Before I ever started homeschooling my own teens for college credit, I wanted to know more about CLEP, and how it worked. The super-short version is that I took one exam “just to see” what it would be like….but I ended up testing out of an Associate’s Degree (60 credits) in 6 months! I didn’t need that degree; I worked as a chef and had my culinary credentials in place, but it was loads of fun and a little addictive once I got rolling.
By the end of my journey, I accumulated 146 new credits through CLEP, DSST, and online courses. From 0-146 took me 18 months. (Yes, there was a Bachelor’s degree earned in there, too.) As you can imagine, you learn a lot about the pros and cons when you do it for yourself… before bringing it into your home for your own kids.
So, today’s post inspired me to think back to my first CLEP test! For the curious, it was Human Growth and Development. I prepared using a college textbook I’d rescued from the trash at work and paid the $60 testing fee using coins I’d saved in a jar. I scored 67, a solid pass, and earned 3 college credits in PSY211.
If asked, I could probably do a “Top 100” list of CLEP test tips for the test-taker, but in today’s post, I want to give you my 10 best tips for PARENTS.
Top 10 CLEP Prep Tips for Parents
#1 DO take your own test. Wait, what? Who? Mom? Dad? Yes!! I know, this seems crazy, but if you take one exam, you’ll gain more insight and first-hand experience than reading my blog for a year, and you’ll be more confident in selecting good resources. It is my number one suggestion for a reason- it works!
#2 DON’T plan your CLEP tests around one college’s policy. If I could have two number ones, this would tie for first. I can not emphasize strongly enough how this can blow up your plans. First, teens change their minds! Even if your daughter has picked her college since kindergarten, she’s maturing, and with maturity comes more thought and consideration for one’s future. You should know that nearly 50% of college students (teens older than yours) will change their major at least once- so even within the same college, exam acceptance policy can differ by major. Second, even if everyone’s decisions are solid, a college can review their exam policy every academic year. Without question, an exam that was accepted last year may be denied next year, and a new exam might receive approval. Finally, exam credit values change. I remember in October 2015, eight exams had their credit values cut in half! That was a big, hysterical day for many people. You’ll drive yourself crazy playing whack-a-mole if you try to predict what type of policy will be in effect 1-2-3-4 years from now. Look at policies for informational purposes, but then make your own plan for your teen.
#3 DO know the difference between curriculum and test prep. Preparing for exams can be confusing. In general, learning happens first (curriculum) and test prep happens last (test prep). You already know this, but let’s use a different brand of a test to underscore the distinction. Let’s pretend we were talking about the SAT exam for college admissions. SAT exam prep builds on what a student learned after about 10 years of education. The SAT exam happens in high school, but it doesn’t replace high school. This is also true of CLEP. As you evaluate products, ask yourself if the product is a curriculum (designed to teach/learn) or test prep (assumes knowledge of the subject) and plan accordingly. A solid CLEP-injected homeschool program uses curriculum and test prep.
#4 DON’T spend tons of money. CLEP testing can save a lot of money if you’re industrious with your resources. By the time you’ve factored in the cost of curriculum, the cost of test prep, the cost of the exam, and the cost of proctoring fee, you might be spending as much as community college tuition. My suggestion is to keep the costs manageable! Proctor fees vary, so shop around! Call every testing center in your area. $20 is a reasonable proctoring fee. Now comes the wild card: test prep.
Test prep is not a curriculum! Test prep is just that- something to help your teen prep for the test. Test prep is often sold through flashy websites with big promises of saving THOUSANDS of dollars…. But, be sure, you don’t save thousands of dollars buying test prep products. You save thousands of dollars when your teen is well prepared for an exam, passes the exam, and enrolls in a college that awards credit for that exam. There are a LOT of predatory CLEP test prep companies out there, but I want to share my favorite 2 free resources and my favorite pay resource.
FREE: Sparks Notes Online study guides for every CLEP subject. You won’t be able to search using the word “CLEP” but you can search by subject (US History, Literature, Biology, etc.)
FREE: Free CLEP Prep Outlines and practice test questions for most CLEP exams.
FREE: Modern States online prep courses put the cherry on top! Available for CLEP or AP, you can use this free prep course to earn a voucher that pays for your exam! Details here
#5 DO allow time for learning. When I took both CLEP US History exams, the reason I found them both so manageable was because I’d already taken US History in elementary, middle, and high school. Beyond that, I’d spent a couple dozen years reading and watching the news, voting in elections, and living through 9-11. I had a lot of applied knowledge. Real learning takes time! If your teen has spent years studying a subject, it makes sense that they’ll have more success following up with a CLEP test than if they’re learning something brand new. If this is their first time in a subject, test prep shouldn’t even be on your mind until you’re sure they’ve really learned the subject at least a basic high school level. If they know the subject, test prep (flashcards, etc.) is much easier.
#6 DO use your favorite curriculum. By now, you probably have a lot of exposure to various curriculum brands, and no doubt you have your favorite. My suggestion is to stick with what is working. Unless your curriculum completely clashes with the exam content distribution (more about that in a moment), you can use the curriculum you love and choose test prep material at the end of the semester.
#7 DO have the CLEP exam list handy. Not all subjects are testable, but having the list allows you to inject college credit into your high school plan where it makes sense. For instance, if you’re deciding on a foreign language, knowing the 3 foreign language options through CLEP (German, French, and Spanish) may help inform your decision about which language your teen should study.
#8 DO look at the exam content distribution. That’s a fancy way of saying “know what’s on the test.” The content distribution outlines that X% of the exam will cover a certain part of a subject, Y% will cover another part of the subject, and so on. During test prep, you want their study effort to match the distribution. In other words, if something represents 2% of the exam, and something else represents 45% of the exam, their attention should be on the 45% section.
#9 DO know exam revision dates. This can get a little geeky but bear with me. Curriculum is curriculum. If your teen is studying American Literature, it really doesn’t matter what date your curriculum was published, little has changed in the past 100 years.
What you should stay on top of, are CLEP exam revision dates. Exam revision dates mean that the content distribution may have changed, and that’s worth knowing. You can look up exam revision dates from the source in the American Council on Education’s database. I stay on top of this and often announce when an exam expires or is renewed. In short, the curriculum can be old, but test prep should match the current exam edition.
Curriculum can be old, but test prep should match the current exam edition.
#10 DON’T give grades for CLEP exams. Give grades and high school classes and credit for the course. CLEP isn’t a class, it’s just an assessment. Consider using the well-regarded model followed by 15,000 high schools using Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. (Same idea as CLEP: college-level learning followed by an exam for potential college credit.) In both cases, the high school student is responsible for their semester’s coursework and earns grades accordingly. Later, at the end of the school year, the student has the option of taking the AP or IB exam. Whether or not the student passes or fails the exam isn’t part of their high school grade. In fact, exam score reports don’t even come out until summer! Exam scores are a separate entity and keeping them in separate categories keeps everyone’s priorities in check. Your student’s grade should reflect the sum of their hard work, not just that of one quick exam.