CLEP testing provides students with just that: an escape from having to take a specific class.

CLEP Testing

               Perhaps you’ve heard of the magical test that can get you out of a class you don’t want to take, but still give you credit for it? CLEP testing provides students with just that: an escape from having to take a specific class. The College-Level Examination Program, affectionately known as CLEP, is a series of tests designed to measure a student’s knowledge or expertise in a subject and, just maybe, excuse them from taking courses they have sufficient knowledge in.

CLEP Courses and How it Works

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               CLEP courses, though widely used to avoid taking classes we don’t want to take, were actually created for students who don’t need to take a course. Confusing? The original intention was to provide a way for students who already have sufficient knowledge on a subject/course to opt out of that specific class. It isn’t necessary to spend a semester (and therefore tuition money) taking a class that you already have extensive knowledge in, so CLEP was meant to provide a way to prove that knowledge.

               CLEP testing measures the student’s expertise in a subject to make sure that it meets the standards of a college level education. Meaning, if a student were to take a CLEP test for psychology, in order to pass, their score needs to reflect that they know an acceptable amount of what they would have learned in a college psychology class.

               While it may not have been intended, CLEP testing has opened an avenue for students to opt to study a subject independently, even if they don’t already have knowledge in it, and take the test in place of taking a class. It has become a popular way to cut down the time it takes to receive a degree, and the money spent on tuition. If a student takes and passes enough CLEP tests, they can potentially cover up to 10 months in credits that would otherwise have been spent in a classroom and billed as tuition.

               CLEP is run by The College Board, the same people who provide your SAT/ACT scores. Currently, they offer 34 CLEP courses that cover 5 subject areas: English and Language Composition, History and Social Science, Math and Science, Business, and World Languages (Spanish, French, and German). This means that there are 34 CLEP tests that students can opt to take in place of a college class.

               Because CLEP courses are in place of actual college courses, students typically receive equal credit hours for them. That usually means 3 credit hours, but it can be anywhere from 3-12 credits. Unfortunately, receiving credit for CLEP courses is not a guarantee. There are some factors that come into play:

The Score

               The most obvious factor that determines whether a CLEP test counts for credit is the score that a student receives on the test. CLEP tests are scored out of 80 and are almost all multiple choice (English composition writing and Spanish writing are written exams). For most colleges, 50 and above are considered passing grades. Keep in mind, that is 50 out of 80, not a percentage.

The College

               The other important factor that comes into play is the college itself. Not every college will accept CLEP courses for credit. Some colleges will accept a CLEP test as a way to determine a student doesn’t need a specific class, so it’ll count as a prerequisite, but it won’t count for credit. In that case, a student won’t have to take that specific class, but it won’t change the credit hours they still need for their degree.

               There are other colleges that will not accept CLEP courses at all. Generally speaking, the more prestigious a university, the less likely they are to accept CLEP tests. Before you consider taking CLEP tests, be sure to check the policies of the college you are attending or plan to attend to see where they stand with CLEP. There’s no sense in paying for the CLEP test if there is no benefit to you taking the course. You’re already paying tuition, don’t pay more for no reason.

               Which brings us to cost. CLEP testing, unfortunately, is not free. Each test costs roughly $100 when including all the fees. Now, at first glance, that can sound a little steep for one test. However, if you consider the amount of time and money spent on tuition for the same subject matter, by comparison, it’s barely a fraction of the cost. If you take enough CLEP courses to cut out a whole semester, you’ve effectively saved thousands in tuition and spent maybe $500 instead.

               But wait, there’s more! There is a possible way to take CLEP tests for free. A New York-based nonprofit called Modern States Education Alliance offers CLEP courses for free and will even cover the cost of the tests for students who need it. Through Modern States, you can get study help and take the test at potentially no cost to you.

How to CLEP Test

               If CLEP testing appeals to you, the process to get started is super easy. Go to the CLEP website, which is operated by College Board. Search for the exam that you want to take, add it to your cart, and create an account or sign in (if you already have an account). Make sure you verify your personal information. Choose a testing center and pick a date. Tell them where you want your scores sent and prepare for the test. For more details on registration or CLEP testing, visit the website.

               Now that you know what and how to sign up for CLEP testing, let’s consider when to “CLEP a class.”

When is CLEP a Good Idea

To put it simply, CLEP testing is almost always a great idea.

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               To put it simply, CLEP testing is almost always a great idea. When you already have extensive knowledge on a subject and know that you will have to take a class for it, CLEP testing is a great way to get credit without wasting time. Or, if you don’t have great knowledge on a subject, CLEP is still a great option to knock out some gen ed (classes you have to take that aren’t necessarily part of your major) if you are willing to do the studying for it on your own.

               CLEP testing is a great way to cut time out of your degree that you otherwise would have had to pay for. The more classes that you take away from your schedule with CLEP, the less you have to spend on tuition for the time those classes would have taken. If your college accepts CLEP courses for credit, then it’s to your benefit to knock out as many courses as you want with CLEP.

               Keep in mind, though, that you will most likely have to do all the learning on your own. There will be no professor guiding studies or lectures to give you an idea of what will be on the exam. If you are comfortable learning independently, then by all means, CLEP it out.

When is CLEP a Bad Idea?

               CLEP is rarely a bad idea. It has the potential to save you thousands of dollars, save you months in a classroom, and can get you credit towards your degree for things you may already know. So, how could it be a bad thing?

               Well, if your college does not accept CLEP for credit, then obviously there’s no point in paying to take the exam. Again, knowing where your college stands on CLEP courses is vital before committing to the test. Also, if you aren’t great in testing situations and your college happens to have higher standards that require scores above 50, then placing that much pressure on one exam may not be the most beneficial thing to do.

               CLEP testing also may not be the best idea if you’re a senior, going into your last semester of college, and replacing a class that you absolutely need to pass to graduate. The issue with that will be timing. If (Heaven forbid) you fail the CLEP, you have to wait a minimum of 90 days before you will be allowed to retake the test. You run the risk of not being able to graduate because of that one test. By all means, CLEP the class—just don’t wait until the last second.

               Finally, if you are the type of learner that thrives in a classroom situation or need more hands-on explanation and discussion, CLEP testing may not be the best idea for you. Depending on how you best learn and retain information, CLEP courses may be difficult for you to study and remember the information. College isn’t just about passing, after all. If you CLEP a class, especially one that is vital to your major, but can’t remember anything you learned, then building on that leaves you with a weak foundation for your future.

               That doesn’t mean that you can’t adapt, but it may leave you somewhat frustrated and having to re-learn things often. That’s not a guarantee, of course. You know yourself best, so do what is best for you when it comes to learning.

CLEP Alternatives

               CLEP is not the only option out there to get credit for or bypass a class you don’t want to take. Some other options are as follows:

  • AP Exams: Advanced Placement exams are also offered by The College Board to High school students. Students take the AP course and exam. If a student scores high enough on the test, they may be able to get college credit for the equivalent college course.
  • IB Programme: The International Baccalaureate Programme is very similar to AP courses. High school students are offered a globally recognized curriculum and are then tested. If students score well enough, some colleges may offer students college credit for it.
  • DSST: DSST exams were originally designed for military personnel but are now available to anyone. These are exams that cover many upper and lower-level college subjects.


               There are very few reasons not to consider CLEP testing. It has clear benefits and can offer big savings on your degree journey. But not everything works for everyone. Know yourself and what works best for you and your goals. If you are keen on finishing your degree as early as possible, for the least amount of money, and are disciplined enough to do the studying independently, then CLEP courses are the way to go!

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