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What are CLEP (College Level Examination Program) Tests?

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.

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What Do You Gain by Testing Out of Courses?

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 of money 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 loads by completing CLEP tests.

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  • Higher GPAs
  • Better Course Performance
  • Shorter Graduation Times
  • Significant Cost Savings

How Many Credits is Each Test Worth?

A passing CLEP exam score is usually equivalent to three to six credit hours, depending on difficulty. Ultimately, however, it is up to the specific college or university to determine how many, if any, credits each test is worth. Only educational institutions are capable of granting credits toward offered degrees. In some cases, test takers are awarded a set number of credits per test that can be applied to core curriculum or general education requirements. Alternatively, an institution may exempt students from a specific, required course but award no credits. Prospective test takers should research each individual school’s CLEP policies thoroughly to determine minimum qualifying scores and credit regulations. If you are already attending a college, you can discuss this with your academic advisor.

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 by simply entering the name of the institution. You should receive the CLEP exams accepted by the school, the score necessary to receive credit for each one, 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 college 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.

Registering 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.

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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.

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. However, 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 an online 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.

CLEP Exams and Costs

There are 34 different CLEP exams available which are divided into five disciplines: Composition and Literature, World Languages, History and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, and Business. Exams cover the following topics:

  • American Literature
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
  • College Composition
  • College Composition Modular
  • English Literature
  • Humanities
  • French Language (Levels 1 and 2)
  • German Language (Levels 1 and 2)
  • Spanish Language (Levels 1 and 2)
  • Spanish with Writing (Levels 1 and 2)
  • American Government
  • History of the United States I
  • History of the United States II
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Introduction to Educational Psychology
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Introductory Sociology
  • Principles of Macroeconomics
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Social Sciences and History
  • Western Civilization I (Ancient Near East to 1648)
  • Western Civilization II (1648 to the Present)
  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • College Algebra
  • College Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Precalculus
  • Financial Accounting
  • Information Systems
  • Introductory Business Law
  • Principles of Management
  • Principles of Marketing

The College Board provides a list of knowledge and skills required for each exam, as well as a wide variety of helpful study resources to help test takers better prepare.

How Much Do They Cost?

It costs $89 to register for each CELP exam, a process that can be completed online. Acceptable payment methods include debit and credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, and JCB). Registrants may also contact a nearby CLEP test center for assistance; most facilities charge an additional $25 administration fee.

Test takers should submit the name(s) of the institution(s) where they want their scores to be sent when registering. If you do so, the College Board will send exam results for free. While it is possible to wait until after the exam to specify colleges and universities, there is an additional $10 fee for doing so.

It is also important to note that military service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and US Coast Guard, as well as eligible spouses and civil employees, can have their CLEP exams funded through the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES).

Refunds are not available to students who do not earn the required minimum qualifying scores.

Preparation and Study Guide for CLEP Tests

Where to Find CLEP Study Materials

The College Board offers study materials such as study guides and practice tests for purchase on its website. If you’re looking for cheaper or free alternatives, Modern States offers free study guides and test exams, as well as CLEP courses. Modern States is a non-profit organization that strives to provide free and reduced-cost educational materials for college students. Many high school and college libraries also have copies of the CLEP study guides and practice tests. Some will let you check them out, while others keep then in the resource department and they must be used in the library. You can also access sites such as Free CLEP Prep to find practice exams and study aids for some of the most common CLEP exams.

How Long to Study for a CLEP Test

As a general rule, 20 hours of study time is required for a CLEP test, but this can vary depending on several factors:

  • General knowledge of the subject matter
    If it’s a subject that you’ve studied previously, then your needed study time for the exam might be less.
  • Overall interest
    If it’s a subject that interests you, then you probably already have a decent grasp of it or are interested enough to quickly work through the study materials. This will also reduce your study time.
  • Life Experience
    If you manage a business but have to take a business management course to complete your degree, your hands-on experience will make studying for the Business CLEP exam that much easier because you’ll have the benefit of practical experience to fall back on.

Steps to Take

Understand the Testing Platform

The CLEP exam is computer based. All questions will be answered on the computer. No pen, pencils or paper are required. For exams that require a calculator, online calculators are accessible during the exam process.

Practice Tests

Test-takers have the option to purchase a CLEP Official Study Guide, offered only by the College Board. This guide includes several practice questions for all of the CLEP exams, making it the perfect resource for individuals planning to take multiple tests. Alternatively, CLEP Individual Exam Guides are available for those who intend to take just one or two CLEP exams. The most significant benefit to taking a practice test is the opportunity to become more familiar with the exam structure. Students will have a better understanding of questions types and the concepts that will be covered.

Additionally, the College Board provides a wide assortment of other preparatory resources, including:

  • Free Online CLEP Courses
  • Exam Descriptions
  • Sample Questions
  • Testing Platform Tutorial
  • Calculator Information
  • Helpful Tips
  • Recommended Online Resources
  • CLEP Practice Apps

Know Your Exam’s Questions Format

All exams have multiple-choice questions, but other exams might have other types of formats as well. For example, World Language CLEP exams require test takers to not just answer multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions but also require a listening exam. Literature, History, or Social Science exams often require essay questions as well as multiple-choice questions. CLEP exams in math or science might require you create a histogram or interpret the data in a graph or chart. The format of the exams, especially the essay portion, is at the discretion of the school that is offering the CLEP option.

Know Your Exam’s Question Types

There are several types of exam questions in CLEP tests. Here’s a list:

  • Multiple Choice - Select A, B, C, D, etc. as the correct answer
  • Zone - fill in a numerical value based on information provided
  • Shade - shade in the correct response to an asked question
  • Grid - decipher or create a grid with the information provided
  • Histogram - creating or deciphering a graph and selecting the best answer
  • Essays - Students are given a topic and they must provide a well-written and well-thought-out response

More on Question Types

  • Multiple Choice
    Most of the CLEP exams include multiple-choice questions to some extent. These require test-takers to read a question or statement before selecting an answer. In most cases, students will be asked to select the best answer from a list of options. This is because some questions have multiple responses that could be true to varying degrees. Individuals taking the test must be able to distinguish between mostly correct and completely correct responses.
  • Essay
    Some CLEP exams have a mandatory essay section, while others have optional essay sections. Students will need to verify with their institutions whether or not the optional essay sections are required for college credit purposes. The type of exam will determine how the essay portion is administered and whether or not there is an additional associated fee. All essays are intended to measure test-takers’ abilities to write clearly and effectively on a variety of topics and for various purposes. Writing is generally scored by college or university faculty members.
  • Listening
    Some CLEP exams require test-takers to demonstrate their ability to understand other spoken languages. To test listening skills, these exams include listening sections in which students must choose the best responses to spoken prompts. There are both short and long spoken prompt sections. Short prompts generally incorporate language that is simpler and used in casual conversation. The longer prompts, however, consist of more complex dialogues and narratives. Many audio portions are presented only once.
  • Calculator-Required
    Test-takers may be allowed to use a graphing calculator during some of the mathematic CLEP exams. When necessary, an online TI-84 Plus CE will be available. This calculator looks and functions exactly like the handheld version but excludes app access. Other tests provide online access to either a four-function calculator or a scientific, non-graphing calculator (TI-30XS Multiview). Students are expected to know when and how to use this tool appropriately. The College Board makes training videos available to help students build the skills necessary to use common features.

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Tips for Answering Each Question Type

  • Multiple Choice

    • Read each question completely before selecting an answer. Some questions instruct test-takers to select the best answer, which means it is possible for more than one option to be partially correct.
    • Set a reasonable pace. Remaining aware of the time is important, as it can help test-takers determine whether or not they are moving too slowly through the questions. Strive to complete at least half of the questions when half of the time for the section has passed.
    • Make educated guesses when necessary. Because there are not penalties for incorrect answers, test-takers should never leave a question blank.
  • Essay

    • Estimate how much time should be spent on each question before the exam. Test-takers are encouraged to keep an eye on the clock as they work through the essay portion to ensure they have plenty of time to complete every question.
    • Become familiar with key words often included in essay question directions. Test-takers should know the meanings of essay vocabulary and be able to respond appropriately. This vocabulary includes words such as analyze, apply, contrast, describe, discuss, explain, illustrate, prove, and summarize.
  • Listening

    • Spend time learning basic language vocabulary. Test-takers will be asked to choose answers based on short and long spoken sections. It is important to become familiar with a wide variety of words commonly used in conversation.
    • Take opportunities to hear the language spoken by native speakers. Test-takers must be able to effectively apply the grammatical principles that make up the language. Listening to and speaking with native speakers is the best way to enhance language abilities.
    • Seek opportunities to engage with the language. Test-takers should join organizations, watch movies, and listen to news broadcasts in the language in question.
  • Calculator-Required

    • Practice with graphing and/or scientific calculators ahead of time. Test-takers will need to know when and how to utilize these tools to answer questions correctly. The College Board provides training videos to help develop these skills.
    • Utilize the Graphing Calculator Practice Site. The College Board can provide temporary access to a site with sample questions where test-takers can launch the test and practice with the necessary Texas Instruments calculator.

Know How the Scoring Works

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 best colleges requiring such essays.

CLEP Test Centers & Exam Dates

If you are interested in testing out of certain courses so you can finish school faster, taking a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test provided by the College Board is a good option. In order to take the test, you have to locate a testing location and register for the test of your choice. Testing is offered at over 2,000 locations in the United States, so it probably won’t be too difficult to find a location near you.

Where Are CLEP Tests Offered?

CLEP tests are offered at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The College Board website offers a search function and allows you to search for a testing location near you. You can type in the name of a particular school and check if they are a testing site or you can search using the county, state, city, or ZIP code. For example, if you search for testing centers using the state of Ohio, you will get a listing of all the centers in Ohio. You can then narrow down your search results by also searching by city or the ZIP code.

Can I Take the CLEP Tests Online?

The CLEP test is only given via an Internet-based testing platform that is accessible from an official CLEP testing center. You cannot take the CLEP test from your home using your internet connection. There are over 2,000 testing centers scattered throughout the United States; a search on the College Board website will populate a list of test locations near you.

Can I Take a CLEP Test at Any Time?

CLEP tests are offered year-round at testing locations, but the actual schedule is set by each testing location individually. Contact the location you find wish to use and inquire about when the test is administered. In most cases, if school is in ses0sion, the CLEP exam is available. Typical testing seasons are at the beginning and end of semesters. If there isn’t a testing location near you, you can choose any facility you want that administers the specific exam you need on the dates you require.

How to Schedule Your CLEP Test

To sign up to take the CLEP test:

  • Log onto the College Board website; you’ll be prompted to create an account if you haven’t already done so.
  • Once you’ve created your account, search for a testing location in your area. Most testing centers are housed on college or university campuses.
  • After locating a testing center near you, click “Register for a CLEP test”. You can then select the test you want to take.
  • After you’ve selected your test, you’ll want to make sure the information you provided when you set up your account is correct and make changes where necessary.
  • Select your testing center.
  • Choose where to have your score sent. In most cases, the scores go to the school where you wish to pursue your degree.
  • Agree to the College Board’s Terms and Conditions.
  • Place your registration request.
  • Print out your registration ticket. You’ll need it as proof that you paid when you arrive at the testing location.
  • Schedule your test at the location you selected.

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.