Closeup of someone filling out a standardized exam.

Are DSST Exams Hard?

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Are you thinking about earning some college credit by taking DSST exams? Perhaps you like the idea of challenging your way out of a few courses to both save money and graduate early. If so, you may be wondering: are DSST exams hard?

Compared to taking college courses, multiple-choice DSST exams are not difficult. Study guides are available to help you quickly prepare for the exams. Some people have reviewed study guides and passed DSST exams with no prior knowledge of the subjects.

Let’s take a closer look at DSST exams and why you should consider taking them in place of expensive college courses.

What Are DSST Exams?

DSST exams are multiple-choice exams that allow you to challenge your way out of certain college courses if you earn a passing score. The exams were created by the United States Department of Defense as a way for military personnel to earn college credit via non-traditional means. They are now open to people who are not in the military – anyone can take them.

DSST is an acronym that stands for DANTES Subject Standardized Tests. DANTES is another acronym that stands for Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support. DANTES is a division of the Department of Defense that supports the educational endeavors of military personnel.

DSST is essentially an acronym within an acronym. Yes, it’s confusing – but this is the government we’re talking about. Today, DSST exams are owned and administrated by the global testing company, Prometric.

DSST exams allow you to challenge your way out of taking certain courses. If you want to challenge your way out of statistics, for example, and your school accepts the corresponding DSST challenge exam, you will be awarded college credit for that course if you earn a passing score on the “Principles of Statistics,” DSST exam.

There are currently over 30 DSST exams available in the following areas:

  • Business
  • Humanities
  • Math
  • Physical Science
  • Social Sciences
  • Technology

DSST Exam Difficulty

Are DSST exams hard?

Compared to taking college courses, many people consider DSST exams to be relatively easy. In a typical college course, you have to attend class, write papers, and study for quizzes and exams. In comparison, with DSST, you only have to study and pass one multiple-choice exam to earn course credit.

It’s important to point out that everyone is different. Whether a DSST exam is hard or easy depends on each individual. Some people take DSST exams with a lot of prior knowledge of the subjects. Others are naturally good at taking exams.

If you want to take several DSST exams but you are concerned about the difficulty, you could schedule and take one to see how you do. Consider it a trial run to assess the level of difficulty. Passing your first challenge exam and earning some quick college credit can be a huge confidence booster.

Benefits of DSST Exams

DSST exams have many benefits to consider. If you are currently in college or you are planning on enrolling in a degree program in the near future, DSST exams could help you reach the finish line (graduate) sooner if your school accepts them.

The following are some important benefits of DSST exams to consider:


The majority of DSST challenge exams are in multiple-choice format. There are some exams, however, that have optional essays and short answers that are forwarded to schools to be graded.

The great thing about multiple-choice questions is that there is no penalty on DSST exams for guessing. If you can eliminate one or more wrong answers, you have a decent chance of guessing the correct answer.

They Are Affordable

Many people are unable to afford college tuition these days. That’s why so many are deep in debt with student loans – it’s the only way they can pay for their educations. Unfortunately, student loans can take many years to repay.

If there’s a simple way to dramatically reduce the amount you’ll have to pay to earn your degree, don’t you think it’s worth considering?

Compared to college tuition at most schools, DSST exams are an incredible deal. As this article is being written, they are under $100 each. If you pass 10 of them, you would be able to earn 30 credit hours – one full year of college – for about $1,000.

How’s that for a great deal?

It’s important to point out that some test centers charge a modest test fee to administer the exams. Some do and some don’t.

Many Test Centers

According to the DSST website, there are over 1,200 locations that administer DSST exams. That’s a lot! Many colleges and universities administer them, and they are also administered at Prometric test centers.

It’s very easy to find a DSST test center. There is a very handy tool right on the DSST website where you can enter your location and find test centers near you.

They May Help You Graduate Early

The most difficult part of earning a college degree isn’t getting into a good school, it’s graduating. Many people take longer than four years to earn their bachelor’s degrees. It’s now common for students to take five, six, or more years to earn a “four-year degree.”

There are many reasons why some people take longer than four years to graduate. Some people change majors, for example. Others may encounter unexpected personal issues that forces them to postpone their educations for a while. Sometimes things happen.

The majority of schools that accept challenge exams for college credit accept up to 30 credit hours with this method. That’s a full year of school that you can save just by taking a few multiple-choice exams. Some schools accept up to 60 credits with challenge exams.

Each school will have its own policy on challenge exams, whether it accepts them or not, how many it accepts, and what constitutes passing scores. The University of South Florida, for example, states on its website that it accepts up to 45 credits from challenge exams. That’s nearly half of a bachelor’s degree.

Study Guides Are Available

Another great benefit of DSST exams is that study guides are available to help you quickly prepare for them. The study guides are designed to highlight the material that is covered on the exam and to omit things that are not covered.

This means you don’t have to study a thick college textbook to prepare for one of these exams. You can very easily find DSST study guides in bookstores and online.

Some people have been able to study one of these guides for a while and then take and pass the corresponding DSST exam – without any prior knowledge of the subject.

Failed Exams Don’t Drag Down Your GPA

This is a benefit of DSST exams that I love. If you fail a DSST exam, no record of the attempt is made on your official college transcript. That’s right – after you finish taking one or more DSST exams, you order an official transcript and have it sent to your school. Only the exams you pass are recorded on your official college transcript.

When DSST exams are recorded on college transcripts, they are usually recorded as either “Pass” or “Credit.” You receive credit for the courses but no letter grade.

Many Schools Accept DSST Exams

DSST exams are common, and many schools accept them for college credit. Not every school does, of course. Before you take any DSST challenge exams, be sure to check with a student advisor to find out your school’s policy on DSST and other challenge exams (AP, CLEP, etc.).

Upper-Level Credit

Another great benefit is that some schools award upper-level credit for some DSST exams. All CLEP and AP challenge exams, in comparison, are for lower-level credit (the first two years of college). Whether a school awards upper-level credit for a DSST exam depends on the school and it’s challenge exam policy.

Earn College Credit in High School

I consider this to be one of the best benefits of DSST exams – they are a way for high school students to earn college credit while they are still in high school.

Many of the courses that make up the first two years of college are repeats of courses you take in high school – there’s little to no difference. At the college level, many of these courses are considered “introductory.” They are only supposed to introduce you to a subject and not go very deep.

If a high school student has already taken a couple of business classes, for example, why not go ahead and take the DSST “Introduction to Business” exam? Or a student who has just completed an algebra class could take the DSST “Fundamentals of College Algebra” exam.

The best time to take a DSST exam as a high school student is right after you have finished a class – while the information is still fresh on your mind. You could review a DSST study guide and take a few practice tests to evaluate your progress and determine when you are ready for the exam.

High school students who take challenge exams before they enroll in a degree program will have a huge advantage over other students. Even if you just take and pass one exam, you’re closer to graduating that many other students.

Go to the Head of the Class

When considering the question, are DSST exams hard, I like to compare it to taking expensive college classes. College classes don’t just cost a lot of money, they also take a lot of time to complete. If you already know certain subjects well – or if you can learn from study guides – you may be able to save both money and time in the completion of your college degree by taking these exams.

Are DSST exams hard? It’s a highly subjective question. Yes, to some people the exams will be difficult – but if you take the time to study the material and take a few practice tests, it’s definitely possible to earn a passing score.

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