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! It was loads of fun and that experience really helped me plan their homeschool curriculum and CLEP exams wisely!
By the end of my journey, I’d accumulated 146 college credits through CLEP, DSST, and online courses. From 0-146 credits took me only 18 months, but “fast” is for adults. For teens, not so much. As you can imagine, a person learns a lot about the pros and cons of CLEP prep planning when you take one (or many) yourself.
#1 Take a CLEP 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. If you don’t follow any of my other tips, follow this one. Since there won’t be a cost involved, and you can take it from your home computer, I can’t urge you strongly enough to give it a go. This tip WORKS. You will gain insight and skill for yourself.
#1 Don’t base CLEP decisions on 1-2 colleges.
I can not emphasize strongly enough that chasing the CLEP college policy at one or two colleges is a bad plan. Besides making you fearful, it assumes you have a crystal ball! Sure, your teen’s goals might be solid, but colleges change policies yearly, so there is literally no way to know what CLEP exams they’ll have accepted ultimately. Be ok with that. CLEP does not add cost, and it only adds a little time, but the potential payoff is huge. Your plan should reflect YOUR homeschool goals for your teen, not the current CLEP list of the local college. If your teen is studying biology, it’s good to have them also take the biology CLEP. When they study US History, have them take the US History CLEP exams. There is no harm in taking an exam! There is no consequence of failing. It is always better to have more credit “in the bank” that gets unused than paying full price for a college class you could have CLEPped for free.
#3 Curriculum vs test prep.
These are 2 different things and can be very confusing. In general, learning happens first (curriculum) and testing happens last (test prep). You already know this, but let’s use a different brand of 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 curriculum (designed to 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 as long as you’re not buying and subscribing to every flashy product promising your teen a guaranteed pass. You can use the free CLEP prep program through Modern States, which costs nothing AND they’ll give you a voucher to pay for your entire exam. They’ll even cover your proctor fees. If you need more, there are excellent resources I’ll recommend at the bottom of this post, but spend your money on curriculum or college classes. This gives you the best return on investment.
#5 Allow time for learning.
When I took both my 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, etc. Real learning takes time! My suggestion is to use a normal high school curriculum for a full semester or two semesters before starting CLEP prep. When done that way, CLEP prep only takes a week or two because they already have a good foundation.
#6 Curriculum brand doesn’t matter.
By now, you probably have a lot of exposure to various curriculum brands, and no doubt you have your favorites. 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. There is no “best” curriculum that aligns perfectly with CLEP. You can use *literally* any secular or religious high school curriculum for the foundation. We’ve had parents build their own, use free online classes like Khan Academy, $1 discarded textbooks, YouTube videos, and expensive $1,000 high school curriculum. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is a good foundation and a motivated student who is sincerely interested in the content.
#7 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 world language, knowing the 3 language options through CLEP (German, French, and Spanish) may help inform your decision about which language your teen should study.
#8 Check 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 Check 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, and the literature covered on the exam is VERY old! So, use old curriculum without hesitation.
What you should stay on top of, are exam revision dates. Exam revision dates mean that the content distribution may have changed, and that’s worth knowing In short, the curriculum can be old, but test prep should match the current exam edition. That’s how you’ll know whether or not to devote a “little” or a “lot” of time to specific topics.
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. Whether or not the student passes or fails the CLEP shouldn’t be part of their high school grade. In fact, if your teen took an AP course and AP exam, they wouldn’t even see their AP exam score until summer! Exam scores are separate entities, and keeping them in separate categories keeps everyone’s priorities in check. Your student’s high school grade should reflect the sum of their hard work, not just that of one quick exam.