McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

New tool redefines medical admissions

Published: December 16, 2010
Harold Reiter
Harold Reiter, chair of MD admissions for the undergraduate program of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine

Now, a computer test can measure your personal characteristics and how well you will do as a doctor.

Thousands of applicants to the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine participated this fall in a new web-based test designed to assess their interpersonal skills and decision-making while at the same time predicting their success at medical school. 

CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is the result of seven years of work at McMaster University to develop an admissions tool that will screen for exemplary medical school applicants and make it easier to narrow down to the number who receive interviews.

Approximately 3,500 prospective students apply to McMaster University’s medical school each year.  Of those, 540 receive interview offers and only 203 are accepted as first-year students.

CASPer is based on the successful Multi-Mini Interview (MMI), which was developed nine years ago by educators in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine to assess personal characteristics of medical school applicants through a series of short, one-on-one timed interviews, rather than the traditional panel interview. The MMI has been shown to predict success both in medical school and on subsequent qualifying exams. 

"CASPer is taking that same concept and putting it online so that people can take the test from their home or wherever they happen to be," said Harold Reiter, chair of MD admissions for the undergraduate program of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

The 90-minute computer-based exam consists of a dozen questions designed to assess personal attributes of applicants. Four questions focus on the values and personal history of test-takers. Eight involve one-minute video questions in which applicants are required to make situational judgements of predominantly non-medical scenarios. For each video, applicants must respond to three questions in five minutes — a requirement that reduces the likelihood of cheating and indicates the truly exemplary contenders.

"If you time it at five minutes, the reliability is much better," Reiter said of the preliminary studies of CASPer.  "The candidate who is exceptional tends to be easier to pick out. If you give extra time then those who aren’t quite as adept are able to even out the playing field."

In addition to prerequisites such as GPA and MCAT scores, medical schools in Canada often require applicants to submit an autobiographical essay or answer several personal questions. But the measure hasn’t proven to be all that successful.

"We were basically looking for a more reliable and more valid tool to replace the autobiographical submission but to get at some of the same characteristics as the MMI, which turned out to be a highly reliable measurement," said Rob Whyte, assistant dean for the undergraduate program of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

The MMI has replaced the traditional panel interview at the majority of medical schools in Canada, Australia and Israel. It has also been adopted by other medical and non-medical schools around the globe, as well as introduced into the corporate world.

"CASPer has even fewer restraints," Reiter said. "There is certainly room to hope that it would tend to spread even faster than the MMI.

"This is the first step — a very large step — of an ongoing process."

The development of CASPer is funded by the Medical Council of Canada, the National Board of Medical Examiners in the United States and the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.

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