#4 College Level Exam Program (CLEP)
I discuss CLEP frequently in many chapters and on Facebook, mainly because it’s my personal favorite credit by exam resource. I’ve passed 15 CLEP exams myself, and my children another dozen. My exams translated into 60 college credits, which met the full requirements of my Associate of Arts degree. Those 60 credits then filled most of the general education requirements of my bachelor’s degree. Following my BA, those credits were reviewed on graduate school applications and competitive nursing programs. If I didn’t personally know more than 1,000 people with stories exactly like mine, I’d tell you to use caution. Instead, I can guide you through the exact scenarios in which CLEP rarely works, and those where it almost always works.
CLEP is the brand name of a test, published by The College Board. It’s worth noting that before 2015, CLEP exams were nearly identical to the company’s sister brand Advanced Placement (AP). We’ll discuss AP in a moment, but what’s notable is that the AP exams underwent revision to align with Common Core, while CLEP exams remained unchanged. For that reason, expect CLEP exams to continue their robust acceptance among colleges.
CLEP exam acceptance has increased, not decreased as is often the rumor. The difference between the first three credit options and CLEP is that CLEP is completely self-study. In the previous options, the student was always enrolled in a course with a teacher and grades. When CLEP exams are used, the student completes a curriculum of their choosing, prepares for the exam, and schedules the test whenever they want. Anyone can register for a CLEP exam.
CLEP exams are multiple choice tests graded as pass or fail. A numeric score is generated based on the number of questions you got correct and then calculated using a confidential scale that converts that number into a scaled score. Generally, a scaled score of 50 is considered passing. The scale’s threshold for passing is tied tightly to what can best be described as a “C” grade level of understanding in the subject; it’s graded on a curve. Since letter grades are not approved by the American Council on Education, you may see charts or tables, but they are unofficial.
For clarity, out of 90 questions, a passing score for one exam may require 45 questions answered correctly, while another subject requires 40, and another requires 50. In all three samples, the scaled score (the score you see on your report) is a 50. The exact number needed on each exam to score a 50 is confidential. Ethically, I won’t share what I’ve found, but a resourceful person can find that information online. I will tell you that for every exam, you’ll need about half or just over half for a passing score.
The reward for passing an exam ranges from 3–9 college credits. In 2015, unfortunately, eight of the exams were downgraded, and this included the huge 12 credit foreign language exam (now only worth 9). I point this out because, at the time of this writing, 50% of the college website pages I use for research are still showing the old equivalency tables. If your college awards more credit than on this list, their website may be outdated. Before this book goes to print, values could change again, so you can always look up what CLEP assigns as suggested value (www.collegeboard.org) and compare it with what your target college(s) award. These numbers can differ. This exam is an excellent option for homeschool students because there is no age requirement! This can’t usually be said for college courses. (Note: a simple parental waiver is required for children under age 13). Whether you’re 14 or 84, anyone can take any CLEP exam at any time. CLEP scores are saved for 20 years, so even if your child does not attend college in this decade, he has the next two decades to use the credit.
CLEP exams are available in each of the liberal arts (general education) as well as business. At the time of this writing, there are 33
exams, all available to your student (more than 100 credits!) Since an entire Associate’s degree is only 60 credits, you can appreciate the usefulness of these exams. A conservative estimate is that your college will accept at least 15 CLEP credits, but a college with a generous CLEP policy will allow 45 for more credits toward an associate’s degree. The college I attended for my Bachelor’s degree (Thomas Edison State University, NJ) has no limit on CLEP, as long as it meets the requirement for your degree. Approximately half of all colleges in the United States accept CLEP in some amount.
A final point about CLEP—are they hard? Yes and no. They are multiple choice, not free response, so the answers are given—but the wording can be complex. A good curriculum will take your child about 75% of the way regarding content, but good test prep will be needed to take them the remaining 25%. If you follow that up with a few good practice tests, you’ll have a solid idea of your teen’s readiness. In addition, with more than half of all US colleges awarding CLEP credit, it’s silly not to try. Failing the same exam six times is still usually cheaper than attempting the course ONE time at your state university.
What if your child fails? Good news, it’s okay. Your scores are confidential, and no school will ever see them. Only passing scores are recorded on their Official CLEP Transcript—attempts aren’t noted. If your teen does fail, you simply wait the required 3 months and try again. You can repeat this process an unlimited amount of times. When you have passed all of the exams you want, you’ll pay a fee (about $40) to send your official CLEP transcript (with passing grades only) to the college(s) of your choice. CLEP exams can be attempted on any business day during business hours of an approved testing center. Your score is displayed on the screen at the end of your exam. Every homeschooled child should attempt multiple CLEP exams!
2019 Exam List & ACE Credit Award for a Passing Score
American Literature, 3 credits
Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, 3 credits
College Composition, 6 credits
College Composition Modular, 3 credits
English Literature, 3 credits
Humanities, 3 credits
French Language, 6–9 credits
German Language, 6–9 credits
Spanish Language, 6–9 credits
American Government, 3 credits
History of the United States I, 3 credits
History of the United States II, 3 credits
Human Growth and Development, 3 credits
Introduction to Educational Psychology, 3 credits
Principles of Macroeconomics, 3 credits
Principles of Microeconomics, 3 credits
Introductory Psychology, 3 credits
Introductory Sociology, 3 credits
Social Sciences and History, 6 credits
Western Civilization I, 3 credits
Western Civilization II, 3 credits
Biology, 6 credits
Calculus, 4 credits
Chemistry, 6 credits
College Algebra, 3 credits
College Mathematics, 6 credits
Natural Sciences, 6 credits
PreCalculus, 3 credits
Financial Accounting, 3 credits
Information Systems, 3 credits
Introductory Business Law, 3 credits
Principles of Management, 3 credits
Principles of Marketing, 3 credits
1. Don’t test out of courses in your potential major. You’ll need to spend as much time in those subjects with students and faculty as possible—and you’ll probably want to!
2. If you don’t know the end goal, err on the side of conservative. Make decisions that retain your ability to have options later.
3. Parents should drive the high school curriculum, injected with college credit opportunities.
4. Teens/young adults should drive the college curriculum, guided by a parent’s wisdom.
5. Don’t start dual enrollment unless your child is a solid reader.
6. The point of high school is to get college-ready, don’t chase credits instead of learning.
7. CLEP credit is potential credit, thus is never counted “against” your status for freshman scholarships.
8. Whatever you decide, pay cash. There will be plenty of opportunity for college debt later!
Take a moment to watch my 8-minute Quick Start Guide……
Jeanine L. from our Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook page offers her advice for parents using CLEP in their homeschool:
My advice is to come up with a four-year strategy for your high school years knowing how many credits of each subject you want/need to cover. Then pick a quality curriculum to meet those goals… I started adding some high school electives to my 8th grader’s schedule just so we could get a few out of the way early. I found that some high school curriculum will say that they help prepare you for certain CLEP exams. Dr. Shormann’s Algebra w/integrated geometry states that their courses will prep you to take the College Algebra CLEP exam. Notgrass American History has more court cases and information than an 8th grade American History curriculum would and has an extra book of many other American documents that may be referenced on the CLEP exam.
By knowing what I wanted to accomplish with the college course for English/Literature, then I could plan backward and try to meet those goals with the high school curriculum making sure my students were exposed to American Literature (not necessarily having to read the works in entirety), has experience with literature analysis and all kinds of poetry, can type and write from a prompt, can write a speech and give it with confidence, and can understand grammar and documenting sources well. Once those goals are met, then I can decide what other things I want to count for the high school English credits. Once the material is studied well at the high school level, we begin the course by Modernstates.org. After completion of that course, we are awarded a voucher that pays for the CLEP exam (worth $87). By taking the time to do this, we are able to save over $900.
The book, Homeschooling for College Credit, shares more about those other options. This book would be a great resource for anyone preparing and planning to understand this route of getting credits for college before entering a “brick and mortar” school. My students may or may not know what they want to do when they finish high school. In any case, Lord willing, they will have an AA that they will travel with them for their lifetime.
This content is reprinted from Chapter 2 of Homeschooling for College Credit 2nd Edition.
Other posts I’ve written about CLEP:
CLEP Expiration / Revision Dates (1/2 the CLEP exams revised 12/01/2018)