CLEP College Level Examination Program

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The most popular and widely accepted Credit by Examination program is the CLEP. It is developed by the College Board which also administers the AP, SAT and others. The program offers a flexible, low cost, widely-accepted option for earning college credit. Details of the CLEP include:

On the day of the exam, students may send their test scores directly to a college or university of their choice at no additional cost. However, students are not required to select a college to send the scores. They may not know yet where they plan to graduate or they may not want to automatically send a score in case they may not pass. CLEP banks test scores for 20 years so students can transfer them to a college at any time. When students transfer the credits later, they can request specific exam dates and leave off the dates of any tests not passed.

Most colleges place CLEP credits on a student’s transcript as pass/fail and they do not affect a student’s grade point average. Therefore, students generally need to only earn a passing score. Occasionally, however, students or schools may want to appoint a letter grade to the exam. As a result, the American Council on Education (ACE) has evaluated the tests for a “C” score, which is considered the official passing score and the only score that most students need to be concerned with. As well as a “B” score which may be used on rare occasions.

Following are the current 33 CLEP exams along with the ACE-recommended scores for earning credit. The military passing rates from 2010 are also listed. Keep in mind that military personnel can take CLEP tests free of charge and therefore may not prepare as effectively because they have no financial penalty. Therefore, the general public pass rates are often higher, but no official records are given. The military pass rates are provided in order to give students a feel for relative difficulty when choosing which tests to take.

The preparation time for each test varies according to a student’s age, work schedule, and previous experience in the subject. Some students devote a lot of time and take two tests a week while others pace themselves and take a test every two months. However, a minimum of twenty study hours is a reasonable benchmark for most students. High school students should strongly consider taking a CLEP test after each of their corresponding high school courses. If they take Algebra 2 in school, they should take the College Algebra CLEP right after their high school final. The same would apply for history courses, sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages. These multiple choice exams could earn them a lot of credit and allow them to not have to take them again in college at a much higher price.

Students can find exam information for each test on College Board’s website. For $10, they can download an exam guide with a practice test. These guides are very beneficial and outline the topics that will be covered. They also list what percentage of each topic will be tested so students know where to specifically concentrate their studies. The exam guides for all 33 tests have also been compiled in one book called, the CLEP Official Study Guide. Students who intend on taking more than two tests should consider purchasing the book to save money. Older editions often cost less and work just as well, as long as the subject they are studying has not been recently updated. Free testing demos are also available from College Board’s website to help students become familiar with their testing software.

Preparation Material

Assuming a student does not have deep prior knowledge of a subject, they will need to find study material to prepare for a test. Since CLEP tests parallel college courses, college textbooks often work well and can be found at local college bookstores. Many students will search online to buy or rent books on sites such as,,, or Textbooks are beneficial because they supply students with lengthy explanations to help them understand the material. Some also come with a glossary of terms that students may use for making flashcards.

However, many students may feel overwhelmed studying the large amount of material found in a textbook. They would rather find resources that offer them a brief yet thorough review. Since CLEP’s have become such popular exams, an entire industry has been created to develop study material for students taking these tests. There are currently dozens of review guides and programs available to help students study. The most popular are:

Online Resources

This is the most popular online resource for students taking CLEP exams and has been used successfully for many years. It is primarily designed for students with little knowledge of a course. The program delivers course material to students in a flashcard type system. Students review the main topics with online flashcards until they can successfully recall the answers on their own. The flashcards are not multiple choice, instead students type the answer to increase their comprehension. The same concepts are repeated and asked in different ways to help students master important course material. InstantCert also has their own discussion board to help students at Thousands of students earning college credit through these independent methods ask questions and offer advice. The discussion forum is a valuable resource that allows students to learn directly from other students. The InstantCert program costs $20 per month or $108 for six months. Students register online and can begin the program immediately. They also offer an unconditional 30-day money back guarantee. In addition, InstantCert offers programs for DSST and ECE exams.

There are other similar online programs available as well such as,, and that students may also want to consider. In addition, there is another helpful discussion board at Students discuss topics that are very helpful for independent learners on this website too.

Printed Material

In addition to the online study programs, students also have access to an abundance of popular study guides and review books.

Research and Education Association (REA)

The most used test prep guides for the CLEP are published by REA. These books give a comprehensive review of the topics students are expected to know to pass the exams. Each book covers a different CLEP subject exam and guides students through important course information, explaining the most important topics. They also include practice tests with detailed answers to further increase a students’ understanding. Some books also include CD’s with practice tests to help students become more familiar with computer testing. Books run between $27 and $35.

Finish College Fast

Another popular resource for helping students successfully pass CLEP exams is Finish College Fast, also known as Pass Your Class. They have developed creative study guides similar to a condensed textbook that only contains the most important course information. Their material also includes flashcards and online links. They have a “pass or don’t pay” policy and boast a 98% pass rate. Guides can be downloaded as pdfs or can be purchased in hard copy. Cost is $36 per subject and they also offer guides for DSST exams.

A few more popular options for printed study guides include Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s, and Cliff’s Notes. Many students purchase these books used on Amazon and then resell them when they’re finished. In addition, companies called Ace the CLEP, Wise Owl Publications, and National Learning Corporation have created study material similar to Finish College Fast and students may want to consider them as well.

Full Courses

Students, who would like to actually take a course before they take the CLEP exam, but need flexibility and affordability, may benefit from iStudySmart. These courses deliver all the information contained in a college course. Students progress through a textbook and complete assignments, readings and sample exams. They can study online, with a CD-ROM, or with workbooks. Individual traditional courses currently cost $225, or students can purchase up to 14 courses for 12 months for $740. Unlimited access for 24 months is $990. Their courses have a money-back 90 day guaranteed. They also offer DSST courses and test prep guides as well as ECE and TECEP courses.

CLEP Official Study Guide

Although study guides and online resources offer great benefits to students, most students agree that it is still very important to review test information found in the College Board’s CLEP Official Study Guide or their downloaded exam guides before taking an exam. This is because College Board develops the tests and decides which questions will be asked. The sample tests found here will be the most accurate indicator to let students know when they have prepared sufficiently to take the exam. Other test prep companies create practice tests as well, but they are more useful for supplementing the education process and are not as accurate for predicting whether a student is ready to take a test.

Students should use the one official College Board practice test carefully. When a student believes they are prepared sufficiently to take an exam, they should first take the practice test. If they answer 50% or more correctly, they will likely pass the actual exam. However, if their score is less than this, they should study further and take the test again to see if they have raised their score. It is important for students to ask someone else to grade the practice tests so they do not see which ones they answered incorrectly. Otherwise, the test will not give them an accurate assessment next time to see if their score went up.


Students often find that CLEP tests get easier with each subsequent subject exam as they grow more comfortable with the testing format. Many of the preparation lessons learned, and choice of study material sources, will transfer to the next subject. Many students become energized and take several CLEP exams in a row over a fairly short period of time. For those pursuing an independent path, CLEP’s often become one of the best tools they have at their disposal.




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