College Level Exam Program (CLEP)
“get a voucher to take the CLEP exam for free through Modern States by completing one of their free online prep courses. LITERALLY $0 for unlimited CLEP exams”
I discuss CLEP frequently in my book and on Facebook, mainly because it’s my personal favorite credit by exam resource. I’ve passed over 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 thousands of 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.
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 34 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!
2021 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, 6 credits
- French Language, 6–9 credits
- German Language, 6–9 credits
- Spanish Language, 6–9 credits
- Spanish Writing, 6-12 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!
Let me show you how to check a CLEP policy and do some simple degree planning.
You can do this!
Tonya C., our Illinois Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook group moderator, shares her daughter’s success this year with CLEP
“I am so excited to be able to share this with you all! My daughter took her second CLEP test yesterday and passed. We have enjoyed utilizing her high school English class as a way to also earn college credit. She now has earned 6 college credits.
She has used the Modern States Free CLEP Program Abigail has saved herself over $1,000 toward her college career. She also did not even pay for the test!! It is a little addicting.
We could not be more happy and excited for what God has lead us toward and the opportunities she will have. If she were to take just three more, three credit hour CLEP courses, she will have shaved off an entire semester of her College time.
Thank you more than anything for my dear friend Jennifer Cook DeRosa for all of your help and knowledge. You are so gifted and generous! May God bless you tremendously!!
I am so excited to be more knowledgeable and be a better help/ moderator here now and help our local teen homeschool group. So excited!!
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.
People often refer to published pass rates to get a sense of how hard or easy an exam is. While I do think there is something to that perspective, a student’s background and motivation to study a subject shouldn’t be discounted. For instance, the Spanish Language CLEP has held the position of “best pass rates” for years, but that doesn’t mean every student starting from scratch is more likely to pass Spanish than math! That pass rate probably represents the large number of bilingual people we have in this country and not the “easiness” of the material.
As such, I like to break the pass rates down by high school category. This allows you to look at your teen’s high school schedule and choose an “easy” exam from the category you need.
|Foreign Language||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|Behavioral Science||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|Human Growth and Development||75%||34%|
|Social Sciences and History||62%||41%|
|Introduction to Educational Psychology||60%||36%|
|Science||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|Social Science||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pas Rate (2019)|
|Principles of Macroeconomics||72%||35%|
|Principles of Microeconomics||72%||32%|
|History of the United States I||69%||50%|
|Western Civilization I||68%||45%|
|Social Sciences and History||62%||41%|
|History of the United States II||56%||38%|
|Western Civilization II||48%||37%|
|Language Arts||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|College Composition Modular (no essay)||83%||82%|
|Analyzing and Interpreting Literature||75%||66%|
|Mathematics||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|Business||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
|Principles of Marketing||79%||54%|
|Principles of Management||67%||33%|
|Intro. Business Law||51%||20%|
|Fine Arts||Civilian Pass Rate (2017)||Military Pass Rate (2019)|
Letter Grades for CLEP
Colleges don’t award letter grades for CLEP, however, if you’re interested to see how your score measures up, the American Council on Education (ACE) recommends a credit-granting score of 50 for each CLEP exam. This is a scaled score, equivalent to earning a C in the relevant course. The corresponding raw score (the number of questions answered correctly) is determined after a panel of college faculty who teach the equivalent course perform a detailed and rigorous review of the exam content.
In other words: 50 = college-level C
The panel of faculty also recommends a scaled score that is equivalent to a grade of college-level B. The recommended B-level score for each exam is shown below.
|Exam Title||B-Level Score|
|Introductory Business Law||57|
|Principles of Management||63|
|Principles of Marketing||65|
|Exam Title||B-Level Score|
|Analyzing and Interpreting Literature||59|
|College Composition Modular||60|
|Exam Title||B-Level Score|
|History of the United States I||61|
|History of the United States II||60|
|Human Growth and Development||58|
|Introduction to Educational Psychology||63|
|Principles of Macroeconomics||62|
|Principles of Microeconomics||64|
|Social Sciences and History||63|
|Western Civilization I||55|
|Western Civilization II||54|
|Exam Title||B-Level Score|
|Exam Title||B-Level Score|
|French Language Level 1 Proficiency||64|
|French Language Level 2 Proficiency||69|
|German Language Level 1 Proficiency||59|
|German Language Level 2 Proficiency||67|
|Spanish Language Level 1 Proficiency||56|
|Spanish Language Level 2 Proficiency||68|
|Spanish with Writing Level 1 Proficiency||58|
|Spanish with Writing Level 2 Proficiency||71|
* For each of the world languages, there is only one exam covering both Level 1 and 2 content. ACE recommends 6 semester hours of credit for mastery of Level 1 content (a score of 50) and 9 semester hours of credit for mastery of both Levels 1 and 2 (a score of 59 on the French Language, 60 on the German Language, 63 on the Spanish Language, and 65 on Spanish with Writing).
- Breaking News: CLEP at Home!
- DIY Curriculum: Layering
- Match the right CLEP Math to your High School Math
- Brain Dump (insider trick)
- Take a CLEP for free with a Modern States voucher!
- CLEP for 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Grades
- CLEP Registration Before 10th Grade
- Forms of ID when Homeschooling for College Credit
The Official CLEP APP New Official College Board CLEP study guide app! *FYI these questions are the same you’ll find in the paperback.
CLEP Guide 16 pages Printed by The College Board. This is a free 16-page guide and a “must read” before taking any CLEP exam.
Modern States – take a CLEP for FREE! These free online courses will award you a voucher that pays for your CLEP test. It really is free in every way – free class, free CLEP, free proctoring fee. Many parents report that they use this program for the specific purpose of getting the voucher. This is not a curriculum, it’s more like interactive Cliffs Notes. But this product is the ONLY product that is free for prep AND free to test.
Free CLEP Prep Site Excellent tool. Developed by a DSST & CLEP-tester (Justin) he’s written some very good testing outlines and practice tests. Use this as one “part” of your CLEP prep program.
Crash Course Totally free video-based mini-courses that teach you the minimum you have to know in a subject. Perfect for visual learners, but fast-paced. I suggest taking notes and using this AFTER a regular high school curriculum to target specific things you’ll need to know for the test. Use this as one “part” of your CLEP program.
REA Guides are paperback and online prep guides for CLEP and AP. These guides include excellent and thorough practice tests that also have summaries of “why” each test question’s answer is correct. This brand of test prep is considered the golden standard by anyone who has taken multiple exams. I (Jennifer) used an REA guide for every exam I’ve taken, and think they are far superior to any other brand on the market. An additional point is that REA updates its guides along with CLEP exam updates. I am unable to confirm or deny that other companies are updating their content to match new versions of exams, but I know or sure that REA does. REA Guides are often available in your public library or online used in our HS4CC marketplace.
6 minute exam forma tutorial – SUPER helpful!!