So it is eleven days until the GOE's... Time to start breaking them to make an omelette...
Let me be clear I am a seminarian taking them in eleven days, probably like you. The only thing that might differentiate me from you is that I used to work in special education and specialized in getting students with all types of learning styles through that meat grinder which is modern standardized testing. There should be nothing theologically interesting in these posts, note there should not be anything theologically interesting in the GOE either and we will get to that. The sole reason for these post are to dismantle the test and the questions.
First Rule: THE GOEs DO NOT MATTER. Let me repeat that THE GOEs DO NOT MATTER. There is no statistical correlation between being a good priest, theologian, biblical scholar, etc. and doing well on the GOEs. There are, in fact, many exceptions in the ranks of priests who have failed the GOE that show that it has no correlation to long term ministry capacity. Also most diocese have a plan in place for what happens when a person fails a section of the GOEs. If you do not know your diocesan policy FIND OUT NOW! A five day testing ordeal is stressful enough without extra baggage.
Now to be clear the GOEs do matter, just no where near as much as we make them matter in our heads. They are an easy, if a headache, way to have a general method of testing BASIC proficiency in the seven canonical areas.. The word BASIC here is key. The GOEs are supposed to be about basic proficiency, sometimes the test givers mess up on this fact, but my guess is that the test takers do it more. We will get more into this later.
Second Rule: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. After a few years of seminary you are used to writing for some of the most brilliant minds in Christianity. THESE ARE NOT THE MINDS GRADING THE GOEs. The GOEs are graded by a wonderful group of people. Many of them have no theological training and many that do were trained decades ago to an M.Div. level. They have been very well trained to look at the specific seven questions being asked this year. This means a few key points need to be kept in mind.
Episcopal Theology with Jehovah Witness presentation. The Jehovah Witnesses present all their information at a fifth grade reading level. (This is a theological point they have that anything God wants people to know should be comprehensible to all but the most limited.) The reality is that this is the level most newspapers and trade paperbacks are written at. It is not the level most seminarians have been reading and writing at for two years. All of the readers are capable of reading far above fifth grade level, they are probably not, however, doing it on a regular basis. Absurd as it might be due to the nature of a question pretend you are going to publish your answer in the church newsletter and expect it to be understood by the vast majority of your parishioners.
Your theological interest are not in your favor. It does not matter what your theological interest are, how relevant they are, or what significance they have to transforming the church into the instrument it needs to be in the world. I congratulate you for your interest in the tractarians, radical feminism, Celtic spirituality, or the like. There will be many points in your ministry to bring them to bear... The GOEs are not one of them. Your interest are your interest and esoteric to the majority of Episcopalians, including, probably, the readers. If you get "lucky" and a question seems right up your ally be very wary to not get derailed in your interest and actually miss the question. You have spent the past years reading cutting edge theology and finding your theological loves... The readers have not and will easily get lost.
Students write to show what they know, scholars write to teach. This is really critical. In the GOEs you are not a student trying to prove you have learned all the course material. You are a scholar showing that you can teach practically about a subject to a general audience. Getting nervous and regurgitating random brilliant facts about the general subject of the question will not help. Concisely teaching the basic information you know will. Do not try to prove you are right on a subject, teach a general introduction to the subject.
Third Rule: ANSWER THE QUESTION. I am going to go through most of the back questions and break them in the days ahead. So we will see in practice what we will present at the moment in theory.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). This bears repeating from above. GOE answers should not be brilliant or creative, brilliance and creativity are too easily confusing and esoteric, they should be simple and straightforward. If a GOE question incites in you an amazing epiphany of creative brilliance... blog it later. You might be an awesome foodie chef... During the GOEs you are cooking for the hypoallergenic retirement home of mid-western curmudgeons. It is a pass/fail exam do not be daring be safe.
The Question is the Answer. One of the biggest gifts the GOE gives you is that the layout of the question always tells you how to structure your answer. Rarely the GOE presents some erroneous situational prompt that needs to be completely disregarded. In most cases you can literally outline your entire answer directly from the question without any major mental processing. Follow their outline, their word count expectations, do exactly what they tell you when they tell you. Do not create something new and brilliant whole cloth, follow the template and meet the stated expectations.
USE THE RESOURCES. Have a trusted one volume Annotated Bible with good basic exegetical information available. This will literally be the amount of exegetical information you will need to pass, being able to use an annotated bible is more important than whatever facts you can cram into your head. Use ALL the liturgical resources. Okay, maybe not ALL of them but you need to use the BCP, the catechism (if they ask about theology of liturgy reference the catechism directly), a hymnal, and any relevant parts of the BOS and the EOWs. If they give you access to a resource use the resource in some way.
So there are the three rules for GOE test taking: The GOEs do not matter, Know Your Audience, Answer the Question. We will get down and dirty with past GOE questions in the days ahead. Take care of yourself, schedule a spa day, and relax as much as possible in the days ahead.