Advising 101: Challenge Exams

Welcome to Advising 101. In this series, we’ll highlight a key concept each week that will help YOU become your teen’s best high school guidance counselor. For Homeschooling for College Credit parents, this series will help you navigate resourceful high school planning with skill and confidence.

Topic #3: Challenge Exam

What is it?

Simply put, a challenge exam is given by a college and allows you to “test out” or “test in” to a class at that college.

Why is it important?

A challenge exam is used internally by a college, or a department, and often authored by a college professor or department chair. It would be rare for the college to award a letter grade for passing a challenge exam, but if yours does, that improves transferability significantly.

  • Example A: The student with high school credit in Spanish may take a challenge exam to test into Spanish 2. In this case, the student didn’t get college credit for Spanish 1, rather they just started at a higher level.
  • Example B: A freshman student with exceptional musical proficiency takes a challenge exam to get permission to take a musical course usually reserved for juniors and seniors.
  • Example C: A college allows students with a certificate, license, CEU, or other non-college credential to skip a course requirement by demonstrating competency via challenge exam.

HS4CC parents should note that a challenge exam does not serve the teen in the same way as credit by exam or a college class, and except for special circumstance, it’s less helpful than using credit by exam or a college class.

  1. Credit earned via challenge exam probably will not transfer.
  2. Credit attempted via challenge exam may cost full tuition.
  3. Credit attempted via challenge exam may be very textbook-specific (find out!)
  4. Credit attempted via challenge exam may be graded by one professor and cover material specific to what is taught in his/her lectures (almost impossible to pass).
  5. Credit attempted via challenge exam may be conducted by someone without experience writing, administering, or evaluating challenge exams.
  6. Credit via challenge exam may be useful for students already enrolled in a degree program but aren’t allowed to bring in transfer credit.
  7. Credit via challenge exam may be college major-specific. If an economics major has challenged a general education course, changing to a different major or college within the university may disqualify that credit.
  8. A challenge exam serves a very narrow group of students.

Where do I find it?

Current Academic Catalog. Search term “challenge exam” or “institutional exam.”


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit