One of the best ways for your teen to earn college credit in high school is to incorporate CLEP exams into your planning. If you’re nervous about getting started, these 12 steps will get you up and running.
CLEP is a credit-by-exam that allows your student to demonstrate their knowledge of a subject and earn college credit with a passing score. Think of it as a final exam without taking a course but, instead, studying independently.
The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is published by the College Board. You may recognize the name because they also sponsor well-known tests such as the SAT, PSAT, Advanced Placement, and Accuplacer. In other words, this is a well-known, respected company. The exam is taken at a testing center and when transferred into a college or university will earn your student between 3-12 credits.
There are 34 CLEP exams that your teen can choose from in the following categories: Composition and Literature, World Languages, History and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, and Business. Your teen can learn the material through their normal homeschool curriculum, prepare with some practice tests, take the exam at any time during the year at a local testing center, and, if they pass, earn transferable college credit that is accepted at almost 3,000 colleges.
CLEP exams are very low risk for a couple of reasons.
- There is no consequence for failing. If your student fails, they are not required to disclose this to future colleges. In fact, when you request a CLEP transcript sent to a college, you are required to choose the scores that you want sent. In contrast, any classes taken through a college will go on their permanent record and must be disclosed. If your student fails the CLEP, he must wait three months before retaking it.
- They can be incorporated right into your high school homeschool program. For example, if they are studying Government this year, you can finish the year by doing some test prep and taking the exam. Even if they fail, there has been no time wasted because they were going to study government anyway. They still earned high school credit and they probably learned more in the process than if they hadn’t studied for the CLEP exam.
What does this actually look like in your homeschool? Here are 12 steps to incorporate CLEP into your homeschool.
Take a CLEP test yourself. (Optional but highly recommended!) What, wait!? Me? Yes, if you, as the parent, take a CLEP you will learn a ton about the content, format, and process. It will be invaluable for you as you help your teen. And you probably don’t even need to study. As a homeschooling parent, you have the advantage of prior knowledge and life experience. When I took the Humanities CLEP exam, one of the lessons I learned was that 90 minutes was a long time to take a test. Toward the end my concentration was waning and I thought, “A, B, C, D….whatever! I don’t even care anymore.” Knowing that helped me coach my girls to push through in case they hit that point.
Decide which CLEP exam they will take. It is most efficient to choose a subject that you are planning for them to study anyway. Look through the classes you have planned for their high school education and compare that with the list of CLEP tests in this article. A common question is, “Which CLEP is the easiest?” The answer is, “It depends.” If your teen is well read, then Analyzing and Interpreting Literature is a great place to begin. US History 1 is a common first CLEP. In reality, there is no “easiest” CLEP; the difficulty is dependent on their prior knowledge and interests. For their first CLEP, choose a subject that they enjoy or have a natural affinity for.
Choose a curriculum to use and have them learn the subject thoroughly. If there is a most important step, then this is it! CLEP is not about “teaching to the test.” Most CLEP exams require a thorough knowledge of the subject and not Trivial Pursuit type facts. The good news is that this can be accomplished with your homeschool curriculum. Use your favorite homeschool curriculum or one that has a solid reputation and is recommended by others. Details of the content matter and distribution for each exam can be found on the College Board website and in CLEP Official Study Guide. Compare this with the curriculum scope and sequence to make sure it covers the appropriate material.
Complete the Modern States course and request a voucher. The voucher will bring the cost of the exam to $0. Since they have already learned the material this should be a relatively quick review and only take 1-3 weeks depending on the subject and the time they spend each day. Step by step instructions for using Modern States are located here.
Prepare for the exam using practice tests. Practice tests will help you assess areas where a more study is necessary. REA CLEP books are my favorite and include three practice tests in addition to summary material at the beginning. I recommend having your teen read through the summary material first. Then have them complete the practice tests and study each question that they get wrong. The book includes not only the answers but also the reasons behind the answers. The CLEP Official Study Guide is also a helpful book to have on hand and includes all of the CLEP exams and one practice test for each. Be aware, though, that Modern States uses the same practice questions that are included in this guide. If you are using Modern States, do not use the practice tests in the Official Study Guide to gauge readiness.
Assess if your teen is adequately prepared. Answering 60% of the questions correct on the REA practice tests is a strong indicator that they are ready to take the exam, below 50% correct would indicate they need more preparation, and between 50-60% correct is a middle ground. In general, if time and motivation allow, it is best to work until they get up to 60% correct.
Create an account at the College Board and register for the test using your Modern States voucher number. Print the registration ticket. You will need to bring this to the exam center.
Schedule the exam at a local testing center. You can search for a testing center here. (New as of April 2021 – Take the CLEP at Home!)
Take the exam! You will need to bring the following to the testing center: testing center fee (check to see which payment methods they accept), photo ID, and CLEP registration ticket. If your teen does not have a government-issued id they can use the CLEP Student ID Form.
Celebrate! Whether they pass or fail this is a huge accomplishment! The score that most colleges require for transfer and is considered “passing” is 50. This is the recommended passing score by American Council on Education (ACE) and most colleges follow this recommendation. However, always check with the college. These are scaled score with a range of 20-80, so a score of 50 does not equate with getting 50% correct. With the exception of College Composition, their score will immediately appear on the screen when they finish the test. On a side note, at the end of the exam, your student will be asked if they want to cancel their score. They should answer “no.” Even if they feel they did poorly, the scores are confidential so there is never a good reason to cancel the score.
Submit a reimbursement request for the testing center fee. Modern States will reimburse you for this fee!
Award them high school credit. This is awarded for the work that they do studying for the exam, not for passing the CLEP exam. Even if they fail the CLEP, they have still done the work to earn the credit.
Parent Question: How many CLEPs can my teen take?
Q: What’s the maximum CLEP exams a student can take? A: I’ve got great news- there is no limit! I think that the amount YOUR teen takes is a combination of three important factors. What subjects is your teen taking in high school? This is an important consideration, in my opinion, because my advice is…
Parent Question: Where can I find a list of CLEP exams offered?
Q: Where can I find a list of CLEP exams offered? A: The official College Board website maintains a list of CLEP exams. This list does not vary by location, so if a testing center offers one exam, they offer them all. The full list follows:
Breaking News: CLEP at Home!
This is the post I’ve been dying to write! Since COVID-19, the #1 most asked question is “will we ever get to take a CLEP at home?” College Board just made history and is allowing you to take your CLEP exam at home!!!