CLEP Exams

How to Get College Credit & Graduate Faster

For more than 40 years, College Board has been providing the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam series to help students earn college credit with their existing knowledge. In the following sections, learners interested in using this method to bypass introductory classes can learn what the CLEP entails, how much it costs, when it can be taken and how to prepare.

Meet the Expert

Susan Landry Former teacher, Educational Consultant


CLEP Exams: An Overview

The CLEP series provides students the opportunity to gain college credit, save money, move into advanced coursework more quickly and ultimately graduate faster. In fact, 50 percent of CLEP learners earned their degree within seven years, compared to only 21 percent of their peers who had no prior-learning experience.

What are CLEP exams?

Put simply, CLEP exams allow degree seekers with prior knowledge of introductory college topics the opportunity to take an exam demonstrating their mastery rather than taking the class itself. The overall purpose of CLEP exams is to reward existing knowledge and make it easier for students to earn college credit. As of 2017, examinations in 35 different subject areas are offered.

What are the benefits of taking a CLEP exam?

CLEP exams are beneficial to students of many different backgrounds and interests, and appeal to numerous motives. Here’s how taking one or more CLEP exams might benefit you:

Which schools accept it?

Before signing up and taking any CLEP exams, students should first check with their current or prospective school to make sure it accepts CLEP credits. Currently, more than 2,900 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. accept CLEP credits. To see if your school is among them, use College Board’s searchable database.

CLEP Exams: The Test

Before deciding to take a CLEP exam, prospective examinees probably have a few questions about how it is formatted and what to expect on testing day.

The 35 CLEP exams currently offered by College Board are divided into five categories:

  • Composition and literature

  • World languages

  • History and social sciences

  • Science and mathematics

  • Business

Regardless of their chosen areas of interest, CLEP examinees can select from a vast array of topics, including American literature; various levels of French, German or Spanish language; human growth and development; macroeconomics; college algebra; pre-calculus or financial accounting.

Preparing for a CLEP Exam

Before diving into the process, students should familiarize themselves with the logistics of taking a CLEP exam, including where they can be taken, how the sign-up process works and how they should prepare for exam day.

Where can you take a CLEP exam?

CLEP exams are currently offered at more than 1,800 civilian and military testing centers throughout the United States, and College Board has plans to expand this number in the coming years. To find a test center near you, use College Board’s easily searchable database.

Registration and fees

Regardless of the subject test taken, all CLEP exams cost $85 and can be paid and registered for via the College Board website. Once registered, examinees must contact their local testing center to arrange a date and time to sit the exam. Aside from the examination fee, most testing centers charge an additional administration fee that can be paid online or in person.

What to bring with you

When testing day arrives, students must bring:

  • A valid registration ticket for each exam they’ll be taking

  • Any necessary paperwork required by the testing facility

  • A valid and acceptable form of identification

Items that can’t be brought in include:

  • Calculators

  • Keyboards

  • Phones

  • Books

  • Cameras or audio recording devices

  • Food

  • Hats or baggy clothes

  • Any other items that could be used to unlawfully help examinees with the testing materials

Preparing for a CLEP exam

The level of mastery a student has of a particular subject will greatly dictate how much studying is needed before sitting the exam. Here are some of the best ways to prepare:

Take the exam right away

If a student is still in high school while working toward CLEP credits, it may be possible for them to gain the knowledge needed to sit the exam and pass without much studying. This is especially true for common classes taught at the high school level that are also available as CLEP exams, including English literature, psychology, U.S. history or biology.

Use practice exams

In addition to CLEP workbooks that can be purchased, there are many websites that offer free practice tests to help students pinpoint their weak spots and tailor their studying moving forward. Taking a practice test could also help them realize they have enough knowledge already and can move straight to the exam.

Resources for practice exams:

Take a course

Modern States, a non-profit dedicated to college access for all, provides free online CLEP prep courses in partnership with edX. Sign up for more than 30 free courses on their website.

Expert Advice on CLEP Exams

Susan Landry has decades of experience in preparing traditional and adult students for college credit examinations. A former teacher, Landry was selected as Teacher of the Year before moving into her current role. In recent years, she has published an eBook on preparing students for tests that award college credit, including both CLEP and DSST. She has also taught study groups for high school students and has a successful record of helping them pass CLEP exams.

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of CLEP exams, and how can students best use them to their benefit?

The pros of CLEP exams include saving tons of money and time. The first two years of college are largely a repeat of high school. When studying a subject, why not study once and get credit for it?

At our local community college, a three-credit course costs between $600-700 (and that is much less than at a four-year college or university). A CLEP exam costs around $100 when considering examination and administrative fees. That is an incredible savings! And for kids who don't particularly love school, CLEP exams are an incentive to study once and be done.

There are two main cons of CLEP testing as I see it. One, it requires a good amount of self-motivation to study and prepare for the tests, and not all students possess this. Secondly, and a larger concern, is that many colleges don't accept very many credits by exam.

How do schools typically feel about accepting CLEP exam credits?

It can often take some digging on a college's website to find their policy on accepting CLEP credits. In Minnesota, a number of years ago our Governor got a law passed that requires all schools in the State University System to accept an unlimited number of credits by exam. In my experience looking at schools around the country, the more prestigious a university is, the fewer CLEP credits they will accept.

How many CLEP exams should students try to take?

That depends on the student. My oldest son graduated high school with 18 CLEP/DSST credits. My younger son is a junior and currently has 36 credits by exam. To answer the question of how many exams a student should take, the first consideration must be what the student's goals are. Knowing the policies of the college/program they plan to attend after high school will guide how many credits they seek to gain.

What advice do you have for students considering this path?

My advice would be: DO IT! By getting credits by exam you are giving yourself a self-awarded scholarship to college.

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