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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.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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March 21, 2018

Clarification of Evaluation Standards for the Standard Ordination Exams

At its annual meeting from March 5-10, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) sought to clarify for both examinees and readers the standards of evaluation for determining whether a particular exam submission satisfies the requirement of G-2.0607d in the respective area of examination (and, thus, receives a “Satisfactory” [S] evaluation). This clarification of the standards was in response to a pattern of increased reliance upon direct citation of source materials since the Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments exams joined the Bible Exegesis exam as “open book” tests in the second half of 2014. The new statement of evaluation standards is found on pages 93-94 of the now updated Handbook on Standard Ordination Examinations (release 2.5, March 2018; available for download from a link at http://www.pcusa.org/exams). It has also been incorporated into the Reader’s Handbook on Standard Ordination Examinations as well.

The previous explanation of the evaluation standards was presented in two points. The first of those points, “Does the response address all the elements required by the question?”, remains unchanged in both its statement and explanation. The second point, “Does the response demonstrate sufficient understanding of the issues presented and ability to convert that understanding into practical application in ministry as would be expected of someone beginning in the ministry of the Word and Sacrament?”, has been divided into separate points, each with further explanation of what is expected in a “Satisfactory” answer.

The second standard of evaluation now focuses specifically on understanding issues raised in the question: “Does the response demonstrate sufficient understanding of the issues presented in the case study that provides the basis for the questions?” The explanation of this standard clarifies readers will be looking for a “broader knowledge relevant to the situation than might be expected of a general church member or person in the broader community” and reflective of an individual who has received “graduate-level education in [the respective] subject area.”

The final point in the standards of evaluation expands on the concern for demonstration of an ability to make practical application of one’s theological education: “Does the response provide evidence of an ability to combine that understanding with personal gifts and experience in ministry into practical application such as would be expected of someone beginning in the ministry of the Word and Sacrament?” The PCC explains the concerns in this standard as focused on “an ability to respond in pastorally appropriate ways” to the situations raised in the questions. It goes on to state that merely “linking together citations … does not truly demonstrate [this] competency.” Rather, “satisfactory” responses must demonstrate “the ability to summarize, restate, explain, and apply in a ministry context [the candidate’s] preparation” through theological education and reflection on the question. Unless the question specifically calls for only listing or citing of resources, “the response should for the most part be the candidate’s words rather than those of sources.”

All those candidates registered to take the exams in April will receive direct notification about this clarification in the evaluation standards, and it will be incorporated in the training of all readers who will evaluate the upcoming exams.

The full text of the updated section is as follows:

Basic considerations

Just because the exams are not “standardized” does not mean, however, that the results are then completely “subjective.” The PCC policies developed for evaluating the exams emphasize three basic considerations.

1)    Does the response address all the elements required by the questions?

2)    Does the response demonstrate sufficient understanding of the issues presented in the exam that provides the basis for the questions?

3)    Does the response provide evidence of an ability to combine that understanding with personal gifts and experience in ministry into a practical application such as would be expected of someone beginning in the ministry of the Word and Sacrament?

To see how these standards of evaluation work, it is useful to think about the nature of the questions that appear on the senior ordination exams. In all areas—including Exegesis—the exams are essentially case studies. Drawing upon actual experiences from the life of the church, the questions call upon the candidates to integrate what they have learned in their academic preparation in seminary with experience gained through the use of their gifts in the supervised practice of ministry. Questions asked about these case studies generally require candidates first to identify and explain the pertinent issues that arise in the scenario and then to describe how they would respond using their gifts and skills for ministry.

The first standard—Does the response address all the elements required by the questions?—assesses whether the candidate can identify the pertinent issues in the situation. Does the response focus on key issues, or does it venture down side roads that diverge from what is really important. Does the answer respond to all parts of the question, or are some aspects of what is being asked for overlooked? The abilities to listen carefully to what is set before you and to respond completely to what is required in a given situation are key pastoral skills.

The second standard—Does the answer show sufficient understanding of the issues identified?—looks at how well the answer demonstrates an ability to apply academic training to the situation described in the question. Is the response theologically sound and does it provide evidence that the candidate has broader knowledge relevant to the situation than might be expected of a general church member or person in the broader community? Does the answer demonstrate an ability to choose appropriate resources and to engage types of resources that require graduate-level education in their subject area? And of course, any sources used or directly quoted must be cited in appropriate academic fashion.

The third and final standard—Does the answer combine theological training with personal gifts for ministry into a practical response?—looks specifically for an ability to respond in pastorally appropriate ways in the ministry context created by the question. Is the response expressed in a way accessible to the people in the scenario, considering such factors as whether they are adults, youth or children, and what is explained of their cultural backgrounds? Does the answer demonstrate an ability to use resources in effective ways? Simply linking together citations from either constitutional documents or other sources does not truly demonstrate competency for ministry. Competency is demonstrated through the ability to summarize, restate, explain, and apply in a ministry context one’s preparation (whether generally through seminary training or specifically in researching the particulars in the question scenario). This work must be done with appropriate pastoral sensitivity and consideration of the life stage and setting of the persons in the ministry context. Unless the specific required responses call for just listing or citing resources, discussions within the response should for the most part be the candidate’s words rather than those of sources.

As readers reflect on the questions raised by these evaluative standards, they are not comparing the specific answers either to models of ideal and less than ideal responses or even to answers given by others taking the same exam. Rather, calling upon their own experience as ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament and the training received from the PCC about the particular test, they are asking themselves, “Do these examination responses provide evidence that the person who wrote them can apply the intellectual background developed in seminary to pastoral situations with ‘energy, intelligence, imagination, and love’?” as expressed in one of the Constitutional Questions put to all those ordained to ministry in the church (W-4.0404h).

Categories: Ordination Exams


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