General Ordination Exams

It’s that time of year when a certain subset of Episcopalian seminarians begins to feel the first tinglings of exam nerves. I know, because I got a message last night from an online friend asking what I learned from taking the GOEs this past January, and what tips I might like to share.

So, on the off-chance that it’s useful to anyone else, and with the disclaimer that I am no expert, just another humble body who went through the mill and came out the other side, here are my honest advisements for any of you facing GOEs this winter. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments section below.

  • I spent last fall not believing the people who told me that as long as I had worked at – and enjoyed! – seminary, all would be well. Turned out, they were right!
  • Go to the website and look around. You can get previous exams, see what the examiners advise for prep (no cramming!), and how they grade. For the exams, they asked us to use Firefox, so if you don’t have it, download it and get used to it. In the next month or two you’ll get your log-in and be able to get used to candidate areas of the site. Familiarity breeds comfort.
  • Consider using a previous year’s questions (available on the gbec site) to do a practice run. Get a friendly teacher to read and comment, or swap essays with a friend. Know how much you can expect of yourself in three-and-a-half hours. It’s enough.
  • Make sure your technology is sound. If you plan to get a new laptop, don’t leave it til Christmas, or you’ll still be frustrated by the new keyboard etc in January. Try very hard not to have to borrow a computer, or if you do, make sure you know it well. Similarly, rather than treat yourself to a new annotated Bible/BCP/Hymnal, if you have one you already know and trust, use it.
  • Get to know the supervisor for your group. S/he is your go-to for any questions, technical glitches, or talk-downs during the exams. 
  • CLEAR your calendar! For the whole week! Including the off day! Use that as real sabbath time. It’s tiring. Take care of yourself. If you have a choice of where to take the exams, think carefully about what you most need not only to be able to concentrate, but also to relax between sessions.  
  • Have a buddy, preferably one whose talents and trip-ups are different from your own, so that you can calm each other down rather than stoking each other’s anxieties. Have lunch together or unwind at the end of a day of exams, but don’t get caught up in examining the minutiae of your answers.   
  • Keep in mind the purpose of the exams. They’re “diagnostics,” part of the educational process, designed to make you a better priest, not to trip you up. Think pastorally, then; practice your priestcraft and pastoral skills in your answers. The toughest question I had to answer was about a teen suicide: it took my breath and broke my heart, and I spent the first five or ten minutes just praying for the teenagers I know in my life. I believe that it was that prayer and those personal and pastoral concerns as much as any acquired “knowledge” that made my answer sound.
  • So, pray before you start, even if it’s just “God help me!” When you hit the send button, let it go.

Blessings on your studies and on your ministries! And good luck!

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4 Responses to General Ordination Exams

  1. Pingback: A GOEs Prayer | over the water

  2. Mary Callaway says:

    This is very sound advice; the best I’ve seen. The combination of nuts and bolts with personal and spiritual care-taking is just what’s needed. The anecdote about coping with the pastoral question on the teen suicide is especially illuminating. The authors of the exam, who work hard every year to write an exam worthy of the candidates, would be pleased. Your bishop and committee on ministry couldn’t hope for more. Consider offering your services to the church as a reader!

  3. Pingback: A GOEs prayer, reblogged | over the water

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