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The increasing cost of college has been a deterrent for many people who want to pursue a higher education. Some question their decision to pursue a higher education while others choose not to pursue one altogether. This is part of the reason why the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) is so attractive.
CLEP exams are standardized tests that access college-level knowledge. CLEP offers 33 exams in five different subject areas: composition and literature, foreign languages, history and social sciences, science and mathematics, and business. Each institution awards credit to students who meet a minimum qualifying score — which can vary by school or exam. CLEP’s credit by examination has been widely accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities for more than 40 years. From a student’s perspective, what better way to knock out some college courses for a portion of the price tag?
Benefits to CLEP Testing
One of the more obvious reasons students take CLEP courses for credit is the monetary benefit — students pay $80 for each exam as well as any other applicable fees.
For Rebekah Rodgers, a 22-year-old Texas native, CLEP testing has the potential to save her thousands of dollars throughout her college career. She has already completed a college composition course worth six credits and plans on taking more.
"I will definitely be taking as many CLEP tests as possible to complete my associate degree and eventually the majority of my bachelor’s degree as well. Of the required 120 credit hours, 90 credit hours of my degree program (Communications) can be satisfied through CLEP tests," she said. "This is by far the most valuable way to earn a degree as it saves thousands of dollars in enrollment fees, books, and credit hours."
Younger students like Rodgers are not the only students who stand to benefit from CLEP tests.
Jonathan Steele was an adult learner who returned to school to pursue a nursing degree. He was able to CLEP college math, college composition, and introductory sociology.
"As a believer in lifelong learning, being married and owning a home, both time and resource conservation were the biggest part of my decision," he said. "These were only foundational courses and I already knew them, so no need to go back to school and review what I already knew."
Steele admitted he worried and stressed over the tests, even while taking them, but found that he preferred the CLEP format over sitting in a classroom.
"Looking back, they were great. They were well-worded. There was no ambiguity. In the end, either you knew or you did not. And if you did not, there was still room for common sense and logic," he said.
CLEP tests are great alternatives for students who feel they have deep knowledge of a subject already and want to free up their time in school to tackle upper-level or advanced courses. Previous knowledge will also dictate how much time students will need to study for the CLEP tests.
CLEP tests also offer convenience to students like Rodgers who, due to working fulltime and taking on other responsibilities, don’t have the time to attend college the traditional way.
"CLEP tests allow me maximum flexibility to study and earn credits. Depending on my motivation and time available for studying in the evening, I could conceivably take one test a week," she said. "CLEP tests are much more flexible than even online learning, as I can choose to accelerate or decelerate my studying and test-taking on my own initiative."
Determining If CLEP is Right for You
Even with all the potential benefits of CLEP testing, students should carefully consider all factors to see if CLEP is right for them before committing to the tests. Failure to do so may result in frustration as well as a loss of time and money.
Students should identify what kind of learner they are. Those who are not particularly strong test-takers would probably fare far better by enrolling in the actual course. And even the savviest of test-takers could potentially miss out on something by CLEP’ing, such as interaction with students and professors, guest lectures, and learning that can’t be achieved by taking an exam.
"If a student does not like to study and would rather listen to lectures to learn, CLEP might not be for them," said Steele, who chose to take a microbiology class rather than taking the CLEP test for Biology. "I wanted some hands on experience with germs, up close and personal so to speak. So additionally, any student that would benefit from hands on experience that labs or formal education would enhance the learning, CLEP might not be the best way to go."
Steele said the decision on whether or not to CLEP also depends on the career path one plans to take.
"Anything that we can learn that will have impact on what we do in our work or personal life would be best to take as a class," he said. "Becoming a nurse I wanted to have hands on experience with microscopes. I wanted to know more than what the germs were, I wanted personal experience with them."
Similarly, an English major would probably find it more beneficial to take an actual college math course rather than testing out, because traditionally English majors aren’t the most astute in math and science. CLEP’ing biology, calculus, chemistry, and college algebra probably won’t seem too appealing.
"I don’t quite know how to explain it other than there are those who have the head knowledge and those who have the application knowledge. If you don’t have the application knowledge, then the classroom might be the best place to be," Steele said.
CLEP tests are administered at testing centers across the country. Unfortunately, testing conditions may not always be ideal. If a student’s ability to perform well on a test is easily influenced by outside factors such as long waits at testing centers, disruption caused by latecomers, and other distractions by test-takers, then a classroom setting may better suit the student.
Not all institutions accept CLEP for credit, so it’s important to research which schools do before deciding to CLEP. This is also important for students who plan on transferring schools.
Suggestions for Those Who CLEP
Some courses may be better to CLEP, such as those in the composition and literature field, because students don’t typically benefit from hands-on experience as much as they might with science or math courses. And certainly, if a student feels comfortable enough in their own knowledge and capability in a certain subject, CLEP tests would be a great way for them to accelerate their college degree.
Kari Avery, a 22-year-old student at Charter Oak State College in Connecticut, is the epitome of a CLEP test-taker, having taken 11 in all and earned 54 college credits by doing so. She said she discovered CLEP testing a year after finishing high school when she was deciding whether or not to attend college or try to get any college credit.
Avery considers herself having always been an "English, literature and psychology fiend," so naturally she felt more comfortable taking those types of CLEP tests.
"The literature, humanities and science are things that people ought to know by dint of graduating from high school, and the business and psychology is easy and commonsense for observant people — even if the student wasn’t aware he or she knew the material before studying for the test, it is easily recognized once studying begins," she said.
Avery took her CLEP tests in economics last.
"They did require more study than any of the others, partly because the older I get the worse I am at memorizing vocabulary and those were pretty full of terms I wasn’t previously familiar with," she said. "I have to read the terms in context many times to be able to remember them before I really understand them."
For those who do decide to CLEP, there are resources available to help students prepare for the exams. Here are just a few:
- InstantCert: This company was founded in 2002 and offers online college exam preparation for CLEP tests, as well as DSST, ECE, and TECEP.
- CLEP Official Study Guide: CollegeBoard actually puts out this study guide, which is available for a fee. It includes sample questions and suggestions for preparation.
- Free CLEP Prep: This site offers free CLEP study guides as well as the site creator’s list of all CLEP exams listed by level of difficulty.
- SpeedyPrep: This site gives users full access to 24 online CLEP study guides. Visitors are allowed a free one-hour trial.
"I would suggest CLEPs to peers, absolutely," Avery said. "It would do you good service to consider going to colleges that accept CLEPs so that you can finish with the college as soon and as inexpensively as possible."
If students weigh all factors, including the potential pros and cons, the decision to CLEP can end up being an affordable and flexible one.