College Level Examinations Program (CLEP)

Updated: February 24, 2021
In this Article

    The College Level Examinations Program, also known as CLEP or CLEP testing, is a way for college students to take an exam to demonstrate knowledge of college course material rather than attend a full semester or term’s worth of classes in that subject.

    College Level Examinations Program (CLEP) CLEP is a tradition among college students; military members, eligible spouses, plus civil service workers are eligible not only to take these CLEP tests, but also to have them paid for either by GI Bill benefits or via a program called DANTES, also known as the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.

    A Brief Explanation Of CLEP

    The College Level Examinations Program is more than 50 years old, and is accepted by approximately three thousand institutions of higher learning nationwide. CLEP tests are administered by a non-profit organization called the College Board, and while the testing falls under that entity, only the participating college may grant college credit.

    Your CLEP test results must be accepted by the college you attend in order to receive the credit.

    According to the College Board official site, CLEP policies will vary from school to school. “…Some colleges accept credit for a few exams, while others accept credit for all of them. A college often grants the same amount of credit to a student who earns satisfactory scores on a CLEP exam as it does for a student who successfully completes the related course.”

    Some sources report as many as 50 thousand military members a year earn credit with CLEP tests, which are administered both stateside and at military bases overseas.

    Who Can Take CLEP Tests?

    Basically, CLEP is for anyone who wants to earn college credit, including high school students. However, some colleges will not permit a student to take a CLEP exam in an area the learner has previously attended college classes for.

    Where, When, And How CLEP Testing Is Performed

    You will take CLEP exams online or at a computer workstation at official CLEP testing locations. In this case “online” does not mean remotely, but at a computer in the official testing location. CLEP tests are multiple choice, take as long as two hours per test, and the results are available immediately following the examination. There are approximately two thousand official CLEP test centers in the United States.

    Why Take CLEP Tests?

    CLEP tests are significantly more affordable than traditional class attendance. The cost of each CLEP test is, at the time of this writing, under $100 per exam. That is an obvious savings compared to in-state resident tuition for a full time student.

    Compare $100 per CLEP test with the average tuition cost per semester of any college and you’ll find that using CLEP can potentially save a student thousands of dollars depending on how many tests they take, how much credit is gained from that testing, etc.

    Testing out of certain subjects can also shave time off of degree completion – how many classes can you test out of before you’ve significantly reduced the amount of classroom hours you’ll be required to attend? According to some reports, the amount of time saved can be as high as 10 months.

    CLEP test takers are, according to one published report, often able to maintain higher GPAs than non test-takers and are said to have a higher rate of degree completion.

    Available CLEP Tests

    CLEP testing is not available for every single college subject. There are over 30 individual tests which include the following, and more:

    • American Literature
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
    • College Composition
    • College Composition Modular
    • English Literature
    • Humanities
    • 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 the Present
    • Biology
    • Calculus
    • Chemistry
    • College Algebra
    • College Mathematics
    • Natural Sciences
    • Precalculus

    CLEP Scoring

    There are two steps in CLEP test scoring. One is called a “raw score which is basically the number of exam questions the test taker correctly answers. No points are subtracted for unanswered questions or wrong answers.” The raw score is converted into something called the “scaled score” and statistical processes that help maintain test consistency. The raw score will be converted into the scaled score which is on a range between 20 and 80.

    The scaled score is the one that will appear on your test results. In cases where there is an optional essay, the writing work is reviewed by the college accepting your CLEP score credit.

    Certain Restrictions On CLEP Testing

    For example, if you want to “CLEP out” of a History 101 course, you cannot have taken History 101 at the college level or its equivalent, if the college chooses not to permit the credit. Some will, some won’t. The same is true for college-level classes a learner has failed in the past – some schools will not recognize CLEP testing for a class the student failed. Others may. You will need to discuss the possibilities with a college rep.

    CLEP Testing: Who Pays?

    CLEP is not a military program, nor is it fully funded by Defense Department dollars. However, military members, dependents, veterans, and other eligible applicants may have their CLEP testing paid for by the GI Bill or other federal education benefits.

    About 50 thousand military members each year take CLEP exams without paying the exam fees thanks to something called DANTES – the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support program. DANTES is for currently serving military members. Veterans will have their CLEP testing paid for via the GI Bill.

    Changes to the GI Bill effective August 2018 make using it to pay for CLEP more student-friendly. Under the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, veterans taking CLEP exams would be charged for a full month of GI Bill benefits. Under the Forever GI Bill, effective since 2018, CLEP test charges are “billed” to GI Bill benefits for only the actual amount of the exam and associated fees.

    Important CLEP Test Information For Military Test-Takers

    When you sign up to take your first CLEP test, you must state your military status and identify yourself as someone eligible for DANTES funding where applicable. To access your CLEP test information (such as for submission to a college) you may be required to request your CLEP information via your military transcript records.

    If you take a CLEP test that is funded via DANTES, you are eligible to receive a free CLEP exam guide for that test at no additional cost. This guide may be added to your cart at the end of the test signup process.

    The day of the exam, you will need to bring your military ID with you. This also applies to others who may be CLEP testing but who are not currently serving military members; dependents, spouses, retired or separated military, etc.

    CLEP Retests, DANTES, and Associated Retesting Fees

    Military members who are CLEP testing are allowed to have their exam fees waived for a first attempt. Administration fees may apply at CLEP testing centers that are not located on a military base or that are not fully funded. It’s best to ask the testing center nearest you whether the center is fully funded and whether or not an admin fee will apply at that location.

    DANTES will not pay exam fees for a “previously funded” CLEP test. Retaking an exam as a currently serving military member is permitted, but is not funded by DANTES and requires a three-month wait.

    CLEP Test Advice

    Like all tests, it’s best to read the entire question AND all possible answers before selecting the best possible option. Make sure you don’t spend too much time on a single question at the expense of the others; remember that incorrect answers and test questions not answered at all do not detract from your final test score, which is calculated based only on the number of correct answers given.

    That means that an educated guess is not the same liability on a CLEP exam as it would be in other test situations.

    Some try to “beat the system” by searching for patterns in the answers or questions on the CLEP tests. This is, according to several sources, a waste of time as CLEP test design takes into account such patterns and actively seeks to avoid them in the testing process.

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

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