Are CLEP Exams Hard?

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Are you someone who is considering taking one or more CLEP exams? If so, you may be wondering if you can pass them. Are CLEP exams hard?

CLEP exams are not difficult. Most of the exams are multiple-choice, and there is no penalty for guessing. Study guides are available to help you prepare. Some people have used study guides to pass CLEP exams in a very short period of time with no prior knowledge of the subjects.

Let’s take a closer look at CLEP exams, why you should consider taking them, and their difficulty.

What Are CLEP Exams?

CLEP stands for College Level Exam Program. They are multiple-choice exams that cover many different subjects that are commonly taught in the first two years of college (lower-division courses). The exams are accepted for credit by many colleges and universities across the United States.

The organization behind CLEP exams is The College Board, the same non-profit organization that’s behind the SAT and AP exams. Over 30 CLEP exams are currently offered in the following categories:

  • Composition and Literature
  • World Languages
  • History and Social Sciences
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Business

With CLEP exams, you can challenge your way out of certain courses. Let’s say you are taking the CLEP exam for Introductory Psychology. If you earn a passing score on the exam and your college or university accepts CLEP, you are awarded college credit for that course.

Why Take CLEP Exams?

I love CLEP!

When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I took and passed several of these exams. It was an easy, quick, and affordable way to earn college credit. Thanks to CLEP, my path to graduating was shortened, and I was able to save a lot of money on tuition.

There are many reasons why you should consider taking these exams. They have several compelling advantages over courses to consider.

Many Schools Accept Them

Many colleges and universities accept these exams for college credit. The ones that do typically don’t advertise it though. Schools earn a lot of money from their expensive courses and don’t have any incentive to let students know about an affordable alternative.

If you aren’t sure whether your school accepts CLEP exams, do a search for “CLEP” on the school’s website. If you can’t find anything, check with a student advisor or with someone in admissions.

They Are Very Affordable

CLEP exams are an amazing deal. As this article is being written, they are currently under $100 each. That means you can earn 30 credit hours with these exams for about $1,000. That’s a year’s worth of college credit for less money than what many people spend on a short vacation.

It’s important to point out that some test centers charge modest testing fees, but not all do. Still, with many schools charging $1,000 – $2,000 per course, CLEP exams are a real bargain in comparison.

With the cost of higher education spiraling out of control and millions of students going deep in debt to earn their degrees, isn’t it nice to know that there is an affordable way to earn college credit?

They Can Help You Graduate Early

Most colleges and universities that accept CLEP (and other challenge exams) accept up to 30 credits with this method. Some schools will accept up to 60 challenge exam credits.

This means that it may be possible to quickly test out of a year or more of college credits and graduate early. The more time you spend earning your degree, the less time you’ll be spending in the workforce earning money and gaining valuable experience that you can put on your resume.

Most CLEP Exams Are Multiple-Choice

Although there are a few CLEP exams that have some short essays and fill-in questions, the majority are multiple-choice. And, unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for guessing.

You Don’t Receive a Grade

Another great benefit of CLEP exams is that you receive credit for subjects on your official college transcript without a letter grade. Schools typically record credit as either “Credit” or “Pass” on transcripts. This makes CLEP exams a great option for difficult courses that may drag down your GPA.

Failed Exams Are Not Recorded on Transcripts

Another amazing benefit of CLEP challenge exams is that if you don’t pass one, no record of the attempt is made on your official college transcript. Only those exams that you pass are recorded. This is much better than failing a course and having an “F” as part of your permanent college record.

If you do fail a CLEP exam and you want to retake it, you do have to wait a minimum of six months before you can attempt it again. You can use this time to review a study guide and take practice exams.

Some CLEP Exams Are Worth Six Credits Each

Yet another great benefit of CLEP exams is that some of them are worth up to six credit hours each. How much credit a school awards for a particular exam is up to the school. Some schools may only award three credits for an exam, for example, but another school may award six for the same exam.

How Hard Are CLEP Exams?

Are CLEP exams hard?

Assessing the level of difficulty of CLEP exams is highly subjective. Some people are naturally good at taking exams, for example. Some people may also have a lot of prior knowledge in certain subjects.

How difficult a particular CLEP exam is depends on a variety of factors including how familiar someone already is with the subject and how much time and effort that person puts into preparing for the exam. An exam that may be easy for one person may be difficult for another.

Personally, I found the CLEP exams I took to not be too difficult. I passed every one I took except for one – Business Law. I didn’t even study for that exam. If I had taken the time to review a study guide and go through some practice exams, maybe I would’ve had a different outcome.

Preparing for CLEP Exams

If you are thinking about taking one or more CLEP exams to skip a few college courses, save money, and possibly graduate early, you may be wondering how to prepare for them.

Do you have to read through a 1,000+ page college textbook and take a notebook full of notes to pass one?

Not at all.

The best way to prepare for any CLEP exam is to purchase and review a study guide. Study guides are available for all CLEP exams. They can be found in bookstores and online.

The best thing about CLEP study guides is they concentrate on the things you need to know to pass the exams and leave out the things you don’t need. Most CLEP study guides are relatively short and you can read through one in just a few days. Some CLEP study guides also have practice exams you can take to assess whether you are ready for the actual exam.

Another option for preparing for CLEP exams is to use an online study resource. Several companies offer online study resources. Some claim they can take you from zero knowledge of a subject to being able to pass the corresponding CLEP exam in a very short period of time.

Where Do You Take CLEP Exams?

There are over 2,000 test centers where you can take CLEP exams in the United States. Many of these test centers are located in colleges and universities, which makes it very convenient for students. You can very easily find a CLEP test center by searching the database on the official CLEP website.

To take any CLEP exams, you will have to make an appointment with the test center. The exams are offered year-round. Also, be sure to find out if the test center charges an extra fee to administer the exams. Some do and others don’t.

CLEP exams are administered on computers. Each CLEP exam takes approximately 90-120 minutes to complete. Except for exams that have short essays and responses, all multiple-choice CLEP exams report scores the same day you take them.

Are CLEP Exams Hard? – Final Thoughts

When considering whether CLEP exams are hard, I like to compare it to the alternative – taking college courses.

In most college courses, the level of difficulty is often a product of the person teaching the course. Some professors are easy while others are difficult – and you may not know which type of professor you have until you are already well into the course. In comparison, CLEP exams are highly standardized and most are in multiple-choice format.

To complete college courses, you usually have to read and study thick textbooks. Your grades may be determined by a combination of homework assignments, class participation, quizzes, and exams. In comparison, many are able to study for a short period of time with a study guide and pass a CLEP exam.

College courses are also very expensive. Depending on the school you attend, a year of tuition could be anywhere from $10,000 – $50,000. CLEP exams, in comparison, are very affordable, and it’s possible to earn 30 credit hours for about $1,000.

If you are unsure of the difficulty of CLEP exams, and your college or university accepts them, why not try one to see what you think. Pick a subject that you are already familiar with, buy and review a CLEP study guide for that subject, and then take the exam.

CLEP exams are one of the best-kept secrets in higher education. If your school accepts them, you may be able to save thousands in tuition by replacing expensive courses with these exams. They may also help you to graduate a year or more early.

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Cyrus Vanover

Cyrus Vanover, MBA, is a financial copywriter who has written for companies of all sizes. He is also the author of the personal finance book, "Earn A Debt-Free College Degree." His goal is to help families save money, make more money, and achieve financial independence. Based in the mountains of Virginia, he enjoys hiking the local trails, listening to 80s music, and reading books on military history in his spare time. Read more.

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