PCC responds to September Bible Context Exam results

September 9, 2015

Louisville

Changes to the Bible exam Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) candidates for ministry must take have yielded less than stellar results from the most recent round of testing, but the long-term outcome will be ministers more deeply grounded in the scriptures, those closest to the exam maintain.

The average score on the Bible Content Examination (BCE) administered September 4 and the percentage of inquirers and candidates who met the minimum score (70 percent) required to satisfy this requirement in the preparation for ministry process were below historical averages, said Tim Cargal, the PC(USA)’s manager of preparation for ministry/exams and staff support to the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC).

The results are due, in part, to publically released previous test questions no longer being included in the exam, he said. Currently, “all publically available questions have been retired.”

Nevertheless, “the PCC believes that as inquirers and candidates adjust their preparation accordingly—as they have adjusted to the many other changes in the exams in recent years— satisfactory rates on the Bible Content Exam will return to levels more consistent with past performance,” said Steve Ranney, moderator of the PCC.

“Even more importantly, our candidates for the ministry of Word and Sacrament will be more deeply grounded in the scriptures that are foundational to our faith, and will be able to use that knowledge to guide the churches to which they are called to grow in the grace of our Lord (1 Peter 1).”

Following the release of the September 4 test and concerns surrounding it, the PCC notified the presbytery committees charged with overseeing candidates and inquirers, providing details of the results and an analysis of the findings.

“Much of the concern seems to revolve around the decision made last March at the annual meeting of the PCC to retire all questions from previously published exams. The reason for this decision was that through research and observation we became concerned that what was being tested was a person’s ability to study old exams, not their general knowledge of the content of the Bible,” Ranney said.

“This decision was made and announced through a variety of outlets … to give the candidates and inquirers who were preparing to take the exam a chance to adjust their preparation,” he said.

The makeup and difficulty of the September 4 test was in line with standards for previous exams, and the vast majority of the questions (83 of 88) came from previous, but unpublished, Bible Content Exams.

“While the results of this exam were not what we expected or were used to seeing, the exam itself was a fair test of a candidate’s knowledge of biblical content,” Ranney said. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage studying the Bible rather than past tests, which leads to stronger pastoral leadership, he said.

For a more detailed analysis of the September 4 Bible Content Exam results, read Cargal’s blog,  “… the land that I will show you.”

  1. A report is emailed to them (and their CPM) listing the scripture references related to the questions they missed. It is the pattern of specific books and portions of the canon that identifies areas of the Bible that would benefit from more study that is the chief benefit of the exam.

    by Tim Cargal

    September 11, 2015

  2. Do the students get to see which questions they answered correctly/incorrectly? It seems difficult to expect those who failed to improve, if they do not have the ability to look at the questions later, and not just immediately after finding out they failed. It is nearly impossible to process what you did right/wrong when you find out you failed.

    by Teresa Cramer

    September 11, 2015

  3. For the student the purpose of a standardized test is to pass the test. It's not enough the know the material. You must also know how to pass the test. I question the assumption that a student doesn't know the Bible because they learned how to take a test. Perhaps the new test is testing not only one's Bible content, but also how well one understands the test. I hope the PCC will now rest in peace with these changes.

    by Will Mason

    September 10, 2015

  4. I don't know when or by whom in "Louisville" this advice was given, but it is not the advice given in preparation materials since I came into this position. Like practice tests in ACT, SAT, or GRE prep books, past BCE tests can provide an understanding of the assessment process and diagnose areas that would benefit from more focused study. But for the content of the test we have consistently emphasized the Bible itself and resources that promote understanding of its "stories, themes, and key passages."

    by Tim Cargal

    PC(USA) Staff

    September 10, 2015

  5. Having attended a Methodist Seminary (due to distance), I wanted to be prepared for the ordination exams. I would not be having seminary supported preparation time. I called Louisville and asked what I should study for the Bible Exam. As I said it I thought, "What a stupid question. They're going to answer 'the Bible'!" The answer given? Study previous Bible exams. That came from Louisville, from you all.

    by Meg Mann

    September 10, 2015

  6. As explained in the blog linked at the end of the article, up until 2009 the PCC returned copies of the questions along with exam scores. That practice was ended when a different type of score reporting began with online testing. Questions first used in exams beginning in 2010 would be the "previous, but unpublished" test questions.

    by Tim Cargal

    PC(USA) Staff

    September 10, 2015

  7. What does "previous, but unpublished tests" mean?

    by Paul Derrickson

    September 10, 2015

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