Rajani Katta MD & Jenny Li-Wang BA
How to Prepare for the Casper Test: Tips and Strategies
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
In this post, I'll be discussing some important tips and strategies for how to prepare for the Casper.
If you'd like to jump straight to your area of interest, please see these posts that address specific areas related to Casper test prep:
Can I prepare for the Casper test?
Although Altus Suite markets Casper as a test which you cannot study for, I strongly believe that strategic preparation can significantly improve your performance on any test—including the Casper.
Before you start thinking about specific scenarios, I want to remind you of a few very important points.
You already know how to handle awkward situations! Try, as much as you can, to picture every one of these scenarios as something that could actually happen to you. Then think about how you would respond in the real world.
For example, your roommate Phoebe rushes into your room. “You won’t believe what just happened at work! My boss just said that he’s had several complaints about my work at the coffee shop. I just know that Monica was the one who complained. She’s had it out for me since day one. I want to call her right now and let her have a piece of my mind. What do you think I should do?”
What would you say to Phoebe? How would you handle this situation?
With empathy. “Oh my gosh, Phoebe, that sounds awful. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this.”
With more information. “Before you call her, let me ask you a few questions. Is there any chance it could have been somebody else at work who complained?”
With caution. “You need to be careful Phoebe, because this could affect your job and your relationship with your co-workers.”
With creativity. “Instead of just calling Monica to complain, maybe you could start by calling your other co-workers and see if they had any more information or thoughts. Or you could ask for feedback from your boss to see if he had suggestions for improvement. That would help you figure out what to do next no matter who submitted the complaint.”
Bottom line, most students have already dealt with challenging situations and know the basics of what to do. The strategies below will help you organize your thoughts and be prepared to communicate those thoughts quickly.
How do I improve my performance on the Casper test?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. I'm the author of The MMI and The Medical School Interview books. In multiple ways the process for preparing for those two types of interviews is more straightforward.
Having said that, I believe that implementing the following strategies can help significantly.
9 tips for typed responses on the Casper test
I strongly believe that when you’re preparing for the Casper, it’s really important to internalize several strategies. Otherwise, there’s a decent chance that you’re going to be presented with a challenging scenario and find yourself freezing up.
When it comes to strategies, I think of these as falling into two main categories
Strategies that help you think about potential approaches
Strategies that help you get it all down on paper
Here are my 9 strategies for excelling with your typed responses, followed by a fuller explanation:
Don’t just think it – use words that convey empathy and respect
Automate your writing by recycling the same introductory and transition phrases
The First Set of Strategies: Thinking about potential approaches to challenging scenarios
Tip #1: Use a framework that helps you organize your thoughts
Overall, I think of the Casper questions as falling into five main categories of questions.
For situational judgment questions:
“What would you advise your roommate in this situation?”
Framework: The I3P approach (more on I3P in this blog post)
For behavioral interview questions
“Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict”
Framework: The STAR approach (more on STAR in this blog post)
Having a framework that I can immediately turn to helps me organize my thoughts much faster and more coherently.
Tip #2: Note and scan
While you watch (or read) the scenario, write down important names or details on your notepad. Video and text-based prompts will disappear when your five minute answering period starts, so note down pertinent details for yourself to reference later. Start identifying the main conflict and the key players involved in this conflict.
When your five minutes begin, scan through all three questions. Most of the time, Casper questions are ordered from specific to general. Sometimes later questions will prompt ideas for how to answer previous ones. Feel free to answer whichever question you find easiest first, but if you spend more than a few seconds waffling over which one you want to begin with, just proceed with question one.
In short, your strategy:
Take notes: What are the main issues here? Who/what is impacted?
Scan all three questions: Sometimes the later questions will spark ideas.
Quickly plan out your response: The ideal response is focused and complete.
Tip #3: Create a story bank
It’s highly likely that you’ll be asked to share your own experiences.
You might be asked to watch a scenario and then discuss a time when you experienced something similar.
For a text-based question, you may be asked to describe a time when you experienced conflict with a colleague (for example).
You cannot prepare for all possible variations of scenarios and questions—obviously! There are an infinite number of scenarios.
However, you can sit down now and think through your own examples of universally challenging situations.
Here’s my method of story banking below. Just by writing down your examples, you’ve prepped your mind with some great stories that you can pull out later. These stories can often work for multiple prompts.
In other words, an embarrassing time can also be a stressful time can also be a time of conflict can also be a time of professional boundaries.
Pull out 10 or so index cards, and on each one write down a common prompt
When did you experience that situation or emotion? Feel free to provide several examples for each card.
Reflect back on your experiences, including your personal life, your academic experiences, your work experiences, and your extracurricular activities.
On the other side of your index card, write down lessons learned
On the exam, you'll be asked three questions about each situation. Therefore, after you come up with examples for each of these prompts, I recommend that you also think about different angles related to each of these “stories”.
How did you handle the situation?
What did you learn about yourself?
What did you do well?
What did you wish you would have done better?
Did you experience growth (or did you change in any way) from this situation?
Did this experience provide insight into the experiences of others?
Did you think about how you would prevent such a situation from occurring again?
It’s hard to speed up the process of reflection, so don’t worry if it’s taking longer than you would like. This work will be critical for later medical school interviews, since behavioral interview questions are often used during traditional interviews and during the MMI. (See below for more examples of behavioral interview questions.)
There’s another reason that story banks are so helpful: you have to pick the right types of stories for certain questions.
Let me demonstrate. Quick: pick a time when you experienced conflict.
In general, your mind is going to go straight to emotionally challenging situations–perhaps a time that you regret in some way. (Such as that one incident that bothered you so much that you spent the next two months coming up with a great comeback and now you’re never going to forget it.)
But here’s the thing. Those challenging conflicts may or may not be the best examples to offer.
For some questions, you may want to look for examples from your past that in some way highlight your values, qualities, and strengths.
For other questions, you may in fact be looking for examples where you made a mistake and experienced growth.
Remember, behavioral interview questions are not just “tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict.“ Instead, you need to think of these questions as asking “tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict AND what you did about it.” (Even though “what you did about it” is rarely verbalized.)
That second part of the question–”what you did about it”-- is often the most important part of this question. That's the part that can really serve to highlight your positive qualities or your strong sense of equity and ethics or your commitment to open communication and collaboration. Or all of the above.
That’s why it’s so important to think about possible behavioral interview questions and great examples in advance.
Tip #4: Learn the basics of medical ethics
Although the Casper doesn’t focus on medical ethics, it’s still important to learn the basics of medical ethics.
Some of these tenets are widely applicable to situations beyond medicine. One example is that of autonomy. We respect the rights of individuals to make medical decisions for themselves, even if it’s not in their best interest. This principle can be applied to many scenarios, and can even be referred to in your response.
Our posts on medical ethics are a good place to start. This podcast episode on basic medical ethics and this episode on issues related to autonomy and confidentiality are also helpful.
The Next Set of Strategies: Getting it all down on paper
I have a lot of experience with challenging situations. But the Casper test isn’t just about making judgements; it’s about communicating those decisions AND communicating your thinking behind those decisions.
That’s why this next set of strategies focuses on the area of communicating your thoughts.
Note that in these strategies, I’m really emphasizing speed and efficiency when typing your responses. That’s because you only have about 90 seconds (!) to respond to each question.
In my practice sessions (and note that I’m a speed typist) I was able to write down anywhere from about 2 to 6 sentences per question. This averages out to about 4 sentences per question.
Which, if you stop to think about it, really isn’t that much… especially when you’re being asked questions such as “Have you experienced work- life balance issues in your own life? How have you dealt with these issues?”
Tip #5: Don’t just think it – use words to convey your empathy and respect
As I’m thinking through these challenging scenarios, I’m thinking about how I would personally respond. In my mind, it’s obvious that I’m going to speak gently to my colleague, or that I’m going to be non-confrontational in my approach to a classmate, or that I’m going to be very empathetic when dealing with an angry customer.
However…you can’t just think these thoughts. It’s helpful to actually write them down. In the setting of this exam, where you’re being graded on qualities such as empathy and collaboration, I recommend that you use the actual words when you’re writing.
“I would approach my classmate and respectfully ask…“
“I would ask to speak to my colleague in private and then would discuss....”
“I would gently speak to the customer and explain…”
Tip #6: Practice using time-bound scenarios
You need to instinctually be able to feel what five minutes feels like. It’s not a long period of time when you have so many thoughts swirling around in your head.
The best way to practice is with time-bound scenarios. Set a timer and write down your best response in five minutes. Practice getting comfortable with organizing your thoughts and then quickly getting them down on paper. Then go back and see what could be improved.
Tip #7: Type quickly
One unfortunate bias that’s baked into the typed response section of the test is that it favors people who are able to type fast.
The test was created to try to get an authentic picture of your response to challenging scenarios, and it was felt that the best way to do that would be to get your first, automatic response. That's why you’re given so little time – and I can understand that reasoning.
Unfortunately, with questions like this, I just don’t think you can give a good, strong response in one or two sentences (in general). I think there’s a definite difference between a response that's two sentences long and one that's five sentences long, and the fast typists are going to be able to get to those five sentences more easily.
This is why it’s a worthwhile ROTI (return on time investment) to start improving your typing skills now. Take a typing test, see where you are right now, and then start to practice.
Tip #8: Let go of perfectionism
Can you project professionalism without being a perfectionist? Yes. Of course!
The test specifically states that spelling and grammar mistakes are OK. I’ve been practicing typing out responses to 5-minute scenarios, and it’s very hard to get everything out of my brain and onto the screen. It definitely helps to let go of those spelling errors and to be fine with run-on sentences.
Of course, there’s an important caveat here. You can’t take this as a license to ignore spelling and grammar. At the end of the day, these tests are being graded by humans. And these humans won’t be able to see you or know anything about your background.
These humans are instead making judgments based purely on words on the screen. So of course those words are going to matter. A few spelling mistakes here and there won’t have a major impact, but a response that’s riddled with grammatical errors and that doesn't make a clear, coherent case is going to be a problem.
Tip #9: Automate your writing as much as possible
I decided to use the same introduction for most of my situational judgement scenarios. Why? Because each scenario has a different reader. They’re not going to see more than one of your responses, so it doesn’t matter if you’re using the same phrasing for every single one.
Having the same introduction helps me “grease the wheels“ of my writing. It gets me started with at least something down on paper, which I find helps the rest of my thoughts start flowing better.
4 tips for video responses on the Casper test
Tip #1: Plan the content of your response
We cover this topic extensively in another blog post.
Feel free to jump ahead to our detailed post for more recommendations on how to structure your response and provide more advanced content.
The key difference for video responses is that you'll be able to include more words and create a fuller response.
For example, you'll be able to include more potential approaches in your situational judgement questions.
Tip #2: Pay attention to your verbal communication
It’s going to be very important to get feedback on your verbal communication skills. This includes your pitch, tone, speed, and pacing. Also pay attention to the use of any verbal tics, such as the frequent use of "like", "um", "uh", "you know", and other "filler words".
My most important piece of advice is to seek feedback, and then work on any areas that need improvement.
Tip #3: Pay attention to your nonverbal communication
This includes important aspects such as your eye contact, posture, and any nervous tics (pen tapping, hair twirling, arm shaking, etc.). Again, the most important piece of advice I can provide here is to obtain feedback and work on any areas of weakness.
This post on non-verbal communication and body language during interviews has more information.
Tip #4: Put your best virtual self forward
What is your virtual self? That's the "self" that others see when they're interacting with you in a virtual setting.
We actually have very little data on the biases that may be introduced by your virtual self.
By this, I mean that we don’t know what aspects of your virtual self might lead to snap judgments.
In real life, we have an extensive body of research showing that people often make snap judgments within the first 30 seconds of meeting you. These snap judgements can then influence their impressions of your subsequent interview responses. These snap judgments may be made on the basis of your attire, grooming, smile, handshake, and more.
How does that translate to the virtual environment? It’s really hard to say with any certainty. My belief is that impressions of your virtual self will encompass your clothing, lighting, background, and perhaps other aspects. (You might hear from test makers that your graders are trained to look past these other factors, but these are such instinctual responses that I think it would take extensive training to undo