CLEP Exam Pros & Cons

14 08 2012

If you think college tuition is outrageous ($1,000 for one class!), you’ll probably be interested to learn about CLEP Examinations. Many colleges and universities (2900 according to accept these exams as credit in place of many basic knowledge or entry level classes.

What is CLEP?

CLEP is an acronym for College Level Examination Program. It’s a way to earn college credit by taking an examination to prove your proficiency in a subject. The length and format of the exams differ depending on the subject. The information I have lists 33 different tests ranging from Biology to Business and Calculus to Composition.

In my case, I’m taking the “History of the United States 1: Early Colonization to 1877” exam on August 23. If I pass the test, I will earn three credits and get to skip the 100 level history class required for my degree.

Where can I learn about CLEP?

To learn the basics about CLEP, visit They offer study guides and listings for testing centers. I downloaded an iBook with a sample test and the list of topics covered on my test for $5.99.

Before you invest in the test, you’ll want to check in with your college advisor to be sure your college is one of the 2900 that accepts these examinations for credit. Even though taking tests is loads of fun, it isn’t free, so you won’t want to waste the money if it won’t shorten your college course list.


The major benefit to taking a CLEP exam is the money I will save. To take the exam, I will pay $80 for the test and $15 to the testing center (since I test at University of Phoenix and am not a student there, I have to pay a testing fee). To get the same credit by taking the college course, I would spend $966 for the class and then another $80 to $120 for the textbook. That’s savings of nearly $950!

It also means one less class I have to take. This translates into finishing up my degree requirements in less time.

According to The College Board, the test I’m taking is a relatively easy one (a 2, on a scale of 1 to 5, where a 5 is hard and 1 is easy). Their study sites say I should be ready for the test with a week of study. So one week of study versus eight weeks? I’d say that’s another big benefit.


The major drawback for CLEP is that preparing for the test is an independent endeavor. I won’t have an instructor to seek guidance from. There are no interactive discussions to help me understand difficult concepts. In fact, I don’t even have a textbook to study.

I am using for my study sessions. This website has a topical list of articles written by expert historians. I also have my sample test and there are online sample tests, as well. I’m hoping that my skills for reading and retaining information have been honed sufficiently from the past two years of online classes, so that I will be able to absorb the information needed before the test.

I might not pass the test. Of course, if I don’t, I can retake it in six months and I’m still saving over $800.

As far as I can see, the pros are heavily outweighing the cons on this list. I’m glad I made the decision to pursue credit through the CLEP. If you’ve taken a CLEP exam, I’d love to have you weigh in on the subject below. Was it worth the money and time savings? Do you have any tips to share with future exam takers?




11 responses

24 08 2012

Just wanted to update everyone. On Thursday, August 23, I took my U.S. History I CLEP examination. It fried my brain. I thought I’d studied thoroughly and I’d taken three different practice exams, but there were still questions on it I had no idea how to answer.

I was surprised because several of the people taking tests had taken multiple tests and were actually hoping to test out of all their first-year classes. I don’t like tests enough to do this. Plus, I know I didn’t really learn all that much new information just cramming for the test.

Bottom line: I’d only test out of classes you know have no bearing on your future career. And prepare your brain for brutalization. I could hardly stay awake for my 35 mile drive home from the testing center.

16 10 2012
Bryan Hayes

I am offering actual classes for Clep test prep (in chicago). Considering your experience, do you think 6 hours of class time (2 sessions at night or 1 saturday) would help? Do you think $220 is fair price for that?

16 10 2012

Thanks for commenting. As to your questions, I think there are many resources available for people to prepare them for CLEP examinations that are under $100. One practice test site I used was $18 per month for unlimited practice exams in every category. I think some people would benefit from face-to-face instruction, but I couldn’t see myself spending over $200 to prepare for the exam.
Since I’m on the west coast, my opinion is probably not indicative of what people in the Windy City are thinking.
Good luck.

16 10 2012
Bryan Hayes

Thank you for your thoughtful response. Online practice tests and study sites are competition but in a different form. Classrooms and teachers are more costly but also offer more benefit. What price would you think would be affordable for cleo classes?

17 10 2012

I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask this question. I think $70 to $80 for a two-hour class might be reasonable. I guess if we do the math, that figures out to be about the same as you wanted to charge for a 6-hour class. I’m just thinking that people might not have 6 hours to invest, so breaking it into a smaller chunk might be attractive to them.

17 10 2012
Bryan Hayes

Hi Sharon,

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me. You raise great points about the need to make the classes easier to attend, less time, which would make them more affordable. The good thing is that we are both discussing ways to make it easier for people to complete their degree and enrich education. Again, thank you for sharing your valuable insight! If there is anyway I can help you in anything, please let me know. On another note, you are writing a great blog that I have been enjoying reading!

Thank you!


24 04 2015

Maybe I’m missing something here… I was considering taking US HIST CLEP tests until I did the math and then they didn’t make sense. I’m not seeing money savings because I’d be taking the class at a JC where you still get a UNI transferable credit. My JC will charge $130 for the class and I can rent the book for $30. So… that’s $160 and it’s an online class. Time to study for this CLEP test is about the length of the class and it’s guaranteed credit versus running the risk of failing the test and having to wait six months to risk it again. Now, is there something I’m missing? Why not take the class at a JC?

25 04 2015

If you can take a class for that inexpensively and get the same credit, I would definitely take the class. Of course, I didn’t spend ten or twelve weeks studying for the CLEP, so I saved time and money (because you read how much it cost to take the class at the online school I was attending).
Good luck!

7 04 2016
Shelley Mihalko

I just wanted to share an experience that happened to me when I was in college that might be a heads up to anyone out there thinking of clepping out of classes. I attended Texas Tech University and I took the Clep test. I clepped out of 2 years of English and 1.5 semesters of Spanish. When I moved to Florida and finished my degree at FIU, I found out my last semester just before graduation that those clepped classes did not transfer! I had to postpone my graduation for 3 months while I took those classes during the summer. I had already been recruited by a company and fortunately they waited with the job offer until I was done. Not a pleasant surprise to say the least. Do your homework and make sure that if you plan on transferring to another University at any point that your classes will transfer!

7 04 2016

Great reminder, Shelley. When transferring between schools, every class and CLEP might not give the credit you need. Always check with your advisor about everything on your transcripts.

16 09 2016
Lilith Waters

There are many ways to earn college credit–not just in the traditional classroom setting. Credit by examination is one way to do it. I have taken my fair share of CLEP, TECEP, DANTES, and Excelsior exams to earn my degree through Thomas Edison State College–now Thomas Edison State University. There are definitely pros and cons to earning college credit by exam. For me, the pros usually outweighed the cons. Yes, it is true that many colleges will grant credit for a passing score on a CLEP exam but not every college, so getting credit by passing a CLEP exam is not universally accepted. Colleges don’t have to accept a CLEP exam in lieu of taking a college class as Shelly Mihalko suggests. Some colleges also want you to score higher than the minimal passing score (recommended by ACE) on an exam before they grant college credit.

Colleges also differ in how many credits they will honor through credit by examination programs like CLEP. Many colleges usually accept between 15-30 credits. Some don’t honor credit earned through examination at all even though ACE recommends that they do. A few assessment colleges such as Excelsior College, Charter Oak State College, and Thomas Edison State University accept a lot of credit toward a degree using CLEP as long as the passing exams fit degree requirements; in fact, it is possible to earn a whole degree using various credit by examination programs.

It is also true that a test taker is usually not rewarded a letter grade on his or her transcript for passing a CLEP exam. This can be a pro or a con depending on how you look it. If a student takes too many classes using CLEP, etc., it can affect him or her if he or she decides to go to graduate school. On a graduate school application, the college or university where a student applies asks for your GPA. When college or university officials evaluate a students’ transcripts and notice many courses without letter grades, they will request that the students contact the institution where they earned their undergraduate degrees and have them convert the courses without letter grades into letter grades so they can determine the students’ true GPA. For my BA in Social Sciences/History, I earned about 45% of my degree using credit by examination methods. When two professors at graduate schools (Rowan University and Stockton University) looked at my Thomas Edison transcript, they said that I would have to convert my CLEP exams, etc. without letter grades into letter grades before they would accept or reject my application.

What I learned from the graduate school application experience is the following: I believe that passed CLEP exams, etc. have a hidden grade attached to them. If you get the minimum passing score on a CLEP test, you probably would get a “C” on the exam or an equivalent of a “C” in the course. The higher the passing score–the higher the grade; therefore, if you take a CLEP exam or another credit by examination program test, take it seriously–not just as a pass/fail course/class– aim to score as high as you can. It could be the difference between getting credit for the course or not, and it could mean the difference between getting into the graduate program that you want because of the hidden GPA associated with the passing scores on CLEP exams, etc. From the application experience at Rowan and Stockton, I realized that CLEP exams can raise or lower your GPA when converted into a letter grade for graduate school application. Something else to think about!

Well, have to go!

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