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How McMaster University’s Nursing Program is Using CASPer®

CASPer® was developed and first implemented at the School of Medicine at McMaster University in 2010. Since then, its use has been extended to McMaster’s Bachelor of Nursing program, which is a collaborative program comprised of three sites: McMaster University, Mohawk College and Conestoga College.

At the 2016 Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) conference, Tracey Jewiss, MSN, an assistant professor at McMaster’s School of Nursing, presented the program’s experience with implementing CASPer and its impact on admissions.

Below, we present a summary of highlights from her presentation.

Why CASPer
McMaster’s Bachelor of Nursing programs are highly competitive. The programs receive about 1,500 applicants each year, and enrollment is limited. The programs’ admissions average continues to grow higher, rising from 87% in 2009 to 92% in 2015.

The primary goal of admissions is to select the “right” applicants, “who honour and display the characteristics and qualities of a nurse who would have these practice-to-entry competencies as defined by the CNO (College of Nurses of Ontario)”, said Jewiss in her presentation.

For Jewiss and her team, a key indication that CASPer would be beneficial was the concern they so often heard from prospective applicants and their parents.

“They’d come up to us and say ‘What’s the admission average?’ and we’d say ‘91 or 92’ and they’d have this crestfallen face,” Jewiss said. Those with lower but still very high averages — 86 to 88 — would want to know if the team would consider anything else, such as volunteer work. “We’d have to say no, we just base it on grades.”

Development of CASPer for McMaster nursing
After CASPer was successfully implemented for McMaster medical school students, a unique version of the test was developed for specific use by the nursing program.

Developing the test involved faculty at all three sites to take part in numerous blueprinting exercises. The goal of these exercises was to determine which characteristics are essential to assess nursing applicants for.

Multiple surveys were sent to faculty members, and the initial combination of 55 characteristics was narrowed to approximately 12. Examples of characteristics in the final competencies include ethics, empathy, caring, communication, collaboration, resiliency, and advocacy.

CASPer application process
After completing applications for nursing on OUAC or OCAS, as in the past, McMaster nursing applicants are directed to take CASPer online. The test is offered on three different test dates, in the daytime, nighttime and weekend time slots, to ensure that students in different time zones or who work on weekends will be accommodated.

Students register on the CASPer website and provide government-approved identification. They then receive instructions for technical requirements, which include having a functional webcam. Applicants complete the online test during their pre-selected time slot.

How CASPer tests are evaluated
Test raters are assigned to evaluate a single scenario, so each total CASPer score is comprised of evaluations from approximately 12 independent raters. Raters can also “red flag” responses when needed, which are then sent to faculty and admissions for further review. Applicants to McMaster’s collaborative program were assessed on a combination of their CASPer score and their overall academic average from grade 12, with a minimum cut-off of 85%.

Student perceptions
The anecdotal information showed that students didn’t perceive CASPer’s fees ($40) as a burden, and didn’t feel that CASPer was cumbersome. Applicants and their parents were pleased that a criterion other than grades were used to assess applicants for admission. Data also showed that the number of applicants was consistent with previous years when CASPer was not required.

Future plans with CASPer
The next step for the McMaster nursing program is to support the anecdotal evidence with research data from a cohort study and a qualitative study. The purpose of the cohort study is to conduct an evaluation of CASPer to determine if it is an effective, predictive and efficient tool for assessing candidates to the undergraduate nursing program.

The purpose of the qualitative study is to assess the experiences of successful applicants to the Bachelor of Nursing program who completed CASPer. The study will ask applicants about their feelings prior to, during and after completion of CASPer, how they prepared for CASper and how they would rate their experience using CASPer during the admissions process.

The impact of CASPer
“We were very pleased this year to have many more applicants below the 92% cut-off of last year get accepted because their Altus Assessments CASPer score pulled them up,” said Ola Lunyk-Child, MScN, an assistant and teaching professor at McMaster’s School of Nursing.

“We were thrilled with those results. We will not know what that cohort looks like … [we will need to] follow them long-term, look at what their academic scores throughout the program are, and see whether our retention rates are similar to that 92% cut-off pool.”