Posted in Credit by Exam, DSST, Self-Paced Learning

DSST: the “other” CLEP test

DSST isn’t a CLEP test, but it is a competing brand with CLEP – and similar in almost every way.  Since CLEP is more widely accepted than DSST (2,900 institutions accept CLEP vs only 1,900 accept DSST), is there any reason to take a DSST?  For some of you, yes!  In this post, we’ll cover the basics of DSST as well as the pros and cons of this exam.

DSST Official Website

DSST is a registered trademark of Prometric, a test development company.  In contrast, CLEP is a registered trademark of The College Board, also a test development company, but in this case, you’ve probably heard of The College Board’s other brands- SAT and AP. Most high school students take one or the other at some point, and resourceful high school students take CLEP.  But Prometric is less known for their tests and more known for their testing centers.  There are about 8,000 Prometric testing centers in 160 countries, making it the largest testing company you’ve probably never heard of.

A quick back-story:  DSST is formerly known as Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support (DANTES) so some of you with military knowledge may be familiar with this exam. For a number of years, only our military could take a DANTES exam, but in 2004, Prometric took over the exam process and opened up testing to everyone.  So, while our military can still take DANTES / DSST exams (for free) so can anyone else.  This is a great opportunity to those seeking credit by exam because the DSST catalog contains 36 exams covering topics that CLEP doesn’t cover (with one exception).  In other words, between DSST and CLEP, you have almost 70 different college subjects that can be completed by exam.

Tip:  when asking a college about DSST exams, you may want to refer to them as DSST/DANTES since some schools are more familiar with the DANTES name.

What’s The Test Like?

Like CLEP, the test is a multiple choice format.  In a CLEP exam, the student selects the best answer out of 5 possible choices, but DSST only lists 4 choices.  Technically, the probability of getting a correct answer is better with DSST (25%) than CLEP (20%).

What Subjects are There?

1. A History of the Vietnam War boy
2. Art of the Western World
3. Astronomy
4. Business Ethics & Society
5. Business Mathematics
6. Criminal Justice
7. Computing & Information Technology
8. Environmental Science
9. Ethics in America
10. Foundations of Education
11. Fundamentals of College Algebra
12. Fundamentals of Counseling
13. Fundamentals of Cybersecurity
14. General Anthropology
15. Health & Human Development
16. Human Cultural Geography
17. Human Resources Management
18. History of the Soviet Union
19. Introduction to Business
20. Introduction to Law Enforcement
21. Introduction to World Religions
22. Lifespan Developmental Psychology
23. Management Information Systems
24. Math for Liberal Arts
25. Money & Banking
26. Organizational Behavior
27. Personal Finance
28. Principles of Advanced English Composition
29. Principles of Finance
30. Principles of Physical Science
31. Principles of Public Speaking
32. Principles of Statistics
33. Principles of Supervision
34. Substance Abuse
35. Technical Writing
36. The Civil War and Reconstruction


Like CLEP, the exams are pass/fail.  Also like CLEP, a school may choose to impose a higher cut score than is recommended by ACE.  The following table shows the cut scores for “B” grades as well as “C” grades.  For most schools, the “C” grade score is sufficient.

Table of B and C scores

Upper-Level Credit

When college credit is earned, it’s generally grouped into “lower level” or “upper level” categories.  The lower level credits consist of 100 and 200 level courses, also often called “General Education” courses by most colleges.  There are exceptions, but most 100/200 level courses will meet the requirements of an associate degree or the first two years of a 4-year degree.

An edge that DSST has over CLEP, is that all CLEP exams are 100/200 level, while 7 DSST exams are classified as “upper level.”  It is always harder to find economical credit alternatives in the upper-level category, so it’s worth pointing out that this small list is the least expensive upper-level credit currently available.

A History of the Vietnam War

History of the Soviet Union (formerly The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union)

Introduction to Law Enforcement

Substance Abuse (formerly Drug and Alcohol Abuse)

The Civil War and Reconstruction

Fundamentals of Cybersecurity

Money and Banking

Test Preparation

Like CLEP, the best way to prepare for a DSST exam is to have your teen complete a full semester of study using a curriculum, and then follow up with dedicated exam prep.  Good resources for curriculum and test prep can be found in my The 10 BEST Resources tab.  Since companies that assemble online curriculum are always adding resources, I encourage you to always check edX for classes being offered in these subjects.  EdX courses are always free!

In addition, for those who enjoy the Great Courses (amazing, but expensive) their streaming service (think: Netflix for education), there are a TON of courses you’ll find that align really well to the DSST exams.  The Great Courses Plus

Unlike CLEP, my favorite prep company (REA) doesn’t have DSST prep books.  You can find prep books on Amazon, but you may want to check the customer feedback to assure you’re getting a book that actually aligns with the DSST exam.  DSST exams are refreshed on 3-year cycles, so it’s best to look for current publications or use the prep material distributed by DSST.  

Finally, my favorite online practice test company (Peterson’s) does have the full catalog of practice exams, so if you want to check your teen’s readiness, you can purchase a set of 3 online timed practice exams for $20.  They are considered by most to be a bit harder than the real thing, so solid scores on the Peterson’s tests (60%+) are a really good indicator of readiness.  The Free CLEP Prep site offers one free exam for several DSST exams, so it’s worth a visit too.


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