The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in 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 of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 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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The Bible Content Examination (BCE) was administered today, and the results both in terms of the average score on the exams and the percentage of inquirers and candidates who met the minimum score (70%) required to “Satisfy” this requirement in the preparation for ministry process were below historical averages.
A total of 127 individuals took the BCE, and the average score was 63.5%, which is about 10-15% lower than historical trends. However, since that average score fell below the minimum requirement, only 36 people (28.3%) scored high enough to receive a “Satisfactory” evaluation on the exam. By way of comparison, for the 12 previous BCE administrations since the exam was moved online in Fall 2009 the average percentage of individuals who scored 70% or higher in a testing cycle was 81.7%.
So, what might explain such dramatically different results?
Prior to online BCE testing in 2009, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) had released all BCE questions after each testing cycle just as they do with the other exam areas. Unlike the other exam areas, however, the PCC also continued to use the questions even after they had been released. Historically about 80% of the questions in each test were repeated from previous exams, in part to gauge relative difficulty of the overall exam based on how difficult questions had proven to be in the past. The PCC has long been concerned that these practices, though necessary in the period of “paper testing” to provide useful information about the subject of missed questions, were creating a situation where inquirers and candidates were spending more preparation time with old tests than with the Bible itself and study aids that deal with the “form and content of the Bible” in terms of its “stories, themes and key passages” (as the purpose of the test has been set by the General Assembly).
A different form of results reporting from the online tests made it possible to provide useful information about areas that would benefit from further study without having to release the actual questions. So in 2009 the PCC announced (1) it would no longer release questions from the exams and (2) that it was working toward discontinuing the use of questions that had been publicly released prior to 2009. Following the BCE administration in February of this year, the PCC communicated to CPMs and seminaries that it was preparing to end the use of questions that had appeared on paper-based exams and were publicly available. The PCC also announced that it would be bringing back some “matching” and “ordering” format questions to augment “multiple choice” questions in the exam (a practice that had also been used in the early years of BCE administration).
What, then, was different about today’s BCE as compared to the previous 12 online tests:
Preparation materials related to the BCE have for the past several years advised inquirers and candidates to use publicly available exams from previous years (including the “practice BCE” that the PCC makes available in the same testing system used for the “official” exam) to help them identify portions of the scriptural canon with which they are less familiar so as to know on what parts of the Bible to focus their study. They advised against trying to memorize past questions in hopes of seeing “familiar questions” on the BCE. That approach to preparation is even more important now that all publicly available questions have been retired.
(This post was originally sent as an email message to all CPM moderators and theological institution contact persons.)