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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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April 16, 2015

Oral Component for Standard Exams

Words "oral presentation" under a magnifying glassIn my previous post I discussed the action of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) in response to referrals from the 221st General Assembly (2014) to change the time allotted for the exams in the areas of Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments beginning with the July 2015 administration. In this post I will review the PCC’s action in response to the GA’s directive to “integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process.”

The PCC has always permitted presbytery committees or commissions working with inquirers and candidates (CPMs) to approve “special accommodations” in the administration of the standard ordination exams for particular candidates who have written language processing issues such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, individuals whose primary language is not among those in which the exams are offered (English, Korean, or Spanish), etc. These accommodations were limited, however, by the requirement that the finished product must be presented in written format that can be evaluated by readers without the need for further elaboration or comment by the test taker. Thus, the use of any form of “oral examination” was excluded from the standard examinations process and so required approval of “alternative means” for assessment of required competencies approved by a super-majority vote of the presbytery (see G-2.0610).

The special committee created by the 220th General Assembly (2012) that reviewed the overall preparation for ministry process considered this requirement. They concluded that while it was impractical to include oral components into the standard examination of all candidates, there was need for this form of assessment among sufficient numbers of candidates to warrant a way to “integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process” so that their inclusion would not require use of the “alternative means” provisions in the constitution. In acting upon the special committee’s report, the 2014 GA concurred and referred the matter to the PCC for implementation.

The inclusion of “oral presentations” in standard exam procedures is designed for cases where there are circumstances known in advance that make it clear that the test taker may need to comment or elaborate upon written responses. The “oral presentations” do not replace written responses to the standard exam questions, which must still be completed and evaluated following the usual process for the standard exams. Rather, the oral presentation provides an opportunity for the candidate to clarify and expand upon answers provided in the written exams. Likewise, the “oral presentations” are not designed to be after-the-fact responses to “Unsatisfactory” evaluations. They are “special accommodations” granted in advance of the exam to persons for whom the overall experience in the preparation process leads the CPM to conclude that the particular candidate will need an opportunity to clarify and elaborate on written submissions.

In designing this “oral presentation” component the PCC was particularly concerned to protect the integrity of the assessment process. It has created specific administration processes to assure that any oral examination phase does not permit the candidate to correct outright errors in initial responses by redirecting them in fundamentally different ways based on comments from either the readers who evaluate the online submission or the oral component examiners. The procedures are further intended to safeguard against situations where a test taker could be coached to a stronger answer through leading questions from the examiners. By authorizing this special accommodation, both the candidate and the CPM would be committing to the following (cited here from the exams handbook to be released on May 1, 2015):

  1. The CPM appoints a panel of at least three oral examiners who are either ruling or teaching elders, preferably with experience as readers of the standard examinations.
  2. The candidate takes the standard examination(s), with any other special accommodations approved by the CPM, and those exams then undergo the usual evaluation process.
  3. On the morning the exam results are released, the oral examiners meet to review together both the candidate’s responses and the readers’ evaluations, and to formulate their own questions based upon both the responses and the evaluations.
  4. Following their review, the oral examiners meet with the candidate for the oral review phase (either the same morning or during the afternoon of the day the results are released, depending upon the number of exam areas for which the special accommodation was granted). This oral examination phase must be conducted regardless of whether the readers had found the exam “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory.”
  5. Up to one (1) hour is permitted for oral review of each exam. Either responding directly to the readers’ comments or to questions from the oral examiners, the candidate elaborates or comments on the responses provided. During this oral phase, a candidate is permitted to explain the reasons for particular citations from the Book of Order, The Book of Confessions, or other resources provided as part of required responses, but the test taker is not permitted to substitute alternative citations for them. A candidate may, however, suggest further citations that would serve to clarify or support lines of argument already provided in the written responses. A candidate may also elaborate on points in the written response that he or she believes were either overlooked or misunderstood by the reader(s). The candidate will also be required to respond to any questions from the oral examiners even if those questions are unrelated to issues or concerns raised in the reader evaluations.
  6. At the conclusion of the hour, the oral examiners meet separately from the candidate to deliberate and then vote on whether to “sustain” the readers’ evaluation. This action is, again, required regardless of whether the readers had found the exam “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory.” Thus, it would be within the oral examiners prerogative to recommend that an “Unsatisfactory” evaluation be set aside in favor of a “Satisfactory” one, or that a “Satisfactory” evaluation be set aside in favor of an “Unsatisfactory” one. A majority vote of the three oral examiners determines their recommendation.
  7. The oral examiners will then notify the candidate, the CPM, and the PCC (through the Manager for Preparation for Ministry in the Office of the General Assembly) of their recommendation.
    1. If they sustain the readers’ initial evaluation, then that result is finalized.
    2. If their recommendation is that the readers’ evaluation should not be sustained, they must file with the PCC a written explanation of their rationale providing specific references to either the candidate’s written or oral responses in support of their recommendation. This report must be filed within 48 hours of the close of the oral examination phase or phases (if there is more than one examination area). The chair of the PCC task group for the examination area (or the chair’s designated task group member) will review the candidate’s written responses, the readers’ evaluations, and the report from the oral examiners. The PCC member reviewing all these materials will determine whether or not to concur in the oral examiners’ recommendation or to sustain the original evaluation of the readers. The decision by the PCC task group chair or designated member will determine the final result of each examination.
  8. A task group chair’s decision (or that of the task group member designated to review the materials) is subject to appeal only to the PCC Executive Committee, and must otherwise comply with all other requirements for the appeal of examination results.

This provision for a “special accommodation” to include “oral presentations” will be available only for the standard examinations in the areas of Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments. Because of the types of questions used on the Bible Content Examination, it is not available to inquirers or candidates taking that test.

Categories: Ordination Exams, Ordination Process

Tags: exams, ordination