In a press release sent out on Friday, March 27, 2015, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) announced some significant changes to the standard ordination examinations in the PC(USA) that will come into effect beginning in July. Some were in response to referrals from the 221st General Assembly (2014). Over the coming weeks I will explore each of these changes in separate blog posts, going over both the details in the changes and the reasons for them. The first change that I will address relates to the time allotted for the exams in the areas of Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments.
Look at survey results from any group of exam takers over recent years and you will find that the most often provided feedback was a desire for more time to complete the exams. Although many of the scenarios presented in the exams reflect ministry situations where people in real life would be expecting immediate responses to their questions, the very exam process requires a different kind of response by its written format and typical requirement to include specific numbers and types of references to our constitutional documents. Additionally, even educational requirements have moved more toward assignment of “work products” and decreased reliance upon timed essay examinations in assessing student competencies.
For these and related reasons, the 221st General Assembly (2014) directed the PCC “to develop means to broaden the format of standard ordination examinations beyond time-limited essays.” The concern here was not to provide unlimited time (since obviously working under deadlines and being able to respond to immediate requests are realities of ministry as of other professions), but to create an assessment process that permits candidates to focus on the issues within the scenarios rather than the clock and provides time to review and proofread written responses before submission. Moving beyond questions designed for 60-minute responses also gives the PCC more flexibility to incorporate types of work products that would not typically be completed in less than an hour in actual ministry contexts but also would not extend to a full day or more of study and reflection as with the sermons and lesson plans required within the Bible Exegesis exam.
Beginning with exams administered in July 2015, the PCC will move the Polity, Theology, and Worship exams to a structure more in line with the Exegesis exam. For each of those three areas of examination, candidates will have up to nine hours to develop their responses to the scenarios using any resources available to them (properly citing any that are used) but without consulting with other persons. The questions may still include requirements to respond directly to particular individuals presented in the case studies, but could also include more extended required elements such as, perhaps, a complete order of worship for a service. As with the Exegesis exam, candidates will be required to limit the overall length their responses to each section of these exams to no more than 1,200 words.
Even with these more extended responses, the tests will be designed to be completed in significantly less than nine hours so that candidates will have opportunities to take breaks, more carefully proofread their responses, and perhaps deal with other interruptions—just as one must do in ministry. In fact, the nine-hour duration was chosen because it basically corresponds to a typical workday.
To accommodate those taking exams in all three areas of Polity, Theology, and Worship during a single administration cycle, the testing window will be extended from 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday mornings to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time the following Saturday. Candidates must submit their work on these three exams, however, within nine hours of accessing that particular test online. It will also be the candidate’s responsibility to begin work on an exam sufficiently in advance of the 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time deadline on Saturday to have the full time allotted. If, for example, a candidate waits until 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday to begin an exam, that candidate will only have six hours to complete it (until 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern Time).
Finally, with the move to this expanded time format the PCC will no longer permit presbyteries to authorize “special accommodations” of extended time on the Polity, Theology, and Worship exams. The same policy has been in place for the Bible Exegesis exam since it moved to its current multi-day format. As previously mentioned, the design of the exams will not be such that the expectation would be that they would require eight to nine hours of focused attention and work. Rather, they will be designed more as three tasks related to an area of competence in ministry that can reasonably be accomplished in a workday with an expectation of breaks and other interruptions.
Again, these changes to the administration of the Polity, Theology, and Worship exams will begin in July 2015. The exams administered on April 24-25 will have the same three-hour time limits set forth in the instructions the candidates received when they registered for those tests.
by Tim Cargal