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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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September 4, 2015

Bible Content Exam Results

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.)

Categories: Ordination Exams, Ordination Process

August 21, 2015

Plagiarism in Ordination Exams

During my six years working with the preparation for ministry process for the Office of the General Assembly, I had previously worked with presbyteries on three occasions investigating cases of plagiarism in the standard ordination exams. For the just completed Summer 2015 exams, I am now working with five presbyteries.

To be clear, I am not talking about cases of “technical” or “minor plagiarism.” I recognize that there are those who think that “sloppy” identification of sources or quotations that don’t follow “proper academic standards of citation” are not “really plagiarism.” Such examples of directly using words from the ...

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June 22, 2015

Updated "Advisory Handbook" Released

A new edition of the Advisory Handbook has been released to continue the work of providing “models of ways presbyteries are responding to unique and emerging issues related to the preparation and equipping of persons for ordered ministry as a teaching elder” (General Assembly Minutes, 2014, Part 1, pages 378-79).

The 220th General Assembly (2012) created a special committee to review the overall preparation for ministry process and the particular role of the standard ordination exams within it. One of the key findings of that special committee was that there had not “yet been sufficient time for the church ...

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May 18, 2015

Placing Candidates--Some Numbers

Perhaps it is because of graduation season, but I have received several inquiries recently about how long it is taking our graduates to find calls to ordained ministry. Having done some research to respond to these questions, I thought there would probably be a broader audience with interest in what I discovered.

To begin, I need to stress that the proper question within our polity is not really, “How long after graduation?” but rather, “How long after ‘certification of readiness to be examined for ordination, pending a call’?” Within our church, eligibility for ordination is not primarily determined by seminary ...

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April 28, 2015

New Formats for BCE Questions

My two previous posts have reviewed changes coming to the Polity, Theology, and Worship exams in response to referrals from the last General Assembly (2014). In this post I will go over changes approved by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) related to the Bible Content Examination (BCE). These changes will take affect beginning with its next administration on September 4, 2015.

The BCE differs from the other standard ordination exams in almost every way. The senior exams in the areas of Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments are designed to be taken ...

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