How to Pass the CLEP Exam

How to Pass the CLEP Exam

By Michelle Kelley

Published on May 17, 2021

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The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows students to test out of introductory-level college courses. Although the U.S. government created the program in 1967 for military service members, many different kinds of students now take CLEP exams, including high school students, military service members, veterans, and working professionals.

The College Board CLEP exam can help students save on tuition costs and shorten their time to degree. Read on to learn more about the CLEP and how to pass the exams.

Why Take CLEP Exams?

More than 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities grant course credits to students who pass CLEP exams. However, many schools only accept some CLEP test results, and some schools do not accept any. The College Board maintains a database of schools that award college credits for CLEP exams, but check your university's website to find the most up-to-date information.

Each CLEP exam costs $89, plus administrative fees. The average cost of a 3-credit college course was $1,677 in 2020. That means testing out of college courses can save some students hundreds of dollars in tuition. Also, military service members may be eligible to take their CLEP exams for free.

The CLEP could also help you graduate sooner. For example, if you take the CLEP exam in college composition, you may test out of English 101. Depending on the length of your school's semester, by testing out of a 3-credit course such as English 101, you could reduce the time you spend in the classroom by 40 hours.

Are CLEP Exams Hard?

The College Board CLEP offers 34 exams in five areas of study: composition and literature, world languages, history and social sciences, science and mathematics, and business.

Most CLEP exam questions are multiple choice; however, some exams also ask students to fill in answers, shade answer options, and place items in the correct order. The college composition exam includes two mandatory essays graded by two or more English professors. Other exams in the composition and literature category offer optional essays, and language exams include reading and listening sections.

Colleges and universities set their own criteria for what counts as a CLEP passing score, so be sure to check your school’s requirements.

How difficult you find these exams depends on your academic knowledge and professional background. The easiest CLEP exams for you may be very challenging for another student.

CLEP pass rates are higher on some exams than others. The Department of Defense reports that during the 2020 fiscal year, 80% of military test-takers passed the CLEP Spanish-language exam, while only 21% of military test-takers passed the CLEP exam in financial accounting.

Exam scores range from 20 to 80. The American Council of Education recommends that colleges and universities grant credit to students who score 50 or higher. Colleges and universities set their own criteria for what counts as a CLEP passing score, so be sure to check your school's requirements.

How to Study for the CLEP Exams

The College Board offers individual study guides for each exam and a book-length study guide covering all 34 exams. As of May 2021, the single-exam study guides cost $10, whereas the book costs $24.99. If you plan on taking more than two CLEP exams, the book is the better bargain. The College Board also provides details on additional study resources for each exam on its website.

Students can access several CLEP courses and study guides online. For example, Modern States Education Alliance offers over 30 free online CLEP courses and covers exam costs for students who enroll in its courses.

5 Effective Study Tips for CLEP Exams

Review the specific info provided by the College Board about each exam you plan to take Take free or paid CLEP practices tests online and review your results Schedule your study sessions at a time when you can focus without distractions Create SMART study goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely Use study techniques like spaced practice and mind mapping to improve your understanding of a subject

When preparing for your exam, make sure to cultivate good study habits like creating a study schedule and setting goals. Even if you're very knowledgeable in a subject, effective studying can help you perform your best on test day.

Best CLEP Prep Courses

The nonprofit Modern States Education Alliance offers over 30 CLEP courses covering subject areas like human growth and development, introductory sociology, and the history of the United States. Modern States' Freshman Year for Free program prepares students to earn enough credits through CLEP exams to complete their first year of college without paying tuition. offers hundreds of free lessons to prepare students for CLEP exams in all five areas. Some courses, including social sciences and history, provide a broad overview of an area of study, whereas others, like introductory business law, prepare students for a specific exam.

A former member of the U.S. Marines established after earning 130 college credits through CLEP exams. The site offers study materials for several exams, including American government, introduction to educational psychology, and English literature.

You can access Peterson's CLEP test-prep materials for a monthly fee of $39-$49. The educational platform offers study materials — including practice tests, flashcards, videos, and study guides — for all five subject areas covered by the CLEP exams.

Taking Your CLEP Exams

Over 2,000 test centers administer CLEP exams. Visit the College Board's CLEP website to register. When you register, you can select which college or university you'd like to receive your scores. If you wait to choose which institution to send your scores until after your exam, you must pay a $20 fee.

After registering on the CLEP website, contact a test center near you to schedule your exam. You have six months from registering to take your test.

On exam day, bring your registration ticket and any registration forms required by the test center.

On exam day, bring your registration ticket and any registration forms required by the test center. Fill out any necessary paperwork before showing up for your exam. When you arrive, you must present a government-issued form of identification, such as a driver's license or passport. Note that the last name on your ID must match the last name on your registration ticket.

Exams typically take 90-120 minutes to complete. If you chose a school to send your scores to when you registered, your test results will be sent automatically once you've completed your exam. It typically takes 10-14 business days for a college or university to receive scores. Note that schools may take additional time to review your exam results and award credit.

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