What Is the CLEP Exam? | BestColleges

  • A CLEP test allows students to earn credit for what they already know.
  • Not all schools accept all CLEP tests, so check with your academic advisor.
  • Some colleges cap the number of credits you can earn with CLEP tests.
  • Certain universities may not accept CLEP credit for major courses.

College students bring unique life experience to the classroom, particularly students returning to school after a break for military service or full-time work. That experience can save you time and money. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows students to demonstrate what they know and earn credit without taking a class.

More than 2,900 colleges and universities accept credits from CLEP tests. With 34 CLEP tests offered, you can quickly satisfy general education requirements and prerequisites. Students who have earned credit through a prior learning assessment like the CLEP test save several months when earning their bachelor's degree.

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What Are CLEP Exams?

The Educational Testing Service administers the CLEP test program for the College Board. CLEP test centers offer the exams at more than 2,000 colleges across the country. Faculty members develop the test and questions to ensure test-takers possess the key knowledge and skills needed to earn course credit.

CLEP subject areas include history, the humanities, social science, business, foreign languages, math, and science. Most tests cover subjects offered as part of a general education curriculum or introductory courses taken in the first two years of college. Students with professional work experience or military training and high school students all benefit from the CLEP test program.

CLEP tests make up part of a college's prior learning assessments. Passing one exam can replace a 3-credit course. CLEP tests cost $89 each, though men and women in the military may qualify for free exams. CLEP credits do not impact your GPA but do allow you to focus on courses covering new material.

CLEP Examination Areas


  • Financial Accounting
  • Information Systems
  • Introductory Business Law
  • Principles of Management
  • Principles of Marketing

Composition and Literature

  • American Literature
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
  • College Composition
  • College Composition Modular
  • English Literature
  • Humanities

World Languages

  • French Language
  • German Language
  • Spanish Language
  • Spanish with Writing

History and Social Sciences

  • American Government
  • History of the United States I
  • History of the United States II
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Introduction to Educational Psychology
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Introductory Sociology
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Principles of Macroeconomics
  • Social Sciences and History
  • Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648
  • Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present

Science and Mathematics

  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • College Algebra
  • College Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Precalculus

Are CLEP Exams Worth It?

Earning 15 CLEP credits can save students nearly $5,000 toward tuition costs at an average four-year school. The average public college charged $10,560 in tuition and fees for full-time students in 2019-20, with an average per-credit charge of $396. Each CLEP exam costs $89, though CLEP test centers may charge administration fees.

These tests can also speed up the time required to graduate. College Board research found CLEP and other prior learning assessments can shave 2.5-10.1 months off the time it takes to complete a bachelor's program. Students pursuing an associate degree can save an average of 1.5-4.5 months. About 92% of colleges and universities offer credit for prior learning.

College Board research found CLEP and other prior learning assessments can shave 2.5-10.1 months off the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s program.

These exams remain popular with students with military experience. About 80% of military students taking the Spanish with writing and college composition modular exams pass their tests. The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support helps military students access alternative credit programs like the CLEP test. The program pays for the exam and provides CLEP test prep materials at no cost.

Colleges set their own rules for accepting CLEP credits. Some schools may apply the credits as transfer credits or as electives. Universities may also set a higher standard to grant credit than the College Board passing score, particularly for prerequisite courses or credits related to your major.

Talk with your enrollment advisor to understand how CLEP credits will impact your degree plan.

Planning for Your CLEP Exams

Doing research and asking questions before you take your CLEP test can save you headaches later.

Before signing up for CLEP tests, talk with your enrollment or academic advisor. Each school sets policies for CLEP credit and other prior learning assessments. While 2,900 colleges in the U.S. grant credit for CLEP tests, some only accept specific tests. Many schools cap the number of credits you can earn by exam.

2,900 colleges in the U.S. grant credit for CLEP tests.

Be sure to review your degree plan. Institutions may set a higher standard for CLEP credit earned in your major. Some schools will not accept CLEP credit for college-level courses you've already taken. A CLEP test also cannot replace a grade in a course you failed in the past.

You can find CLEP test centers at thousands of college campuses across the country offering CLEP tests year-round. Expect each exam to take 90-120 minutes.

Test centers use computers to administer these multiple-choice exams. In most cases, you will know your results within minutes of completing the test. You receive a raw score, or the number of questions answered correctly, and a scaled score. The American Council on Education recommends credit when students achieve a scaled score of 50 or higher.

You can find free and paid CLEP test-prep materials online. The College Board sells an official study guide for the 34 exams and individual exam guides. The nonprofit organization Modern States offers free CLEP test-prep programs, with lectures, textbooks, and practice tests.

What to Expect on CLEP Exam Day

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the test site on exam day. Arrive early to allow for the check-in process. You must bring a government-issued ID, and the name on the ticket must match your registration ticket exactly. Military test-takers must present a military ID.

Each center charges an administration fee in addition to the CLEP test fee of $89. You will pay this fee on exam day.

If you don’t pass the exam, you can retake the CLEP test after three months.

Test sites can provide accommodations for students with disabilities, such as screen magnification, a sign language interpreter, or extended time. Make sure to arrange accommodations with your selected CLEP test center.

Carefully review the list of prohibited items, such as calculators, hooded sweatshirts, and food and beverages. The testing center provides scratch paper, and the testing software includes a calculator function.

A few tips for how to pass a CLEP test: Take your time as you work through the multiple-choice questions, and read all answers carefully. You'll get your score report immediately unless your exam includes an essay. If you don't pass the exam, you can retake the CLEP test after three months.

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