The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) may be the best deal in American post-secondary education. Non-traditional students such as those who didn’t go on to college directly after high school and now work full-time can earn college credits without taking college courses if they pass CLEP examinations. Moreover, they do this cost effectively by paying an exam fee of $90 instead of the cost of college tuition for a three-credit course, which can range from about $300 at a community college to almost $5,000 at the top colleges in the country.
It’s a challenge for CLEP students to learn enough about a subject to pass an exam when their time availability is limited. But millions of non-traditional students have taken advantage of the CLEP program to earn at least part of a college degree. CLEP offers exams that cover introductory-level college course material. With an acceptable score on one CLEP exam, a student can earn three or more college credits at 2,900 U.S. colleges.
CLEP gives individuals the opportunity to demonstrate college-level knowledge that they’ve gained through prior course work, independent study, professional experience, and other pursuits. The student receives credits for a college course, exemption from a required course, and/or advanced placement in the curriculum of a bachelor’s degree program. CLEP exams can earn students up to two years of college credits.
Benefits of the CLEP Program
Administered by the College Board for over 50 years, the CLEP program offers 34 exams. CLEP exams are administered throughout the year at more than 2,000 high schools, colleges, and government facilities in the United States and abroad. Students who take CLEP exams benefit in a number of ways, as follows:
- Students perform as well or better in subsequent courses than their peers who took the introductory course at the same college.
- CLEP students have higher average GPA’s in college than other student.
- Students who score 50 or higher on exams have a higher rate of successful transfer from two-year to four-year colleges.
- Among first-generation college students and those in underrepresented groups, students earning a CLEP score of 50 or higher on exams have significantly higher retention and graduation rates than other students.
- CLEP exams are accepted at far more colleges (2,900) than any other credit-by-examination program.
- As an option, CLEP exams may be taken at home and administered through a remote proctoring arrangement.
Understanding the CLEP Policies of Colleges
Individuals who wish to determine how CLEP can help them at a particular college can research its CLEP policies on the college’s website. We recommend that students considering taking the CLEP exams follow these steps:
- See if the college accepts exams for credits. Review the college’s CLEP policy closely to verify that it grants credit for the particular CLEP exams that the student is considering taking.
- Determine if the exam counts toward the degree that the student seeks. Consult the college’s degree requirements in the appropriate major to see if the exam fulfills a requirement. At many colleges, a satisfactory CLEP score allows a student to skip a course that would otherwise be required either as a general degree requirement or as an introductory course within a major.
- Check to see if the college’s policy has any restrictions that might preclude the student’s participation on the basis of past life experiences.
CLEP exam scores range from 20 to 80 points, with 50 being the minimum passing score suggested by the American Council on Education. However, each college that accepts CLEP exams sets its own minimum exam scores for granting credit hours.
Preparing for a CLEP Exam
There are study materials available from the College Board to help a student prepare for CLEP exams. These include the Official Study Guide for $35 that covers all 34 exams or individual exam guides for $10 each.
Modern States is a nonprofit education alliance dedicated to college access for all. The alliance offers 30 free freshman college courses that are aligned with CLEP exams. They are taught online by leading college professors.
Prospective exam-takers should become familiar with the descriptions of each exam that are on the CLEP website. They should also complete the sample questions on the “At a Glance” worksheets for each exam that they plan to take.
The College Board has an online video to help exam-takers become familiar with the testing platform, testing tools, the types of examination questions, and the types of calculators that are permitted. Students should practice with the scientific calculators that are the only types usable in exams such as Chemistry, College Algebra, and College Mathematics. The video also contains information about how CLEP scores are calculated.
The American Literature, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, College Composition Modular, and English Literature exams may have optional essays if they are required by a college that the student has designated to receive their results.
Taking a CLEP Exam at a Test Center
CLEP exam registration and payment can be conducted on the College Board’s CLEP website. After exam-takers register, they have six months to contact one of the more than 2,000 CLEP testing centers around the country to schedule the exam.
When the exam has been completed, exam-takers immediately receive their score at the test center except for exams that required an essay. The two colleges designated to receive the student’s exam scores will receive them within 10 to 14 business days. They’ll need time to record the credits that are due. Additional score reports can be sent to other colleges and can be ordered on the CLEP website for $20 each. Exam-takers can also request a transcript of all of their CLEP exam scores for $20.
Exam-takers should do the following on the day of the exam:
- Bring their registration ticket,
- Bring two No. 2 pencils with erasers (no other kinds are allowed),
- Bring a valid government-issued photo ID that includes a signature, and
- Do not bring a mobile phone or other electronic device except an allowable calculator into the test center.
Students may retake a CLEP exam if they choose but they cannot retake the same exam within three months of the initial testing date.
Taking a CLEP Exam at Home
CLEP offers all exam-takers the option of taking CLEP exams at home with remote human proctoring. CLEP exams with remote proctoring have the same timing, content, format, and on-screen experience as an exam at a CLEP testing center.
Remote proctoring is provided by a third-party company called Verificient Technologies, Inc., which operates Proctortrack, an identity verification and remote proctoring system. Students register for the remote-proctored exam on the CLEP through the My Account Registration Portal. One rescheduled exam appointment is allowed at no additional charge. There is a charge of $10 for rescheduling any additional exam appointments. Students need to download and install the ETS Online Test application. This will be used for the test so that the proctor can log the student into the test launcher to start the exam.
To take a CLEP exam with remote proctoring, a student must meet the following criteria:
- Be 13 years old or older.
- Be located in the U.S. (excludes U.S. territories) or be DANTES-funded.
- The computer and testing room must meet equipment and environment requirements as well as Proctortrack technical requirements for remote proctoring.
To participate in remote proctoring, an exam-taker must have the following:
- A computer (Windows-compatible PC’s only, no Macs),
- A webcam,
- A speaker,
- A microphone,
- A white board or one sheet of paper in a transparent sheet protector,
- A dry-erase marker for note taking, and
- A quiet, secure testing environment.
Students who have a learning or physical disability that would prevent them from taking a remote-proctored CLEP exam under standard conditions may request accommodations through the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities. The following accommodations are available for remote-proctored exams:
- Screen magnification
- Modifiable screen colors
- Extended time
- Untimed rest breaks (in view of the proctor)
- Accommodations that don’t impact the CLEP testing platform and allow the test taker to stay within view of the proctor, such as permission for food, drinks, or medication and permission to test blood sugar.
CLEP Military Benefits
To help military service members as well as eligible spouses and civil service employees reach their educational goals, the U.S. government fully funds CLEP exams and administration fees so members can save money toward a college degree. The DANTE program is the means by which these educational services are provided.
Benefits are available to:
- Military personnel: Available to members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard, and Air Force National Guard.
- Spouses of: Coast Guard (active and reserve) and MyCAA Military Eligible Spouses.
- Civilian employees of: Air Force.
- Veterans: Veterans are eligible for education benefits under the Forever G.I. Bill.
CLEP Exam Topics
These five exam topics listed below cover the entirety of one of the five main subject areas:
- Composition and Literature
- World Languages
- History and Social Sciences
- Science and Mathematics
The subject area exams may be taken individually, as follows:
- Composition and Literature
- American Literature
- Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
- College Composition
- College Composition Modular
- English Literature
- World Languages
- French Language: Levels 1 and 2
- German Language: Levels 1 and 2
- Spanish Language: Levels 1 and 2
- History and Social Sciences
- 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 Present
- Science and Mathematics
- College Algebra
- College Mathematics
- Natural Sciences
- Financial Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
- Information Systems
- Introductory Business Law
- Principles of Management
- Principles of Marketing