The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as the Interim Coordinator, Preparation for Ministry/Exams for Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.
“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry/Examinations of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.
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Today the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) announced modifications to its plan for increasing the opportunities provided to candidates for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to take the standard ordination examinations. I have provided the full text of the PCC's announcement below, but first let me highlight the following points:
Here is the full text of the official PCC announcement:
PCC Changes Plans for Increasing Availability of Ordination Exams
During its recent annual meeting, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) modified its plan for increasing the opportunities provided to candidates to take the standard ordination examinations. The decision was reached based on feedback received from readers, presbyteries, and seminaries to a plan for “flexible” examination dates previously announced in the fall of 2011, and from the PCC’s own work over the past 18 months to develop a model that maintains the integrity of the examinations process.
Beginning with the introduction of an Internet-administered Bible Content Examination in October 2009, the PCC and General Assembly support staff have been engaged in a multi-year effort to move all examination areas to online systems. The goals have been primarily to increase efficiencies in the exam system for inquirers and candidates and their presbyteries in terms of providing results in a timely manner while also bringing costs to a manageable and sustainable level. In September 2011 the PCC announced that achieving those goals would involve both taking tests over the Internet and moving readers’ evaluation of exams online.
The online administration, evaluation, and reporting of results will be fully in place beginning with the tests to be given this August. Without the need to gather readers at particular locations at specific times so that they could share access to paper exams, the PCC has been working on changes that would address another major inefficiency of the exams within the broader preparation for ministry process—the fact that the exams are only offered twice a year. Candidates must wait approximately six months to retake any examinations that receive “unsatisfactory” evaluations.
The PCC’s initial plan called for moving to a system in the second half of 2014 where readers would be trained to evaluate the exams that could then be given on schedules established by the testing sites or candidates working with special proctors. Candidates would have been permitted to retake each examination area once within each twelve-month exam cycle, but a presbytery could authorize the retake at any point once it was satisfied the candidate was prepared to make another attempt.
There were concerns, both within the PCC and with its partners in the examination process, that too much information about the specific content of the examinations would become widely known over the course of a yearlong exam cycle, creating a considerable advantage to candidates who took the tests later. The PCC explored a number of options for increasing the variety of questions within a given exam and randomizing the assignment of questions to each candidate. In the end the PCC could not find consensus regarding a structure for on-demand exams that they believed maintained the integrity of the contribution the exams make to the overall discernment and preparation process.
So instead of “flexible” exam scheduling, the PCC will move to a quarterly schedule for administration of the Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Theology, and Worship and Sacraments exams. Beginning with the last week of July 2014, those exams will be offered four times a year in the final weeks of January, April, July, and October. Readers will evaluate these exams the first week of February, May, August, and November. Results will be released approximately ten days after submission of the Exegesis exams.
The PCC recognizes that while a quarterly exam schedule has clear benefits for candidates and their presbyteries, it would double the responsibilities expected of testing sites. Therefore it plans to end the requirement that the Polity, Theology, and Worship exams be taken in proctored settings. In that regard these exams will follow the pattern used in the Exegesis exam for more than twenty years, although they will continue to have a three-hour time limit for completion. Responses in all four exam areas will be screened for plagiarism using computer technology to assure candidates submit their own work.
Because of the different nature and structure of the Bible Content Exam (BCE), it will continue to be offered only twice a year and only in proctored test settings. Since it is designed to be taken early in the preparation process to assist in biblical studies course selection during seminary, it should not pose the same timing difficulties as the other four exams that are intended to be taken near the end of the preparation for ministry process to assess readiness to begin ministry.
The PCC believes that quarterly scheduling of the Exegesis, Polity, Theology, and Worship tests offers advantages to all those engaged with the standard ordination exams. For candidates and their presbyteries it meets the need for greatly reducing delays in retaking exam areas because of scheduling issues. It will aid reader preparation and clarify their time commitments for reading exams because they will only be evaluating exams during specific periods rather than throughout the year. Requiring only the BCE to be taken under a proctor’s supervision and maintaining its current twice-a-year schedule reduces the overall demands on testing sites.
There will be some changes required to the structure of the Exegesis, Polity, Theology, and Worship exams to make even this quarterly schedule workable. In order to avoid confusion during the upcoming August 2013 and January 2014 examinations (which will continue in the current pattern of administration), the PCC plans to release more details about those changes in February 2014. That will still provide candidates five months to prepare for those changes before the first of the new quarterly administrations is offered at the end of July 2014.