The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committee charged with preparing ordination exams has approved changes to administration procedures for the tests, complying with assignments it was given by the General Assembly.

At its annual meeting March 9–14 in Atlanta, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) voted to expand the time parameters for three exam areas and give presbyteries the option to incorporate oral examination components as part of online tests. The changes take effect with July exams.

“The PCC hopes that these changes will allow our candidates to more effectively demonstrate their ability to apply the training that they have received in practical ministry settings and help the presbytery committees that work with them to have a clearer picture of their readiness for ministry,” said the Reverend Steve Ranney, moderator of the PCC.

The PCC’s actions were in response to a mandate from the 221st General Assembly (2014), which received a report from a special committee formed by the 220th General Assembly (2012) to study of the preparation process.

The PCC was asked “to develop means to broaden the format of standard ordination examinations beyond time-limited essays, and include additional protocols that may integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process” (Minutes, 2014, Part I, p. 378 of the electronic version).

Exams covering Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments will all be impacted by the change related to time limits. Presently those tests are three-hour exams given over a day and a half. Candidates submit online responses to three different scenarios for each test.

With the change, candidates will now have up to nine hours to develop their responses to the scenarios in each area of examination using any resources available to them, but without consulting anyone. Candidates also may now be required to respond more extensively.

“The exams will be designed with an expectation that they can be completed in less than nine hours, and so candidates will have opportunities to take breaks, more carefully proofread responses prior to submission, and so forth,” Ranney said.

The testing window for those taking exams in these three areas will be from 8 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday mornings to 8 p.m. Eastern Time the following Saturday. Candidates must submit their work on each exam within nine hours of accessing that particular test online.

No time changes were made to the Bible Exegesis exam, which is given over roughly a five-day period.

In terms of its charge to “integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process,” the PCC approved allowing presbytery committees overseeing candidates to accept special accommodation requests for oral exams that would extend the assessments conducted through online testing.

“Candidates participating in an oral exam component will be able to give further elaboration or comment on their responses based upon concerns raised by the readers or questions from the oral examiners,” Ranney said. “They would not be permitted to correct errors in their initial responses based on either reader feedback or oral examiner coaching.”

Details about all of the exam changes will be provided to presbyteries and candidates in a revised examinations handbook to be released on May 1.

The PCC also:

  • Increased the cost of online exams from $50 to $65 per exam beginning in July. The fee change stems from decreases in the number of exams administered each year since 2011. Without the increase, revenues were projected to decrease by more than $10,000 if the trend continued this year.
  • Approved including up to fifteen matching and ordering questions among the multiple choice questions that comprise the Bible Content Examination (BCE). These formats, which have been used on the BCE previously, help in generating new questions for use in the test. Test results will still be available immediately following the online test.
  • Received input from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) on the development of exam questions. ACREC provided two representatives to participate in question review sessions during the PCC’s meeting. The collaboration was a recommendation of the special committee formed by the 220th General Assembly (2012) to study of the preparation process.