If you’re planning CLEP exams as part of your teen’s high school journey, you’re probably worried about selecting a first, or next, exam. Should your teen take Natural Sciences or Chemistry? Humanities or American Literature? When is the best time to take Composition? Since my goal is to help you become your child’s best guidance counselor, I’m going to give you the tools to make that call yourself!
Through my own testing journey, I’ve found that CLEP exams tend to represent one of two exam types:
CLEP Exam Types
- Individual subjects
- Cumulative subjects
CLEP Exam Types
How and when your teen prepares for any given exam depends first on the exam type. This is actually a really big deal- and may make the difference between success and failure!
An individual subject is one that you can approach with no pre-existing knowledge about the subject, and learn it well enough to pass an exam. A few examples of these exam types are American Literature or Sociology. In both cases, you can start learning from scratch without any kind of disadvantage.
An example of a cumulative subject is one that does require prior knowledge. Exams in this category include College Algebra or Spanish. In the case of College Algebra, you can’t begin the study of the subject without previous math preparation (ideally completion of Algebra 2) and in the case of Spanish, you’ll have to learn Spanish before taking the exam. In both cases, where you start is a significant factor in determining how fast and how easily you can learn the material.
Why should you care? Because in order to choose the best time for your teen to take a specific course/exam, you need to know where it best fits into your homeschool program.
Some exams fall neatly into categories, others can go either way. I’ve sorted them for you. Exams in the “Decide for Yourself” category are multi-disciplinary or require at least familiarity with elementary content before approaching the subject at the college level. Meaning they incorporate more than one subject. The exam titles in the list are active links, so you can click the title to explore the content decide for yourself.
Clearly Individual Subject Exams
- American Literature
- English Literature
- 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
- Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648
- Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present
- Information Systems
- Introductory Business Law
- Principles of Management
- Principles of Marketing
Clearly Cumulative Subjects
- Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
- College Composition
- College Composition Modular
- French Language: Levels 1 and 2
- German Language: Levels 1 and 2
- Spanish Language: Levels 1 and 2
- College Algebra
- College Mathematics
- Natural Sciences
Decide for Yourself
Tips for Individual Subjects & Exam Prep
- Learning creates the foundation of knowledge, test prep memorizes facts and figures. Make a learning plan that includes both.
- If your teen typically studies one subject at a time, estimate 1 month of learning and test prep for each subject. (Monday-Friday about 3-4 hours per day = about 60 hours, or 1/2 high school credit)
- If your teen typically studies multiple subjects at a time, estimate about 60 hours divided over the course of your block, trimester, semester, or unit that you use.
- I’ve never met someone who told me they were over-prepared for their exam. When in doubt, allow a little extra time.
- Some subjects offer exams in 2 parts (US History, Western Civ., Economics) and lend themselves to a full year of high school study. The mid-year point is a good time to take the first exam, end of year is a good time to take the second exam.
- Keep in mind all CLEP subjects are 100/200 level college learning- that makes availability of resources abundant!! Discarded textbooks, thrift store finds, and online MOOCs are excellent sources of learning material. Learning material doesn’t have to be current.
- Exam prep material should match the current edition of the exam so your test prep matches what they’ll be tested on.
- Group subjects together to build on knowledge (Psychology, Educational Psychology, Human Growth and Development all have some cross-over)
- Start with a subject your teen likes.
- If the reading level isn’t at or above the 12th-grade level, learning the content might not be enough to pass. Study the subject now, continue to work on reading level, and take the test in a year or two when the reading level is higher.
Tips for Cumulative Subjects & Exam Prep
- You’ll want to investigate what pre-existing knowledge is necessary to learn the subject. For instance, Calculus requires first knowing Precalculus which first requires College Algebra which first requires Algebra 2 (high school). The exam prep material assumes all preexisting knowledge is in place.
- All college level sciences require a good foundation in high school level sciences. For instance, college-level chemistry assumes knowledge of high school level biology and chemistry as well as algebra. Starting from scratch for CLEP Chemistry will be exceptionally challenging without that base- but not impossible.
- Both composition exams and the Analyzing Literature exam assume strong command of college-level language (reading and writing). If you use standardized tests in your homeschool, your student should be testing beyond 12th grade Language Arts before you begin exam prep.
- Foreign Language CLEP exams cover 2 semesters of college foreign language. Your teen should have completed at least high school level 1 and probably 2 before attempting.
Now that you have a good understanding of if an exam will make up a subject in your homeschool, or if it will follow a year or more of study, you’re ready to make a schedule!
In short, only YOU can decide where CLEP exams make sense in your homeschool schedule. It’s based on what they’ve done, and what they plan to do in the coming years. In part, it also helps to know if you’re planning to use dual enrollment options, and whether or not they have zeroed in on a college major. The more information you have, the more specific you can be – but being uncertain isn’t a reason to do nothing. If you have a teen with the knowledge, a CLEP exam can be a wonderful “final exam” in the bank. The exam scores can be held for 20 years before being used, so the risk/reward ratio really supports testing while its fresh in their mind.
This is only ONE sample of how a family might inject CLEP credit into their homeschool.
SAMPLE 9th GRADE SCHEDULE
|Subject Area||Semester 1||Semester 2||CLEP Exam|
|ENGLISH||9th Grade English||9th Grade English||(N/A)|
|MATH||Algebra 1||Algebra 1||(N/A)|
|SCIENCE||Survey Science||Survey Science||(N/A)|
|HISTORY||United States History||United States History||U.S. History 1
U.S. History 2
|FOREIGN LANGUAGE||Spanish 1||Spanish 1||(N/A)|
In this sample, we are laying a foundation for future exams in English, Math, Spanish, and Science….but we’re not there yet. We are going to allow some foundational learning to happen first, and then we’ll inject college credit when our teen is better prepared. Instead, in this year, we are using a full year curriculum for United States History, and taking the U.S. History 1 exam at the half-way point, and then U.S. History 2 at the conclusion of the school year. These two exams work perfectly together!
SAMPLE 10th GRADE SCHEDULE
|Subject Area||Semester 1||Semester 2||CLEP Exam|
|ENGLISH||10th Grade English||10th Grade English||(N/A)|
|MATH||Algebra 2||Algebra 2||(N/A)|
|HISTORY||World History||World History||(N/A)|
|FOREIGN LANGUAGE||Spanish 2||Spanish 2||Spanish -maybe?|
In this year, we continue to develop English and Math skills but are attempting two very big CLEP exams. Both Biology and Spanish cover a full year of content, so we’ll play this by ear. If our teen isn’t a solid “A” student, we may wish to eliminate the exams from our plan or wait until later to attempt the CLEP. Spanish is a tough call because if you’re only allowing 2 years of study, it’s now or never. On the other hand, a 3rd or 4th year of Spanish would be ideal since we’re aiming for a high score (Level 2). On the other hand, if we stop now, we have time to learn a second language. As we go into 11th grade, we may have the added option of taking college courses through dual enrollment, which throws a monkey wrench into things a bit. For the purpose of this sample, we’ll assume you’re only using CLEP.
SAMPLE 11th GRADE SCHEDULE
|Subject Area||Semester 1||Semester 2||CLEP Exam|
|ENGLISH||11th Grade English||11th Grade English||(N/A)|
|MATH||College Algebra with PreCalculus||College Algebra with PreCalculus||College Math
|HISTORY||Western Civ. I||Western Civ. II||Western Civ. I
Western Civ. II
|ELECTIVE||American Literature||American Literature||American Literature
Analyzing & Interpreting Lit.
|ELECTIVE||Music Appreciation||Art Appreciation||Humanities|
We are experiencing major traction now. In fact, while the CLEP exams all align perfectly to the subjects on the schedule, it may be too aggressive for all but the most motivated students. I included them anyway so you could see how it fits together. If you’ll take a moment to look at the SCIENCE row, the Natural Science CLEP exam would be perfect at the close of the 1st semester because that exam is 50% biology (taken last year) and 25% chemistry – a student with solid knowledge of biology and a cursory knowledge of chemistry can pass this exam without addressing the physics segment. Chemistry, as its own exam, is difficult and should only be considered after a full year of robust chemistry study. If I could also draw your attention to Humanities, that exam requires knowledge of music and art, but also a lot of the Western Civilization knowledge intersects with this exam, making it a perfect fit for this schedule.
NO SAMPLE 12th GRADE SCHEDULE
At this point, my advice is that you’ll select remaining courses and exams that align with a target college. College policy, awarding of credit, and accepted exams should all make their way into the conversation when selecting a college. It’s reasonable that a college might not take all your teen’s hard work, but if a college doesn’t accept most of it, you may want to reconsider! An encouragement to choose wisely comes from my friend Carol. She allowed me to share her story with you. We just saved $96,780
And by the way, were you keeping count? How many potential college credits does the 11th grader in the sample have?
Our teen also took a total of 13 exams (I included Spanish) over the course of 3 years. Since CLEP exams cost about $100 each, the total financial investment was about $1300.
Since a family can pay as they go, it allows most people to budget and plan for a good portion of their teen’s college education well ahead of time! Not to mention the savings associated with books, meals, dorms, etc. that happen later.
Assuming the sample student attends a college that accepts all 60 credits, our sample student will have 2 years completed toward their bachelor’s degree, may have already earned an associate’s degree. (We still have 12th grade left, and can fill in courses for a degree if we want)
For those wondering about the cost savings, you may want to calculate your potential savings based on the kind of college your teen may attend. In general, if a college credit costs $325, your teen earned 60 of them for $1,300 over 3 years instead of paying (or borrowing) $19,500. Now THAT’S something to get excited about!