CLEP Test Program Guide to Get a Head Start

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What is CLEP (College Level Examination Program)

If you have an especially strong interest in a subject, it is likely you have already done a great deal of learning on your own. Perhaps there are certain subjects, like math, that have always come easily to you. When you are well-versed in certain subjects, taking introductory courses in college is not the best use of your time or skills. An alternative to sitting in class for a semester going over familiar material is testing out the course, or sitting for an examination in lieu of taking the class.

Standardized CLEP tests measure a person’s knowledge of specific subject matter. If you took Advanced Placement tests in high school, you are familiar with the basic structure of the CLEP exam. You can take CLEP tests before entering college or while you are enrolled as a student. You can also take a CLEP exam after college if there are some final credits you need to complete. If you are transferring from one college to another, and the new school will not accept all of your credits, passing a CLEP test may allow to receive credit for courses you took at your former school.

Passing a CLEP exam generally earns a student at least three college credits.

Resources for Before and After College

What Do You Gain by Testing Out?

Earn College Credit

The advantages of testing out of courses are multifold. Although you do pay for CLEP tests, you aren’t paying tuition for a full class if you pass. You can spend time studying new subjects and those that truly interest you, rather than reviewing old material. Overall, CLEP students have higher GPAs that their non-CLEP counterparts and perform better in their coursework. On average, a student at a four-year public college earning 15 CLEP credits saves $5,000, while those attending private schools may save as much as $17,000.

Because students save time and money by testing out of college courses, they are more likely to complete their degree. Testing out can lower the amount borrowed for student loans, or perhaps avoid the need for loans entirely. While some students may avoid an extra semester of college by making use of CLEP, some manage to shave an entire year off college via testing out. You can also take higher-level courses earlier after passing CLEP exams. The entire college experience may prove less stressful when you can take lighter course with CLEP tests.

Typical Exams by Major

  • Composition and Literature
  • World Languages
  • History and Social Sciences
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Business

How to Go About It

See What Tests Your School Accepts

Approximately 2,900 schools in the US accept CLEP exams. Although the tests are standardized, there is no standardization between individual colleges and universities in their CLEP policies. That is why it is imperative to find out which tests your school accepts. Some colleges may accept all CLEP tests, while others may accept only a select few. It is also important to find out the school’s requirement for test scores, the amount of credits earned, and if there are any time restrictions imposed.

Find out which tests your school accepts on the College Board website simply by entering the name of the institution. You should receive the CLEP exams accepted by the school, the score necessary to receive credit, and how many credits are awarded for passing a particular test. The college’s website should also include CLEP information. Look for terms like “credit by examination” or “external degree programs”. If you are uncertain whether a department accepts CLEP, contact the department for clarification. Your academic advisor is another good source of guidance on CLEP matters.

Know Your School’s Limits

Polices regarding how many credits a student may earn through CLEP varies by school. Most schools set limits on the number of courses students can test out of per semester and per year. Before scheduling a CLEP exam, find out the specific limits of your college or university. For example, a school may cap the number of CLEP credits at 25.

Many schools limit CLEP credits to the general education courses all students must complete to graduate. Some schools may allow CLEP credits toward a student’s major, but more often they are permitted only as prerequisites for more advanced courses.

Choose Wisely

Because CLEP tests your knowledge of a subject, pursue only those subjects with which you have great familiarity. There is no point in taking a CLEP test unless you are confident you can earn a good score. While it is possible to undertake intensive studying to prepare for a CLEP exam, and it is smart to study for several weeks prior to the test date, the test is designed to measure strong knowledge you already have in a particular area.

When deciding which classes are most suitable for testing out of, don’t make the choice entirely on your own. First, consult your planned schedules and speak with your advisor. For practical purposes, the best choices may include a class that is seldom offered, or a class that is a prerequisite for another class you must take. Always check to see if a CLEP exam fulfills a class requirement for your degree.

As of July 1, 2019, each CLEP test costs $89.

Know Your Own Limits

Along with choosing wisely among your options of CLEP tests, it is also crucial to know your own limits before registering for the exam. In a best-case scenario, the student takes the test and passes it on the first try, earning credits toward his or her undergraduate degree. Of course, it is also possible to fail the test, which means you do not receive the credits and must still pay for exam.

Since you do not want to waste time, energy, and money taking tests for which you are unprepared, make sure you have an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter or that you can take the time to study to fill in any knowledge gaps prior to exam day. Study kits are available for purchase through CLEP. The aim is always to pass the exam on the first try.

How to Register for CLEP Exams

You can register for CLEP exams on the College Board website. Create an account on the site and choose the exams you plan to take. Complete registration by filling out the appropriate form and selecting your preferred test center. After paying the fee, you’ll need to print your registration ticket and schedule the exam.

Tests are taken at official CLEP centers via computer. The exams are offered year-round at 2,000+ CLEP centers across the county. Exams consist of multiple-choice questions, with the tests taking between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete. The scores for most tests are available immediately following the exam. If you fail the test, you may take it again in three months.


CLEP exams are scored only for right answers, so there is no penalty for those questions on which you guessed incorrectly. The “raw” score is the number of correctly answered questions, but this is not the score reported to your school. Out of the raw score emerges the scaled score, based on the difficulty of the correctly answered questions. The school receives a scaled score based on a 20 to 80 scale.

The Standard Error of Measurement (SEM) score estimates the amount by which a typical test taker’s score differs from the average of the scores that a test taker would have gotten on all possible editions of the test, according to the College Board.

A computer scores the multiple exam questions, while essays are graded either by college professors or by the colleges requiring such essays.

Other Testing Sources

While CLEP is the best-known testing out exam system, it is not the only one.

Other sources for test out exams include:

  • AP Exams:
    Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses offered in high school. You do not have to take AP classes to take an AP exam. Passing the exam can allow you to skip introductory courses and fulfill some of your general education requirements. Earning a score of 4 or 5 on an AP exam (exams are scored from 1 to 5) is accepted by most colleges for credit, and less selective schools may accept a score of 3.
  • Defense Activity for Non:
    Traditional Educational Support (DANTES) Subject Standardized Tests (DSST Exams) – In the past, the DSST exam was used by those serving in the military to earn credits toward a college degree, but now the program is open to all, though civilian test takers will need to pay for the tests on their own.
  • Excelsior College Examination:
    This private online college, located in Albany, New York allows student to earn CLEP credits and skip introductory courses. Through its UExcel program, the college permits earning of credits by exam without enrolling in a degree program.
  • Pathways to Math Success:
    Earn as many as six college credits in math via this program, or the equivalent of two courses. Eligible students must enroll in specific degree programs, such as Information Technology, Computer Science, or Mathematics. These assessments take two hours, and students may take the assessment up to five times.
  • Prior Learning Assessments:
    PLAs help older students earn college credit based on their experiences outside of the classroom. PLAs come in various forms, and may include credit by exam, portfolio assessment – including documentation and verification by employers, workplace and professional training assessment, and other degree completion options.


What if you could earn a bachelor’s degree without ever taking college classes, based simply on the results of examination? It is a possibility, with degree-by-examination, which is based only on your test scores. If you decide to go the degree-by-examination route, make sure the college involved is accredited and a legitimate institution of higher learning. Look for schools accredited by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC) or those receiving regional accreditation.

Unfortunately, the lure of obtaining a degree without attending class has made this an attractive venture for scam artists posing as institutions of higher learning, so make sure to perform your due diligence and do plenty of research if going this route. The degree you earn by examination should not differ from the degree earned by traditional means. Brick-and-mortar schools usually do not offer degree-by-examination, but they are offered by some online universities.

Final Thoughts

In the modern world, a college education is more important than ever, but also more expensive. That means you need every advantage possible. CLEP and other test out programs provide a great service to students on many levels, saving them time and money. By taking as many test out exams as makes sense for your situation, you can receive your degree faster, at lower cost, and get a jump-start on your career. It is even possible to use CLEP credits to earn scholarships to pay for the courses you must take. There are few better opportunities than CLEP for students wishing to complete their degree in the shortest amount of time possible.