College Cheat Sheet: CLEP Exams

TL;DR: This post is a bit on the longer side because it describes my experiences with the CLEP and also what my other friends know about it. If you just want the basics, scroll to the bottom where you'll see a second set of bullet points (8 bullets). That set of bullet points is a summary of the important things you need to know about this exam if you're interested in taking it and don't want to read this post.


I know that a lot of my readers are in high school or just beginning college or are even moms of kids in that age range, and I get a lot of questions about graduating college early since I am managing to graduate in 3.5 years either summa or magna cum laude with a major, a double minor, 5 months abroad, and a thesis under my belt. In my attempt to just kind of turn this blog into whatever I want to talk about, I thought this would be an interesting topic to address. But, before I begin, I have to tell you the reason I am accomplishing most of this is because I am certifiably insane.


CLEP Exams are super helpful and cheap alternative for lightening coursework and stress during the school year. It stands for College Level Examination Program, and it is run by College Board just like the SAT. The test can be taken in 36 different areas ranging from literature, several different languages, history, the sciences, mathematics, sociology, business, psychology, law, and more to assess your knowledge in that subject matter. It is a good way of earning college credit without taking college courses, which leads me to believe that high school students might be allowed to partake in the program as well. Unfortunately, I discovered it a bit too late.

I should also mention in this post that I didn't bring in any AP credits with me from high school. I didn't want to stress myself out too much in high school, and that's coming from someone who dropped lunch two years in a row to take two extra Honors level courses online. I preferred to load up on, like, 8 honors level courses and knock my GPA out of the park to get better scholarships instead of AP courses because I didn't really like the AP crowd in my school. I loathed them, really, and I didn't want to force myself into spending every class with them despite the urging of several of my teachers. High school was a tough time.

Instead, I got my credits other ways. I enrolled in a few basic online classes in my local community college where credits are way cheaper than at my private institution and did the paperwork to have those transfer in. I knocked out a few general education requirements and even a major requirement that way.

And, now that I am in college, I am taking CLEP exams. Because graduating early was a decision I made on the later end of my college career, I didn't always take 18 credit terms that would have helped me along. I realized that if I took 18 credits this upcoming fall (which I am), I would still need 4 credits to graduate on time. 4 measly credits standing in my way, so I asked around and turned to the CLEP as an extremely cheap alternative instead of dropping monstrous loads of money on summer classes from my own institution. 2 passed CLEP tests and I could graduate on time.

A CLEP Test costs $80 to sign up for on College Board, and then you call your test center. I've tested at two different centers due to convenience at the cost me $40 and one cost me $60. You also need to invest in study materials. My friends tend to go the route of Chegg renting, but I like to take advantage of general library materials and example CLEP tests found online. So, with that knowledge in mind, even with renting textbooks, this test might cause you $200 a piece to get 3 credits. If you go to a private institution like me, that's SIGNIFICANTLY lower than what a single credit would cost, and it's a hard deal to ignore.

For most tests, the recommended score is a 50 and there are 100 questions that you need to go through in about 2 hours. So you're literally looking at getting half of those questions right. You need no more, but you can't have any less. If you do not get 50 questions correct on your first try, you have to wait 3 months before retaking it and do not get refunded the money you invested into the test. You also get your score immediately upon pressing "submit" so there's no anxiety inducing "how did I do?" questions like with the SAT and ACT.

I took my first test in the Fall one morning before class. I walked out 50 minutes later with a score of 54 after studying for 5 hours the night before. My test was on Introductory Sociology, a topic I had never studied before prior to cracking open the textbook I grabbed from the library the night prior. As you read this post, I am sitting for my second CLEP exam on American History I. Hopefully I'll pass this one, but I've given myself enough time to retake it before my December graduation if I don't since I need that last credit.

The beauty of these tests is you just need to demonstrate a basic understanding of the content, enough knowledge to demonstrate it's something you could have grasped in a classroom. You don't need to master the subject matter and impress the judges because there are none.

A few things to consider before signing up for the CLEP exam:
  1. Does your college take exam credits? - Not every college takes CLEP. Most do, but they won't take all. For example, my college will take 33/36 CLEP exams, so I have to watch which ones I sign up for.
  2. Does your college have a limit as to how many credits can transfer in? - My college has a limited amount of credits I can take at other institutions while enrolled there. Because I discovered the CLEP late, I planned out my college career with this number in mind. If this is something you want to take advantage of while IN college, definitely look into that.
  3. What scores does your college approve of? - The national average of a CLEP exam is a 50. That means you need to get 50/100 questions right. Sometimes there's less than 100, though, like in math, so look into that before paying for a test. I was going to take an algebra CLEP until I realized I needed to get 50/60 questions correct and was like nope. My college happens to take 50 questions for every exam except for the literature ones. There you need at least a 60.
  4. Is there a testing center near you? - College Board lets you hunt this down on their website, but it is worth putting in a few calls to learn. Test Centers charge different amounts of money whether or not you're an enrolled student there and also due to location. Make sure you have that money set aside. Also, not every testing location is open every day. The first one I tested at only administered tests on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The second one I am testing at administers for tests on Mondays, and then two tests on Friday and Saturday mornings.
  5. Do you have access to proper study materials? - Take advantage of the library or rent textbooks. I don't recommend going in blind, but I don't recommend throwing your heart and soul into these tests because, in the end, you just need to get half the questions right. Refresh your memory on the subject content a few times and throw yourself in, but if you fail the test you cannot retake it for 3 months and that's some money lost. Be smart about it.
Now that I've got that out of the way, this post is getting super long. I am going to do a highlights "things you need to know" about the CLEP exam below.
  1. CLEP = College Level Examination Program and it is a test through College Board that asseses your proficiency in 36 different subject matters popular in college classrooms.
  2. A test costs less than $200 to take, including study materials.
  3. This one test transfers in as a full 3 credits (one class worth) or more if you are taking a language CLEP if you pass.
  4. If you fail the test, you need to wait 3 months before retaking it.
  5. Most universities take CLEP exams, but check before taking it, and look into the scores they are accepting.
  6. The national average accepted score on most exams, minus literature, is a 50.
  7. Most exams are 100 questions long, meaning you just need to get half correct to pass. Remember to research that though, as some exams are different. Introductory Algebra, for example, is only 60 questions and you still need to get 50 correct.
  8. Testing centers are located throughout the country. I have a choice of 70 all within a 40 mile driving distance of my home in New Jersey or my university in NYC. Call them, ask about money and dates they test since not every testing center is open 7 days a week, and pick the one that is best for you.
Alright, that's all I got for you. I hope you find this post helpful! I'll be sending it off to the people who have emailed me asking me for early graduation advice.


Did you find this post helpful or interesting? Are you a reader in the proper age range to find this post useful? Share your thoughts in the comments below! <3


  1. Thanks so much for writing this. I'd never heard of CLEP. I was the nerdy person who loved school so much I went to grad school - I guess I was in the AP crowd in high school but I was nice, I promise! And now that I'm older I can completely understand wanting to finish a degree and get out into the world and do things!

  2. I've known about CLEP tests for quite a while, particularly since my mom took a few (so she could graduate a semester early). My school requires a lot of gen eds so, in theory, I probably could've taken several CLEP exams, but I decided not to and the only one I'm doing is American Lit for my major. I'm actually taking that one in a few weeks. Anyways, this was such a good post idea. I hope a lot of people find it useful!