With apologies for the delay (March has been a busy month of travel and meetings), I do want to follow-up on the question about what other issues test takers raised in their feedback forms after the spring ordination exams.
There were several comments related to things related to the administration of the examinations. Some people commented on difficulties in finding and navigating through the website for information about the exams and completing the registration process. (We are working with our web development team in hopes of improving this area.) Several people who located the online training opportunities for examination preparation commented that they found those materials very helpful (http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/prep4min/online-trainings/).
The other cluster of specifically exam related issues dealt with the evaluation of the papers by the readers. Frankly, that pattern is interesting since the evaluation forms were completed when the exams were written and not when evaluations were returned. Nevertheless, there were several comments about working to improve “consistency and more objectivity from the readers.” Others wondered whether the exams provide “a good indication of ‘readiness’ for ministry.” One person requested that the “imaginary people” be taken out of the questions: “let the ordination exams be academic and the Presbytery assess whether I am pastoral.”
In a way, each of those comments reflects a problem related to the very fact that these tests are referred to as “Senior Ordination Examinations.” Both the words “senior” and “examinations,” particularly when associated with tests that many people take sitting in a seminary classroom, create the impression expressed in that last comment: “let the ordination exams be academic.” The problem is, these tests were never intended to be academic. They have from the beginning precisely been tools used by the presbyteries to assess the pastoral skills of candidates.
The readers of the exams are not seminary professors. They are experienced elders and ministers of Word and Sacrament—future colleagues in ministry. They are not “grading” the exams with a “5” corresponding to an “A,” a “4” to a “B,” and so on (a point the exam committee made clearer with the move to the “Satisfactory” / “Unsatisfactory” scale). They are providing an assessment of whether in their view the answers to the questions reflect an understanding of the issues and pastoral responses appropriate from someone beginning in ministry.
An ongoing review of the exams process by a task force composed of people from the presbyteries, the seminaries and folks with direct experience with the exam committee has described these tests as exercises in “pastoral imagination.” They seek to assess one’s ability to apply academic preparation to situations that arise in ministry. When it comes to comparing academic tests and the standard ordination exams, the “ords” are definitely ‘a horse of a different color.’