Most universities offer college credit for certain general education courses with a qualifying CLEP exam score. (Image via Tech Dissected)
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Buried under the depressing amount of student loans, the CLEP Exams offer a helping hand in keeping a few bucks in your wallet.

Would you rather pay $1,000 for a general education course or $85 for a 90-minute test? The College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers 33 exams that allow students to earn three or more college credits. Like many college students at the end of the spring semester, I enrolled in a summer class to expedite my academic progress.

The four-week Spanish 1 course would have fulfilled the modern language portion of my gen ed requirements. However, my plans came to a screeching halt when the professor informed me that I was “overqualified,” because I completed AP Spanish 5 in high school. After some disappointment and further conversation with my professors, a silver lining was revealed: the CLEP exam.

Accepted as credit by 2,900 colleges and universities, CLEP has established itself as the most reliable credit-by-examination program for more than five decades. Part of the program’s appeal is providing an opportunity for students of various ages and backgrounds to demonstrate their knowledge of introductory college curriculum — essentially, earning credit for what you already know.

CLEP is administered by the College Board, an organization that administers standardized tests, such as the SAT and AP exams, and helps facilitate the college admission process, but only individual colleges can award credits.

However, it is important to note that while many universities offer credit for CLEP exams, some are unwilling to offer any credit. That being said, in most cases, a qualifying score on a CLEP exam is equivalent to the same amount of credits for the related course.

There Is Something for Everyone

CLEP exams cover a wide range of subjects, such as composition, literature, world languages, history, social sciences, science, mathematics and business, all of which include specific disciplines and topics. The tests are intended to match one-semester courses, though some equate to full-year or two-year classes.

A majority of the questions are multiple choice, but other formats may require students to write a numeric answer, shade an answer or order items correctly. Language exams have a listening section, and the American literature, analyzing and interpreting literature, college composition modular and English literature exams have optional or required essays.

Multiple-choice tests are electronically scored, and essays are graded by college English professors from your chosen institution. Fortunately, you do not lose points for incorrect or skipped answers. You earn one point for every correct answer, meaning you are better off trying to answer all of the exam’s questions. The total score is derived from two calculations.

Your raw score is the number of right answers, which is then changed to a scaled score between 20 and 80. The American Council of Education (ACE) suggests that colleges give academic credit for a score of 50 or higher, but ultimately, the decision is contingent on each institution’s CLEP credit policies.

Obviously, CLEP exams have benefits, and college students need all the help they can get. Perpetually-stressed students watch their GPAs like hawks, pray their anticipated graduation date is not delayed and wonder how many cup noodles they’ll need to eat until their staggering student loan debt is paid.

Taking CLEP exams can save students up to $17,000 in tuition costs for a bachelor’s degree. (Image via The Ithacan)

First and foremost, CLEP exams save you time and money. According to College Board’s statistics, students who took prior learning assessments like CLEP finished their bachelor’s degrees in an average of 2.5 – 10.1 months earlier. In addition, a student who receives 15 CLEP credits toward a degree could save almost $5,000 at a public four-year institution and over $17,000 at a private college.

The Setup

CLEP students have higher cumulative GPAs than non-CLEP students, and a satisfactory CLEP score increases the likelihood of completing a bachelors’ degree by 2.6 percent and an associates’ degree by 17 percent.

CLEP also offers military benefits. Military personnel (i.e., active duty, reserve, National Guard), spouses of Coast Guard troops and civilian employees of the Air Force are all funded under contract with the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support (DANTES), making them eligible for free exams.

Signing up for the CLEP exam is fairly straight-forward. First off, you’ll need to find the tests that cover information you are familiar with. Next, research your college’s credit policy to establish which exams they accept, the credit-granting score and the number of credits granted per exam.

In order to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits from your CLEP exam, you’ll need to seek additional information as well. Inquire whether a departmental test or advanced coursework is required to validate your CLEP score.

Some colleges will not award credit for a CLEP exam if you have already completed or failed a college course that corresponds to the test, and scores of exams retaken within three months of your original test date will not be accepted.

Study, study, study!

The best way to prepare for the CLEP exam is practice. Review the exam description and sample questions, then gather the proper materials and resources. There are plenty of online resources that allow you to take free CLEP courses, the College Board sells official study and exam guides, while your college bookstore may have textbooks needed for the course.

Lastly, there is a multitude of other online resources that may not be tailored to the CLEP exam but still provide valuable information. Some examples are HippoCampus, Learner and the Online Education Database Library.

However, pupils be wary! Many private companies make false promises and attempt to sell preparation products and services that you do not need. Always research the company extensively before you hit the checkout button.

Once you feel confident, choose a CLEP exam online from the exam page or CLEP registration page. The $85 test fee has to be paid through a personal account on the My Account portal, and debit or credit cards are accepted. Finally, find a convenient location, contact the test center to schedule your exam and you’re one step closer to earning your degree.

Knowledge Is Power

Successful student advising is one of the key ways students can take advantage of CLEP exams. Advisors or professors can encourage students who received high scores on SAT and placement exams to take the test and ultimately avoid introductory classes.

A CLEP exam can help everyone from a college senior earning the last few credits they need to graduate, to the stellar high school student who excels in a subject that does not have an AP exam, to the 35-year-old working mom who returned to school to save time and money, or even for transfer students, looking for credits to transfer over.

Although I was disappointed that I could not take a Spanish I course this summer, I was grateful that the professor took the time to inform me about the alternatives. College may increase your chances of building a successful career, but it often feels like a multifaceted money ploy that empties students pockets in the name of education.

It’s always vital to find an educator that truly cares about the future and wellbeing of his or her students. However, college students must also assume responsibility for exploring additional paths and resources that can facilitate the academic journey.

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Ayanna Totten

East Stroudsburg University

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