CLEP Exam: Definition, Credits, Cost, Difficulty & More

The CLEP exam is the College Level Examination Program. It includes 34 standardized exams covering subjects typically taught over the course of one semester in the first and second year of college, or in 100 and 200 level classes. More than 2,900 colleges and universities award college credit to students passing CLEP exams.

CLEP exams allow students to get college credit at a lower cost than taking a college course. And earning CLEP credits often means getting a degree faster. The schools that accept the most CLEP credits accept 30 to 60.

Passing a CLEP exam is worth 3 to 12 credits depending on the subject, how much material it covers and whether a written essay is required. The majority of tests are worth 3 credits. Each school determines which CLEP exams it offers credit for and whether to give students the recommended number of credits for passing the exam. Tests vary in difficulty with passing rates below 50% for the hardest CLEP exams and above 80% for the easiest CLEP exams.

The current cost of each CLEP exam is $93, though military personnel and civil servants have their tests paid for by the U.S. government. Exams can be taken at more than 2,000 testing centers or online.

What Is a CLEP Exam?

CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams are standardized tests that assess the student’s knowledge of subjects commonly taught in universities and colleges in the first two years. Most exams correspond to a one semester course. Some courses cover information learned in a full year or two years of college courses.

CLEP offers 34 exams on a wide range of subjects. Students can earn college credit for a passing score. Currently more than 2,900 colleges and universities accept CLEP exam credits. The non-profit College Board is the organization that developed the CLEP program.

CLEP exams except those requiring an essay or composition use multiple choice questions based on material learned at the college level. Depending on the subject, test times range from 90 minutes to 120 minutes, or 1.5 to 2 hours. Scores are available immediately for all subjects except College Composition and Spanish with Writing.

Passing CLEP tests has many benefits. It saves students money because the exam cost, currently $93, is much lower than the cost of a college course. And passing CLEP exams allow students to get a college degree more quickly than taking courses over an entire college semester.

CLEP exams must be registered for and paid for in advance. Tests are taken at more than 2,000 official CLEP test centers throughout the U.S. and world. Taking an exam at home with remote proctoring, which is the monitoring of the student taking the exam, is an option.

CLEP exam dates are available throughout the year. According to the College Board, “CLEP exam administrations are continuous. Tests can be administered any day of the year except during system maintenance dates. When and how often a test center administers CLEP exams is up to the discretion of the individual test center.”

The 34 CLEP exams are grouped into 6 categories. Here are the CLEP categories along with the tests offered in each.

CLEP 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
  • Western Civilization II

CLEP Composition and Literature

  • American Literature
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
  • College Composition
  • College Composition Modular
  • English Literature
  • Humanities

CLEP Science and Mathematics

  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • College Algebra
  • College Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Precalculus

CLEP Business

  • Financial Accounting
  • Information Systems
  • Introductory Business Law
  • Principles of Management
  • Principles of Marketing

CLEP World Languages

  • French Language
  • German Language
  • Spanish Language
  • Spanish with Writing

Each college and university sets its own standards for what a passing score for a CLEP exam is. For most schools, a passing CLEP exam score is 50, which is the equivalent of 50% correct answers. Here is how a CLEP score is computed: The range of possible scores is 20 (getting no questions correct) to 80 (getting all questions correct). Each multiple-choice question is worth ½ point. To get a score of 50, starting at 20, you need to answer 60 questions correctly for an additional 30 points to take your score from a starting point of 20 to a score of 50.

The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends that colleges grant credit for a score of 50 or higher, but again, individual institutions can set their own CLEP credit policies.

How to Take a CLEP Test

The College Board, the organization that offers the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) suggests the following steps for how to take a CLEP test.

  1. Create a College Board account.
  2. Register for an exam online at clep.collegeboard.org. Find the exam in the list of options, add it to your Cart, and check out.
  3. Use the College Board CLEP Center Search Tool to locate a testing location, and schedule your test. 
  4. Contact the Test Center of your choice to schedule your exam. Or apply for CLEP Remote Proctoring.
  5. Sign into your My Account portal to print your exam registration ticket. 
  6. Indicate in the Account portal which schools you want your test scores sent to. 
  7. Prepare for your test with the College Board CLEP resources. 
  8. Review the list of what to bring on test day.

You may take a CLEP test again if unhappy with your score. There is no limit to how many times you can retake a CLEP exam.

The one rule about taking a CLEP test again is that it cannot be taken within 3 months of the initial or previous testing date.

How Many Credits is a CLEP Exam Worth?

The number of credits a CLEP exam is worth ranges from 3 to 12 depending on the subject, its difficulty and how much material the exam covers. The key factor is how many college courses you would need to take to become proficient in the information covered on the exam. For example, the Precalculus CLEP exam covers one semester of college and is worth 3 credits, while the Spanish Writing 2 exam covers 4 semesters of Spanish language and is worth 12 credits.

The American Council on Education, or ACE, recommends 3 college credits for most CLEP exams. It also recommends 6, 9 or 12 credits for CLEP exams that are broad in scope such as the College Biology Exam, the Social Sciences and History Exam, World Languages Exams and those that require written compositions such as the College Composition Exam and the Spanish Writing Exams.

Note that each college and university accepting CLEP credits reserves the right to make its own determination about how many college credits it awards for passing CLEP exams and also what it considers a passing score. However, most accept the recommendations of the American Council on Education. So, for example, passing a 3 credit CLEP exam is considered by most schools to be the same as passing a 3-credit class.

This table lists all CLEP exams currently offered and the number of credits recommended by the ACE.

CLEP CATEGORIES AND EXAMSCREDITS
History and Social Sciences
American Government3
History of the United States 1: Early Colonization to 18773
History of the United States II: 1865 to the Present3
Human Growth and Development3
Introduction to Educational Psychology3
Introductory Psychology3
Introductory Sociology3
Principles of Macroeconomics3
Principles of Microeconomics3
Social Sciences and History6
Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 16483
Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present3
Composition and Literature
American Literature3
Analyzing and Interpreting Literature3
College Composition6
College Composition Modular3
English Literature3
Humanities3
Science and Mathematics3
Biology6
Calculus4
Chemistry6
College Algebra3
College Mathematics3
Natural Sciences6
Precalculus3
Business
Financial Accounting3
Information Systems3
Introductory Business Law3
Principles of Management3
Principles of Marketing3
World Languages
French Language: Levels 1 & 26
German Language: Levels 1 & 26
Spanish Language: Levels 1 & 26
Spanish Writing: Levels 1 & 26

How Many CLEP Credits are Accepted At Most?

Most schools accept a maximum of 30-60 CLEP exam credits, the equivalent of one to two years of college. For each CLEP exam passed, 3 to 12 CLEP credits are accepted by colleges and universities. 

As the College Board advises, “Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from the American Council on Education (ACE).”

Contact the Admissions Office at your school or the schools you are considering in order to find out how many CLEP credits are accepted at each school.

A small percentage of schools like Harvard and Yale do not accept any CLEP credits. 

What are Restrictions On a College Accepting CLEP Credits?

There are 5 general restrictions on a school accepting CLEP credits. The school may not receive CLEP credits if:

  • You have already passed a course at the school or accepted by the school from another college that is closely comparable to the CLEP exam.
  • The CLEP exam is more basic than a college class you’ve already received credit for. For example, a school will not accept credit for the CLEP Precalculus exam if you have already received credit for a Calculus class.
  • The school limits how many credits a student can obtain through CLEP exams or similar proficiency exams.
  • The student has earned half or more of the credits needed for graduation.
  • The CLEP exam covers material that is part of a required course. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, does not accept most CLEP credits in mathematics courses. And Michigan State University does not accept CLEP credits in Financial Accounting or Principles of Marketing for students in the Business School.

Not all restrictions apply to all the schools. And the students most likely to qualify for credits for a good score are those that have none of the restrictions listed above. 

What Are Popular Colleges that Accept CLEP Credits?

Among the popular schools that accept the most CLEP credits are:

  • Michigan State University
  • Purdue University
  • Florida State University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Colorado State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Virginia
  • Iowa State University
  • University of Utah
  • Clemson University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Arizona
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Kentucky
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Wisconsin
  • The Ohio State University
  • Penn State University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Excelsior University
  • Western Governors University

You have many good options when considering colleges that accept CLEP credits.

Public universities, private universities and several online universities accept CLEP exam credits.

How to Check If Your College Accepts CLEP

There are 3 reliable ways to check if your college accepts CLEP. These options will also allow you to find out what CLEP exams it accepts and how many credits it awards for each exam passed.

Here is how to find out if your school accepts CLEP credits.

  • Search for the CLEP policies on the college or university website.
  • Contact the schools Admissions Office for answers to specific questions.
  • Use the College Board Search by School Name or Code page where you can find the CLEP college credit policy for schools you are interested in. Find the school using the search function, and choose to review the current list of CLEP exams accepted by each school.

How Much Do CLEP Exams Cost?

The current cost of CLEP exams is $93 per test. There is no volume discount. However, the cost of CLEP exams can be reduced or the cost might be free for some students.

Here are factors that lead to reduced costs or being allowed to take the exam for free:

  • The U.S. government pays exam fees for active military service members, their spouses and civil service employees working for a federal, state or local government agency. Small test center administrative fees might still apply.
  • The U.S. Post-9/11 G.I. Bill may pay exam fees for military veterans.
  • Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia provide funds to high schools for low-income students to take CLEP exams for free or reduced cost, currently $5 in Michigan and West Virginia.
  • Some employers pay CLEP exam fees for their employees – the policy is unique for each employer.

How Hard are CLEP Exams?

CLEP exam difficulty ranges from fairly easy courses to moderately difficult courses. The exams cover course material usually covered in 100 and 200 level college courses taken during the first and second years of college.

Based on student pass rate, here are the easiest and hardest exams to pass. All others are considered moderately difficult to pass.

Easiest CLEP Exams – Pass Rates of 75% or Higher

  • Spanish Language I and II
  • College Composition Modular
  • College Composition
  • Introductory Sociology
  • Principles of Marketing
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
  • French Language I and II
  • College Mathematics
  • Human Growth and Development

Hardest CLEP Exams Pass Rates Below 60%

  • Natural Sciences
  • History of the United States II
  • Financial Accounting
  • Calculus
  • College Algebra
  • American Government
  • Introductory Business Law
  • American Literature
  • Western Civilization
  • Chemistry

Overall, the easiest CLEP exam is Spanish with Writing. Spanish Language is the next easiest. But keep in mind that those exams are often taken by native Spanish speakers. Pass rate is 91% based on more than 32,000 test takers. It is the most commonly taken CLEP exam.

For each student, the easiest CLEP exams are those covering information the student is already proficient in. And the hardest CLEP exams are those testing information the student has no prior knowledge of.

What is the CLEP Pass Rate?

The CLEP pass rate is around 40% to 93%. It varies slightly year to year.

That is the CLEP exam pass rate for civilian students. Military CLEP pass rates are around 11% to 82% except for Spanish Language classes which have higher military pass rates.

Where to Find CLEP Study Resources

The best place to find CLEP study resources is on the College Board CLEP Exam pages for each exam.

CLEP study resources available from the College Board include:

  • The CLEP Examination Guide for each exam. Cost is $10 per Guide.
  • Resource Guide and Sample Questions for each exam. These downloads include the exam breakdown. These guides are Free.
  • CLEP Practice e-guides and ExamIam (Exam I Am)
    App. The CLEP ExamIAm app is Free when you create an account.
  • Links to online resources from reliable sources such as HippoCampus, Modern States and the Khan Academy. These resources provide a CLEP exam study plan. They are Free.

While the online resources are reliable and considered accurate, the College Board reminds students that, “None of these sources are designed specifically to provide preparation for a CLEP exam.”

You can pay for CLEP exam study resources including video tutorials and lessons, self-paced guides and practice tests for all CLEP exams from Study.com, Mometrix.com, InstantCert.com, Military.com, Petersons.com, Powerhouse.com and similar sites. Written study guides are also available wherever books are sold.

What Are the Differences Between CLEP and DSST (Dantes)?

The DSST test is the Dantes Subject Standardized Test. DSST tests are taken via computer, and tests are offered in Applied Technology, Business, Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences. 

There are a few key differences between CLEP and DSST.

  • CLEP credits are accepted by more than 2,900 schools. Dantes credits are accepted by about 1,900 schools.
  • CLEP exams are 90 minutes long. DSST exams take 120 minutes, though both include 100 multiple choice questions. CLEP offers a choice of 5 answers; DSST offers 4 answers.
  • Some CLEP exams require a written composition or essay. There are no written requirements for DSST tests.
  • There are more CLEP exams than DSST exams. The College Board offers 34 exams while Dantes offers 30 exams.
  • The content for some classes is different. CLEP exams often cover topics more generally, such as History of the United States: 1865 to Present. DSST exam topics are often more specific, such as the exam on the VietNam War.
  • CLEP courses cover content learned in 100 and 200 level courses. Some DSST courses cover advanced 300 and 400 level topics.

What Are the Differences Between CLEP and AP?

The key difference between CLEP and AP credits, or Advanced Placement credits, is that AP exams are taken by high school students who want to earn college credits early. CLEP exams are taken by students who have completed high school and may also be enrolled in college. 

Almost all colleges and universities accept AP credits. CLEP credits are accepted by more than 2,900 schools, so AP credits are more widely accepted than CLEP credits.

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