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A Guide to CASPer
What is CASPer?
Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer) is a situational judgement test used by medical schools to assess your “real-world” problem solving skills in social situations. Various medical schools across Canada like Alberta, uOttawa, McGill, McMaster, Montreal, Dalhousie and increasingly in the US require CASPer as part of admission requirements. CASPer is taken online through your own computer over a 90 minute session that consists of 12 “stations,” in each you will have 5 minutes to answer 3 questions related to a preceding ~1 minute video or a text-based prompt. There are 8 video-based stations and 4 text-based stations. At the end of each 5 minute station, the next station will automatically progress with no option to return to a previous station. It will move on without you!
The videos consist of brief everyday social conflicts played by actors, where you will have to pay close attention to all of the participants, their dialogue, as well as your assumed role in the scenario. These videos are short and can be dense with names and information so pay close attention! The nature of these scenarios are NOT MEDICAL. CASPer is also used for admissions in pharmacy, dental, nursing, and veterinarian schools across the world. Scenarios generally consist of everyday situations and issues commonly observed in the workplace, social gatherings, or school. Some common themes include issues with team project cooperation, superior/subordinate conflicts, cheating/dishonesty, bending the rules, and taking responsibility as a leader.
Among the 3 questions, the first is generally directly related to the situation, for example:
- How would you handle the situation given your role?
- What do you see as the main issue here?
- What is your primary responsibility here?
The latter 2 questions typically ask tangentially-related follow-up questions:
- How would your decision change if “X” was different in the scenario?
- How is this [insert core theme] relevant to the situation?
- Tell me a time where you showed [insert core theme related to the scenario]
- Suppose “Person 1” told you [insert new information], how does the issue change?
The text-based “stations” are short 1 sentence prompts shown for 30 seconds that largely entail a personal or reflective statement for you to use in answering the following 3 questions. Here, there are no actors or hypothetical scenarios; you need to draw on your own experiences and perspectives to answer the prompt. The 3 questions are generally the same as before. Some examples include:
- Think of a time where you had to make a difficult decision.
- Think of a time where you disagreed with a superior.
- Think of a time where you had to make a sacrifice.
- Think of a time where you lead a project.
- Think of a time where you showed creativity.
- Think of a time where you felt uncertain.
Unlike the MCAT, which is valid for up to 5 years, you must write CASPer during every application cycle. When registering for CASPer, be sure to pay attention to the deadline requirements for the schools you are applying to. Historically, Dalhousie has an earlier CASPer deadline than other schools in Canada, so check the dates for each cycle on their website. On the CASPer website, be sure to also pay attention and register for the proper CASPer test day. Although it is all taken online in the comfort of your home, CASPer test days for nursing, dental, pharmacy, and medical programs differ, and also differ by country. Ensure that you register for the CASPer in the proper language, as the uOttawa French medicine stream and University of Montreal only accept a French CASPer, while the other schools in Canada (including McGill) require English. This means that you may need to write both the English and French CASper if you wanted to apply to McGill and French uOttawa for example.
Registering for CASPer costs $40 USD, and costs an extra $10 USD for each school that you are releasing your score to. OMSAS (uOttawa & McMaster) count as 1 released score. When registering for CASPer, you must also provide your application ID of each respective school you are applying to in order to ensure that the school receives your score. This means that you need to have your med application portal at each school (or OMSAS) set up with the respective application ID before you register for CASPer.
Preparing for CASPer
There is greater variation in how people approach CASPer prep & strategy than the MCAT. Many people take different approaches to preparing (or not preparing) for CASPer. Some people believe that there is no way to prepare for a situational judgement test like this, some people register for the test a few days in advance with no prep at all, while others register 2 months in advance, purchase 3rd party prep courses/consultation services, and heavily prepare. What follows are some general principles that you can follow to improve your outcome, even if you believe that “there is no way to prep for something like this”. You don’t need to set aside 2 months to prepare for CASPer, nor should you leave a week’s time to prepare. For most applicants somewhere between 2-4 weeks prep is more than enough. As mentioned before, there are NO medical scenarios on CASPer. Thus, pre-reading or having a foundational knowledge of specific medical ethics or issues is not necessary at this point and time in your journey. However, there are other ways you can prepare yourself for CASPer.
For both video & personal text-based questions, your first question will largely involve you needing to summarize the issue or your experience in a clear and concise manner and show your understanding of the factors at play. It can be very helpful to have a general structure to adhere to for the sake of efficiency and to ensure you don’t omit important information. Naturally, everyone has their own style of writing and answering questions, but a broad framework should be followed. With only 5 minutes to answer 3 questions, you may only be able to allocate 5, 5, and 4 sentences to each question on average! The assessors are aware of this and thus being strategic and systematic is key. This commonly used framework ensures that you address the following with each question:
- Problem: Explicitly state the problem to show that you understand the conflict at hand
- Perspectives: Show your understanding of the key stakeholders or parties by summarizing their perspectives, goals, and roles
- Options: Entertain the possible options at hand, and their benefits/consequences. It’s important that you show that you have come up with more than 1 option.
- Decision: Formulate a decision and describe the factors that lead you to it. It is more important to show self-awareness of your decision-making process than to have a perfect answer without due process.
Generally, you can assign 1-2 sentences to each of these points, and you will have a strong opening answer to each station. From there, adapt essential points and formulate arguments as needed into the follow-up questions. Keep in mind that you have a lot of personal liberty in your prose to answer these questions; however, ensure that which ever way you decide to approach it, you should address these 4 facets.
Some key “rules of thumb” or principles to stick by:
- It is always safer to not make sweeping assumptions! It shows a lack of nuance and understanding to the assessor. If you must assume something, be explicit in saying that “assuming….”
- There is usually no clear-cut option that will satisfy everyone and that is ok. What is more important is that you show the assessor that you’re aware of that fact and work with it.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help! If you can involve other hypothetical teammates, coworkers, or colleagues in how you resolve a scenario, by all means go for it.
- This goes without being said, but there are pros and cons to everything. Everyone knows this but the assessor will not know that you know this unless you say so!
- When describing a personal experience, spare the fluff, extraneous details, and verbose language. You don’t have time for this so get to the point, quickly summarize the setting and stakeholders, and proceed with your actions and decision-making process as usual.
For all of the personal reflective text-based stations, as well as some of the tangential questions found in the video stations, you are expected to draw on prior experiences and present them in a clear, relevant, and concise manner. This means that over ⅓ of the test relies on your own experiences! Therefore, it is highly important that a part of your CASPer prep focus on personal reflection and self-insight. Take time to reflect, recall, and solidify key experiences in your life that you can draw on that suit various overlapping themes so you can save precious typing time, improve efficiency, clarify and minimize thinking time.
Broad themes you should be able to address with an experience could include:
Leadership / Initiative, Conflict resolution, Difficult decision making, Overcoming challenges/failure, Integrity / Professionalism, Communication skills, Etc...
Again, you can have an experience to draw on that encompasses multiple themes, and you can emphasize parts accordingly.
There are many 3rd party companies out there soliciting their CASPer prep courses, practice tests, personal consulting/coaching, and other services, but rest assured that just like the MCAT services, they are not necessary for success. You can be successful all on your own without having to pay for these services. CASPer “practice” is largely an exercise of honing your time-pressured interpretation of a scenario and delivery of your personal framework given the constraints imposed by the test structure. For this reason, timed practice is key to familiarize and simulate the environment of the test. The official CASPer website offers a few non-timed example prompts, videos, and questions, as well as a full-replication CASPer simulated test. Naturally, you should try these closer to the test day for a higher yield simulation. 3rd party companies offer “practice CASPer tests” among other services which you can buy but are by no means necessary for success. You can practice the typing delivery of your framework by answering “traditional interview questions” that ask about personal experiences or “MMI-style questions” that revolve around non-medical hypothetical scenarios under a timed environment with a first-time exposure to the question. There are many resources or question banks of both traditional and MMI-style questions out there all available for free; Reddit is also a good source. “Jerry-rigging” your own CASPer stations is a completely viable way of acquainting yourself to this format early on. Lastly and frankly, it is clear that given the format of the test, there is an advantage given to those who can type faster as you can deliver a more thorough answer given the time constraint. Thus, you can try and work on improving your typing speed and comfort through various typing exercises online but in general this is really only recommended if you are a slower typer (<50WPM). After a high enough WPM (ex: 80 WPM), the returns are diminishing and instead one should focus on honing the clarity and quality of their answers. Deliberate language is more potent than extensive language.
Your CASPer score is not pass/fail and is graded on a percentile basis against the cohorts of people that have answered the same question. Medical schools then receive your percentile scores for each station as well as the total test score. They can even access your individual responses verbatim should they require; however, it is unlikely. While the company keeps their specific scoring metrics a secret, there are a few things we do know in how it is graded per the official CASPer website. For the sake of removing outliers on both ends of the spectrum for a score more “representative” of the applicant, your best AND worst ranked stations are removed, allowing you leeway in case you get flustered or bomb a station. To reduce biases between stations and assessors, each station of 3 questions is marked by an entirely different assessor and is anonymized! This further supports the strengths of adhering to a framework to achieve a consistent result. Spelling or grammar mistakes do NOT impact your score as stated by the official CASPer website, so it is often more important to save time than to correct minor errors (so long as it is still legible & coherent). Applicants are largely forever in the dark about their CASPer performance with the exception of McGill, which if requested will disclose your CASPer performance as a ranking of received applications (ex: 50th place out of 800 applicants at McGill). They will only disclose this information if you request it AND if you were rejected in the cycle, thus it could be a useful metric for reapplicants to reassess their next application, albeit an indirect CASPer metric as it is not necessarily the exact score CASPer discloses to the school.
Tips on Test Day
- A few days before your testing date, be sure to run the online CASPer System Requirements Check to ensure that there are no bugs, kinks, or tech issues with your computer
- CASPer uses your webcam audio feed as an anti-cheating measure throughout the 90min test, thus, you need to “allow permissions” when your webpage prompts for access
- If you live with other people, let them know on your test day not to disturb you! (I had a roommate barge in without knowing because I didn’t warn him, you’re still on camera!)
- For the 30s text-based prompts, use ALL the time you have as a “break” to clear your mind and to reflect on an appropriate experience, so you hit the ground running. Don’t just jump into the questions with spare time, you want to avoid wasting precious typing time on thinking.
- You can type in full sentences or point form, and the assessors have been instructed to not deduct marks for spelling errors so long as it’s intelligible and coherent. That being said, avoid spelling so poorly that you have to retype to achieve coherence.
- Save time! Use simple language, don’t bother with frivolous or extraneous language as it does not advance your arguments any further.
- You WILL be short on time, 5 mins is NOT a lot of time and it will move on automatically without you. This is a jarring transition and don’t get phased if you have a rough station. Forget it and move on. Remember each station is independently graded so you start fresh every time.
- Useful Hotkey: Ctrl + backspace: efficient whole-word backspacing per key press, saves you time if you really must delete something
- Useful Hotkey: Ctrl + (arrow-key left or right): efficient navigation, jumps entire words per key press. Did you forget to type the word “and”, “or”, “the”, or “a” between few words back? You can jump to that space very quickly if you really must add it.
Preparing Your Application
At the time of writing, COVID-19 has been continually affecting the specific application timelines, MCAT eligibility dates, grading criteria of individual schools. Check OMSAS or the respective school websites for the most exact and up to date timelines, dates, and application criteria as they may continue to change.
General Canadian Timeline
Application Portals Open:
- OMSAS / uAlberta/ uCalgary / uSask: Early July
- UBC, Dalhousie, Memorial: Mid-June
- Manitoba: August
- McGill: Early September
Last MCAT dates of the cycle:
- Mid-Sept (Note: this may be different for the 2020-2021 cycle with COVID-19 rescheduling and extensions of MCAT dates, and keep in mind that if you write with less than a month to application deadlines, you won’t know your score when applying; however, you can still apply)
- UBC: August 31 is last accepted test date
- Memorial: August 29 is last accepted test date
- Dalhousie: September 5 is last accepted test date
- As of the time of writing, other schools have not released their last accepted MCAT dates
Last CASPer dates of the cycle
- Non-Dalhousie/Memorial: Mid-October
- Dalhousie: Late Aug
- Memorial: Mid to Late August
- All other schools: Early October (usually first few days)
- UBC: August 4 (early applications), September 15 (normal applications)
- McGill: Early November (usually first few days)
- Dalhousie, Memorial: Sept 2
Referee Forms Due:
- OMSAS: Early December (usually first few days)
- uCalgary: Early October
- Memorial: Early September
- Dalhousie, Memorial: October
- UBC: Early December
- All other schools: Late January-Early February
- Dalhousie, Memorial: Mid-November
- All other schools: Late Feb-Late March
- All other schools: Mid-May
- McGill & Dalhousie: Mid-March
Misc Administrative Tasks (Pay deposit, send in final transcript, etc)
- Early to Late June
A General Approach to Preparing Your Application
It is very important to be mindful of timeline and workload when preparing your application. Preparing your application for medical school is more time-consuming than most people realize, leading to a lot of last-minute scrambling to get all affairs in order (CV, verifiers, referees, essays, etc). This is further compounded by the number of schools you intend to apply to, as navigating each school’s application system to meet their specific formats, essays, and CV can be very tedious. Some applicants are also concurrently writing the MCAT and/or working full-time and/or enjoying their summer the year of the application cycle, and this is something to be mindful of. Given the later application start of OMSAS and most other schools, writing the MCAT in the same cycle is entirely possible. With that being said, there are a lot of things you can do to help ease your workload and ensure a quality application.
Before the Application Cycle - Getting Organized
Even if you’re just in 1st year, there are some things you can do to ease your application burden. Organization is key, so before applying, do your research into what schools you would want to apply to, what requirements they have so you can plan accordingly. What provinces/schools would I consider? How many years do they need before applying? Are there prerequisites or mandatory course loads? Do they need the MCAT and/or CASPer? How is their GPA weighted and are you eligible for favourable calculations? Do they offer preferential considerations for in-province applicants? If I’m OOP what are some GPA/MCAT goals I should strive for? How does money fit into applying to my schools of choice and their MCAT/CASPer requirements? What special application streams/considerations are available, and do they pertain to me (ex: Indigenous, Black, low-SES, significant circumstance applicants)? It is ideal to have a plan and list of schools you are able to strive for.
Another tip for organization is to continually update your personal resume/CV/LinkedIn that you’ve been using for job/coop/research purposes as you progress through undergrad. Throughout our undergrads and everyday lives, we participate in so many things that we end up forgetting a lot of what we’ve lived! Many people forget about activities like volunteering experiences, creative projects, sports activities, unique skills, summer jobs, and even scholarships from 1st year by the time they’re applying! It is ideal to keep records so that when it comes time to prepare an application, you have most of everything you’ve done written down and you don’t have to do as much digging. You don’t have to have OMSAS formatted entries or descriptions or even verifiers ready at this point, just have an idea of what you’ve done so you don’t forget. If you leave this to the last minute you will be VERY surprised how long this actually takes! There is a reason why US MD applicants are often encouraged to start a whole year in advance! Fortunately, we don’t have it as bad as our CV entries are shorter and we have less essays to write.
OMSAS allows for up to 36 CV entries for their personal sketch, and other schools have their own CV formats with similar allowable entries, and this may be an intimidating number. Many applicants ask how they’re able to fill all of those out. Rest assured that it is by no means expected that a strong applicant must fill everything. Quality always trumps quantity if you can clearly convey the value of your experiences. However, when you continually record what you’ve accomplished, many applicants are surprised with themselves when they see that they are able to fill out many meaningful entries; just that they had completely forgotten that they did them in the first place. In general, classify each entry into education, employment, extracurriculars/hobbies, research, awards, and other (personal experiences). A few tips on what you can include:
- Employment: No job is “too irrelevant” or “too low-level” to include in your application if you show the skills you’ve learned! Schools look for well-rounded applicants with lived experiences, so your first job at 16 as a high-school tutor could be included to describe your teaching skills, or your first job in fast food could be included to describe your learned experiences in customer relations.
- Extracurriculars - Sports: You don’t have to be a national-level athlete to list a sport, you can list something as simple as intramurals or personal fitness as a hobby so long as it is meaningful to you and you convey it well.
- Research: Even if you don’t have a publication (many undergrads don’t!), you can list anything tangible to come out of your research, including but not limited to conference abstracts, poster presentations, grants, and manuscripts under review. It is always a good thing to show that your work has manifested into something!
Start of the Application Cycle - CV, References, and Essays
With a rough list of what you’ve done, now it is time to formally prepare the administrative details of each activity (title of activity, dates, duration/time spent, address, institution/organization name, verifier contact info) and prepare a description of what you did for each. Being mindful of the schools you are applying to and their CV format, prepare a description of each activity adhering to their character requirements. Some CV description limits are short (OMSAS = 150 characters), while some are longer (UBC = 300 characters), while some have other additional caveats to allow for further elaboration (uCalgary top 10 experiences = 1000 chars each, Western extended ABS = 2400 chars each). Especially for the shorter formats, being concise is key. Keep the fluff to a minimum and keep your roles and accomplishments clear and tangible. You want to ensure that the core description comes across as concrete and non-abstract as possible. For longer entries where you’re expected to flesh out your description, then you have the room to include things like situational anecdotes, challenges you have overcome, what you learned, what traits you exemplified, etc.
As you compile and prepare your many CV entries, ensure that you have a clear-cut verifier for each. It can be an administrative burden to reach out to all of your verifiers, but it is important to ensure that their contact information is correct and that they know you are using them. Some schools either contact by email and some schools contact by phone so ensure your verifiers are not caught by surprise. Generally, most schools that require references ask for 3 people. It is generally recommended for applicants to have 1 academic and 1 non-academic reference, with the other one being at your discretion. Regardless of who you choose, ask them early on to give them time in advance to write a letter or prepare concrete information to say about you. Most schools in Canada have transitioned away from explicit letters of references and instead have opted to use email standardized forms that include survey scoring elements and short-answer questions. Rather than have to worry about your references sending their letters in on time, the school will contact them and provide a deadline of which the form must be completed. In researching what schools you are applying to, check whether or not they need references and what format that entails to give your referees a heads up.
Lastly as an administrative point, be sure to look into the transcript deadlines for initial application & GPA verification. If you are applying OOP, you typically have to arrange for your school to send an official transcript with seal via mail to the specific admissions office address by a certain deadline and at your own expense. This cost can add up if you have to send a transcript to UBC, Calgary, and Manitoba as an Ontario applicant for example.
School-Specific Tips & Nuances
Ontario Medical Schools Application System (OMSAS)
OMSAS is the aggregated application system for all Ontario schools, and allows the applicants to fill out 1 CV format to cover all of these schools. The shortest CV format of any system in Canada, you are only allowed 150 characters to describe each entry. For this reason, brevity is everything. OMSAS is also the system where you enter school specific application information like Toronto’s essays, or Western’s extended ABS.
The OMSAS referee forms will ask your references the following:
- Would this applicant make a good physician?
- Rate the applicant on each of the following attributes:Communication skills, Problem-solving skills, Professionalism (e.g., commitment to ethical practice, standards of behaviour and accountability to others), Empathy (e.g., demonstrating consideration of others’ perspectives)
- Identify and comment on 1 area of improvement for the applicant
- Share any other information you feel may be relevant to a medical school’s admission committee
University of Toronto - Essays
The University of Toronto expects applicants to complete Brief Personal Essays as one of the non-academic components of the application for their medical program. These essays are:
- Brief (250 words max each);
- Personal (reflective of personal thoughts and reasoning);
- Should reflect qualities in the four non-academic competency clusters, from the CanMEDS competency framework :
- Professional (maturity, reliability, perseverance, and responsibility)
- Communicator/collaborator/manager (communication, collaboration, teamwork, time management, and leadership)
- Advocate (advocacy, community service, and social responsibility)
- Scholar (academic standing, achievements in leadership, research and social responsibility as demonstrated by, but not limited to, awards, conference presentations, publications, and scholarships)
The essays are assessed in the following ways:
- Does the response answer the question being asked?
- Is the response clear and do we understand the argument?
- Is the writing style concise?
- Is the applicant able to personalize their response by providing examples?
- Will the individuals reviewing the essay responses be able to identify these clusters in our responses?
Recommendations to prepare your essays
While each applicant will approach the essay prompts in different ways, we recommend that you spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the prompt and asking what the prompt is specifically asking you to answer. One of the most common pitfalls of applicants during the application cycle is not answering the question asked by the prompt. It is therefore important to spend an appropriate amount of time thinking critically, brainstorming, and exploring what the prompt is asking you to complete.
Another common pitfall is not clearly communicating the CanMEDS qualities in your personal essay. What we recommend in this respect is to imagine yourself as someone who is reading your application with these criteria in mind. After reading your own personal essays, would you be able to directly and clearly pick out which CanMEDS qualities you sought to communicate? If you were to give your personal essays to a friend, or family member outside of medicine, and gave the CanMEDS criterion, would they be able to identify which qualities you sought to communicate? Clear personal essays make it easy for the reader to identify what you are saying, and to confirm that these criteria have been shown.
Oftentimes, applicants might feel pressured to present stereotypically “professional”, or “out of the ordinary” experiences. In our perspective, the uniqueness of the experience matters less than your ability to communicate the lessons from the experience. The Admissions department is quite aware of the numerous structural barriers preventing most applicants from accessing “out of the ordinary” opportunities, such as prestigious opportunities abroad. While these experiences are certainly impressive, the critical value to capture here is the depth, and applicability of the experience to the CanMEDS qualities. Writing about your experiences as a camp counsellor, or taking care of your mother, or family member, or working at Wonderland, can be described in an equally, if not more reflective, and compelling way, than someone’s summer research internship at a Harvard basic science lab. Focus on the lessons, and be confident that your experiences place you in a position where you can add to the profession.
One way to consistently communicate your reflections is by using the STAR(R) method, adapted from the field of Behavioural-based interviewing :
- Situation: when/where- set the scene
- Task- the goal, aim, or challenge
- Action- what you did, what was your role
- Result- what was the outcome
- Reflection- what did I learn
Following this kind of structure can save you from yourself, particularly when you feel motivated to continue writing about the Situation, Task, and Action, instead of discussing the Results, and more importantly, the Reflection. Treat this as a kind of written “thought package” to communicate a reflection at the end of every situation. At the beginning, it may not sound “artsy”, or have a lot of “flair”, but it will be clear, and that is what matters. You can work on the polish with time.
Western University - Abbreviated Autobiographical Sketch
On top of the standard OMSAS ABS, Western expects applicants to complete an extended version elaborating on their experiences similar to an essay format. A minimum of 4, and maximum of 8 “essays” are to be written highlighting one’s personal experiences to the following 4 core values:
- teamwork and leadership
- respect for diversity, equity and inclusion,
- social accountability and social responsibility, and
- self-directed learning, problem-solving and critical inquiry.
According to Western, a strong applicant is expected to write 2 “essays” up to 2400 characters each for each of these values. This is where one can take a similar approach to Calgary’s Top 10 Experiences, or the US AMCAS applications to describe their personal experiences in detail and how they relate. Western uniquely allows for a high volume of text for these experiences not found with any other university in Canada and thus you can go into much more detail than you normally could, but be cautious not to add too much fluff or verbose language. As always being concise and to the point mitigates reviewer fatigue and will be much better received.
University of Calgary - Top 10 Experiences
One of the unique aspects of the U of C application is the Top 10 Experiences section. This is their way of learning what events, experiences or skills have made you into the person you are, and in turn why you would make an amazing physician. These top 10 experiences do not need to be extravagant or impressive. On the contrary, what makes this section impressive is writing that shows self-reflection and growth. Here are our tips…
Pick experiences that truly made an impact on you, not experiences that seem impressive. Writing about how your job at a fast food restaurant helped to develop important life skills and lessons that you will carry with you for the rest of your life is infinitely more impressive than writing about some volunteer work that you found boring and unfulfilling, but that you did anyways because you thought it would look good on your application. This section is about personal growth and self-development, not prestige.
Keep your description of the experience brief - focus on how you have grown or learned from it. Application reviewers are not interested in the step by step instruction manual on how you completed your research project. They want to learn how an experience has impacted you. So, keep the description brief and expand on the effects it had on you going forward.
Show evidence of self-reflection. Self-reflection is an imperative skill for a physician to have. Demonstrate to the reviewers that you know how to take the time to ponder an experience and learn from it without external prompting. When you tell them about how you climbed Mount Everest, focus more on showing them all that you learned about yourself on that long ascent, and less about how far you could see at the top. How did you get there? Did you make mistakes along the way? How did you avoid making those same mistakes again later?
Be yourself Corny as it sounds, the only way you can guarantee that your application will stand out is if it is as unique as you are. Let your application touch on all the different aspects of who you are and why you are that way. The Top 10 Experiences are a beautiful way to showcase individuality, so use that to your advantage!
University of Alberta
You will need to fill out 2 separate applications for U of A. The first is a general application that anyone applying to the university fills out. It includes basic demographic information and not your grades or CV. Once you complete this section, you will be prompted to start the Medicine Application.
This is where you are asked to list personal activities organized into the following categories: employment, awards, leadership roles, volunteer work, and diversity of experience. For these sections, they want you to keep it brief. We know this because the character count is very small, allowing you to write maybe 2-3 sentences about each experience. Use these sentences wisely, by briefly describing your responsibilities in a way that highlights what skills you have gained from each entry that will make you a good doctor. Remember, you don’t need to spell it out to them (i.e. and that is why I will make a good doctor); instead focus on using those precious characters to paint a picture of what you have done. You will need a verifier for each entry you make to the personal activities section, so make sure you choose someone who can actually speak to your role in whatever that activity was. It is also recommended that you let your verifiers know that you are giving their contact information to the U of A so that they can expect their call and have time to collect their thoughts regarding said activity.
Finally, you will be asked one long answer question that will allow you to go deeper in your answer. This is your chance to stand out from the rest of the applications through your unique life experiences, personality, and skilled self-reflection. It is always a good idea to have someone read and edit your long answers to make sure that grammar isn’t a deterrent when a reviewer is reading your application.
University of British Columbia
Academic Record and MCAT
Overall academic average is calculated based on all university transferable courses including summer and graduate level courses. An adjusted academic average is also calculated for some applicants where the academic year with the lowest GPA, at most 30 credits representing the worst scores of that year, are excluded from the academic average calculation. The adjusted academic average is only calculated and used for applicants who have at least 90 credits with grades by June 1st of the application year.
The minimum MCAT score required for applying is a score of 124 in all sections on one exam. The best MCAT score will be considered if you have written the exam more than once. Given the minimum scores are met, the scores are only taken into account post-interview.
There are five categories in the Non-academic Activities section:
- Leadership – 3 entries
- Service Ethics – 3 entries
- Capacity to Work with Others – 5 entries
- Diversity of experiences – 10 entries
- High performance in an Area of Human Endeavour – 3 entries
There is some flexibility in deciding which category best fits your activities given there is often overlap especially between leadership, service ethics and capacity to work with others. Read the definitions for each category provided by UBC in the Application Help Guide and select as best you can. If you have reached the maximum number of entries in a given category and there is an activity that you believe really demonstrates your preparedness for a career in medicine, try to place it in another category and emphasize aspects of the activity that better fits that category. The Diversity of Experiences category has a broad definition so try to make the best of it. Think outside the box, anything and everything that highlights you as a person and your potential for a career in medicine may go here. This includes hobbies, travel, sports, self-taught skills, significant life experiences/adversities and even research if it did not fit neatly into any other category. Lastly, High Performance in an Area of Human Endeavour category is a tough one. This category is for high performance within the last 6 years that involves ranking by an official organization (i.e. the Olympics, national level competitions). Don’t worry if none of your activities fall under this as that is the case for most students.
There is a 350-character limit for activity descriptions. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate how your values and abilities align with the qualities that the faculty of medicine is looking for (i.e. CANMEDS). Describe what you did, provide context and the impact of the activity on others or even yourself. If possible, always quantify and provide specific details to paint a picture for the reader (i.e. led a ‘group of 10 students’ instead of a ‘large group’). Start writing early so you can revise and get feedback from family, friends and your verifiers. There are also sections for Employment History, Research and Awards that contribute to your non-academic qualities score. If you had a paid co-op position in research, this would go under employment rather than Research. The Research section only allows publications and presentations to be included. If you have research experiences where there were no presentations or publications, this could be included in the Diversity of Experiences category or another category as appropriate within the Non-Academic Activities section.
Verifiers who can confirm the dates, hours, description and other details must be included for extracurriculars and any employment. Activity supervisors are best as opposed to co-workers/colleagues. Family members or friends may be used as a last resort if there are no other appropriate verifiers (i.e. personal hobbies, self-taught skills). Before submitting the application, share the activity description and hours you have included with the verifiers to make sure that they are in agreement with what you have put down.
Memorial University reserves seats for select populations. The distribution of the class population is: 71% from Newfoundland and Labrador, 12% from New Brunswick, 5% from Prince Edward Island, 6% from the rest of Canada or International, and 4% of the seats are reserved for those of Indigenous descent. As such, applicants will need to identify their correct stream prior to applying. This information is easily obtained on the Memorial’s admissions website. The level of competition in each stream varies per year, but the “Other Canadian Provinces…” stream is noted to have the highest level of competition.
Academic Record and MCAT
Applicants will require a bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or university college prior to admission. An applicant may be exempt from this requirement if they completed at least 60 credit hours from a recognized university or university college, and is an overall exemplary candidate. In essence, this type candidate would have outstanding academic results, and a highly diversified autobiographical sketch.
Memorial does not require a minimum average requirement. However, they note that students will need to demonstrate the academic ability necessary to manage the medical school curriculum. Memorial published that their average applicant’s GPA is approximately 85%. However, this is dependent on the competition of the stream. Typically, students require a higher average if they are applying in the “OOP” pool to obtain an interview.
Similarly, Memorial does not require a minimum MCAT score. They indicated that average matriculant application scores range between 125-128 per each section. However “OOP” applicants may require a higher score to obtain an interview. Memorial considers all MCAT scores written within 6 years of the application.
Two professional reference letters are required, with at least one reference coming from an academic source. An academic referee could be professors, graduate teaching assistants, or even co-op supervisors. A non-academic referee could be a volunteer or work supervisor or post-secondary coach. No personal references are allowed. Please see Memorial’s admission webpage for more detailed information.
Personal Qualities and Casper
There is an autobiographical sketch section that allows applicants to briefly describe their work, volunteer, research, and extracurricular endeavors. This is essentially a more detailed CV. If an applicant feels disadvantaged, or had less opportunities to engage in traditional endeavors, they can describe such factors in this section. Overall, the admissions committee strongly values consistency of experiences, and a “demonstrated altruistic commitment to be involved with and contributing to their community”.
This section also includes a few essay styles questions. These essay questions often inquire about your personal characteristics and thoughts. For instances, you may be asked to discuss how you spend your time, or your interest in medicine. These essays provide applicants an excellent opportunity to express how their qualities align with the CanMEDs competencies. Carefully evaluate each prompt, and identify the underlying theme of the question. Then, answer the prompt in a clear, concise manner. The character count for these essays is relatively short, so brevity is essential to maximizing your impact in this section.
Casper will be required for the upcoming 2020-2021 application cycle. Please refer to the Casper section for more details about this online examination process.
Memorial does not publish the weight of each section; however, they stress that each file is reviewed in a holistic manner. For more information, please visit Memorial University Faculty of Medicines home page.