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Changes coming to PC(USA) ordination exam process

Moving from industrial to digital model

September 15, 2011

Louisville

Picture it: A candidate for ordination as a teaching elder (minister of the Word and Sacrament) taking all of the standard ordination exams online on a flexible schedule and receiving the results in a matter of days.

That image is the vision of a plan announced by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) to move the administration and evaluation of the exams to an online management process.

The new process, to be implemented in phases over the next three years, will streamline the evaluation process and administration costs, while maintaining the integrity of the examination process.   

For well over forty years, candidates have taken ordination exams at PC(USA)-related seminaries at one of two set times in a calendar year. They have recorded their answers in color-coded test books for each section of the exams. The books have then been shipped to the Office of the General Assembly to be sorted and sent on to reading groups who have gathered in six locations across the country for a week to evaluate them. Candidates have waited up to two months to receive results.

The Reverend Timothy Cargal, interim associate for Preparation for Ministry and Exams within the Office of Vocation, says the move by the PCC should be of great benefit both to those who take the exams and those who read them.

He said, “The new process will allow us to move from an industrial to a digital model. The assembly line approach worked in an earlier time, but now it makes sense to take advantage of today’s technology.”

Once fully implemented, the process would realize numerous benefits, including:

  • Expansion of the reader pool to include those who cannot take off several days from work or travel significant distances to attend regional reading groups.
  • Introduction of plagiarism screening into the evaluation process.
  • A quicker turnaround of exam results from weeks or months to days.
  • More flexibility in exam schedules so that candidates can take (or retake) exams when they are ready rather than being dictated by the calendar.
  • Significant financial savings that will make it possible to maintain the quality and integrity of the process within the current fee structure.

The transition will begin this fall when two of the six regional reading groups will gather for the final time. By August 2012, exams will be taken online, general training for readers will be done electronically, half of the reading groups will do their work online, and candidates will receive results and readers’ comments online.

By August 2014, exams will be made available once readers have been trained. The exams will be taken on flexible schedules at group sites (on dates set by each site) or with special proctors. Submitted exams will be assigned to readers, whose evaluations will be available to candidates one week later. Each candidate will be allowed two attempts per exam area within a twelve-month period.

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