through the exam, you'll have an optional 15-minute break to regroup before moving on to the final six sections. The exam will last about 60-90 minutes.


How is your performance assessed?

A different individual will score each of the twelve sections you complete. Your final CASPer score is a combination of the twelve individual assessments, which are completed independent of each other.

Your scorers will be assessing your ability in ten areas:

Fundamentals of CASPer Exam for PA SchoollBe a Physician Assistant
  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Empathy

  • Equity

  • Ethics

  • Motivation

  • Problem-solving

  • Professionality

  • Resilience

  • Self-awareness


Once your scores are available, they are sent automatically to your selected programs.


How do you prepare (logistics)?

Though you can take the CASPer from the comfort of your own home, there are set dates and times when the exam is available, typically every 2-4 weeks.

Each program also gets to set their availability window, and most programs won't consider your application complete until your CASPer scores are received. So, it’s wise to lock down your test date as soon as you know a target program requires the CASPer.


If needed, you can send your exam scores to new programs after the fact, as long as it's within the same application cycle.


Once you've registered for your exam, you can perform a CASPer System Requirement Check from your reservation page. Do this at least a few days before your scheduled exam so that you don't get into a jam.


You'll need a webcam, browser, and internet connection, and be sure you're connecting with the same equipment and from the same location as you will on test day.


And on test day, find a quiet nook free of distractions because those five minutes you have to answer each scenario will go by quickly.


How do you prepare (content)?

Because the basis of the CASPer is hypothetical scenarios, you won't be able to prepare responses in advance. Much like in an MMI, you'll be responding to the situations you're given in real time.


However, just because you can't prepare responses doesn't mean you can't prepare for the test.


There are three sample video scenarios, each with three practice questions, available on the CASPer website.

Once you've registered for the exam, you'll also get access to a 12-section long practice test that you can do as part of the System Requirement Check. This practice exam will give you a feel not only for the scenarios but also the layout and functionality of the actual test.


These practice situations are a perfect glimpse of what to expect on exam day. Because CASPer is used to assess applicants for many different kinds of programs, the scenarios are broad -- typically involving a coworker, classmate, client, or friend.


Remember those ten areas that the test reviewers will be looking at? You can forget them. Because if you focus on approaching your responses with three things in mind, the others will naturally fall into place: ask questions, remain openminded, and be willing to have difficult conversations.


PA programs that are incorporating the CASPer are using it to gauge interpersonal skills and sensibility.


Just as in an MMI, programs are hoping to learn that you can balance not rushing to judgment while still having the ability to make a decision or voice an opinion.


If you've already been working in the professional world for a while or have been involved in your fair share of tricky situations, you will have a natural advantage for the CASPer.


But regardless of your background, use the practice scenarios to their full potential. Don't just watch or read through the questions. Actually type out your responses to the three scenario questions using a 5-minute limit.


The rhythm of this will not be natural, and it will take some preparation to get a feel for how much you can write within the allotted time.


If you want to ensure that you optimize your performance on the CASPer, take the time to get a feel for the balance between absorbing the scenario and crafting your response.


You can go through the practice exam as many times as you like to build this flow.

While you can't memorize responses or have ready answers for a CASPer exam, getting familiar with the format and timing of the exam will allow you to go in feeling prepared.


And, focusing on three keys, asking questions, remaining openminded, and having a willingness to enter difficult conversations, can help guide you through many scenarios and demonstrate the maturity and decision-making skills PA programs are hoping to see in you.

The CASPer test, Altus Assessments Inc.