When I took my first CLEP exam, I felt pretty comfortable with the process and didn’t immediately see any reason to consider other brands like DSST. It wasn’t long before I realized the limits of brand loyalty and soon branched out to add several DSST exams to my scheduled.
In this post, we’ll compare some of the differences between DSST and CLEP, and explore how both exams can help you realize success!
DSST and CLEP are both administered at official testing centers, but generally not the same testing centers. In the early 2000’s, DSST exams were limited to military personnel, as such, you’ll still find many DSST testing centers located inside military facilities. That’s ok because now these exams are open to civilians and military alike! CLEP exams have always been open to civilians, so you may find your testing center is inside a college or university. Both brands have a “testing center locator” feature on their website, allowing you to explore all of the testing center options available to you.
TIP: Since DSST and CLEP exams are standardized, it makes no difference where you take your exam. Choose the testing center that is most convenient for you.
DSST and CLEP exam costs have always been within a few dollars of each other, but testing center fees may vary significantly. At the time of this writing, CLEP and DSST both charge $85, however with testing center fees ranging from $0-$50 per exam, where you take your exam can have a significant effect on your budget.
TIP: If you plan to take two exams in one sitting, ask your testing center for a discount on your fee for that day. I’ve done this with mixed results, but have received discounts this way at least twice.
CLEP exam registration/payment is required in advance at The College Board’s website. DSST exam registration/payment is required at your testing center. Note that testing center fees are additional.
TIP: Call your testing center in advance and ask what forms of payment they accept. It’s not uncommon for testing center fees to require payment in cash.
Both CLEP and DSST will make testing accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need accommodations for your exam, both companies have a packet to complete in advance.
TIP: Be proactive to assure your accommodations are followed at every testing center you use.
Both CLEP and DSST exams are multiple-choice tests* and both are about the same length (about 100 questions) and take about the same time (90-120 minutes). Keep in mind that this varies by subject, but you can find out exactly how many questions to expect and how long you’ll have for every exam you attempt.
TIP: for every CLEP question, you’ll have 5 possible choices. For every DSST question, you’ll have 4 possible choices. You have slightly better odds with DSST!
Technically, CLEP is more widely accepted than DSST, so if you’ve not picked a target college, you may want to choose CLEP instead of DSST. That said, if you’re trying to “maximize” credit by exam, or test out of as many college credits as possible, you should choose a test-friendly college before you begin testing. Colleges each decide their credit acceptance policy, but for students who chose test-friendly colleges, it’s not uncommon to accumulate 60-90 credits through CLEP and DSST.
TIP: The “Big 3” are considered the most test-friendly of all regionally accredited colleges, and include: Thomas Edison State University, Excelsior College, and Charter Oak State College.
The Main Differences
The main differences between CLEP and DSST are in the level of college credit that you earn. All CLEP exams are worth “lower-level credit” which fills the 100 and 200 level slots in a degree. DSST, on the other hand, has several exams that are worth “upper-level credit” and fill the 300 and 400 level slots in a degree. All degree types (associates and bachelors) will require lower-level credit, but a bachelor’s degree will also require upper-level credit.
TIP: If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree, focus on the DSST upper-level exams for maximum return on your investment.
Of the 34 CLEP and 30 DSST exams available to you, there is almost no duplication of credit between the catalogs. This means that, at a test-friendly college, you’ll have more than 60 exam subjects to choose from. DSST exams are each worth 3 college credits, while CLEP exams are worth 3-9 credits depending on the subject.
TIP: If you know French, Spanish, or German, those three CLEP exams are worth the most college credit, each ranging from 6-9 credits based on your score.
*CLEP College Composition requires completion of an essay in addition to the multiple-choice exam, while DSST Public Speaking requires a recorded speech in addition to the multiple-choice exam.