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.”