Everything You Need to Know About CLEP Exams

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 8/27/20

In a nutshell, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a series of exams that test your knowledge on a variety of academic subjects and are counted as degree credits by many colleges and universities.

Developed and administered by the College Board, the CLEP offers 34 exams that cover introductory-level college material. A passing score on a CLEP exam can earn three or more college credits at 2,900-plus higher institutions of learning around the country.

Not all colleges accept CLEP exam results for course credits. To learn whether they accept these tests for all, some, or no credits, you need to check the individual standards and policies of any school you are thinking of applying to.

CLEP was launched in 1967 as a way for adult students and military service members to earn degrees at a reasonable cost while also letting them meet work and family obligations. These tests are designed for people who already have some knowledge in a college course area. They may have picked up the relevant knowledge from on-the-job experience, advanced high school courses, independent study, online courses, and elsewhere.

Some key CLEP facts include:

  • Students can take CLEP exams on computers at more than 2,000 CLEP test centers around the country.
  • The exams contain multiple-choice questions and take 90 to 120 minutes to complete, depending on the subject.
  • Other types of questions require students to fill in a numeric answer, to shade an answer option, or to put items in the correct order. 
  • Students receive their CLEP exam scores right after completing the exam (except for College Composition and Spanish With Writing).

Benefits of Taking CLEP Exams

One of the chief benefits of CLEP exams is the cost. You can take a CLEP exam for only $89, plus the administrative fee charged by the testing center, usually about $25. Even with added costs, such as $10 study guides, the CLEP remains a bargain.

These exams can also help you to get a degree faster. While a college undergraduate degree can often take students four to six years, CLEP exams can cut that time substantially to as little as one year. But, on average, students who take prior learning assessments (PLA) like the CLEP save an average of 2.5 to 10.1 months compared to non-PLA students.

There’s also evidence to suggest that students who earn credits through the CLEP are more likely to stick to their courses of study and complete their degrees.

Another benefit is that you just need to pass a CLEP exam; whether you pass by a little or a lot doesn’t matter, because only the pass is recorded, not a grade. 

Breakdown of CLEP Examination Areas

These exams cover five main subject areas:

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

Each subject area has a series of available exams:

Composition and Literature

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

World Languages

  • French Language: Levels 1 and 2
  • German Language: Levels 1 and 2
  • Spanish Language: Levels 1 and 2

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 Macroeconomics
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • 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


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

Planning Your CLEP Courses 

To find out whether a college accepts CLEP exam results is usually a matter of dropping the college’s name and “CLEP” into a search engine and clicking on the link. Before you take a CLEP exam, make sure of the credit that you will get for it.

Some colleges won’t give CLEP credits for a course you have already failed or if you have attempted or completed a comparable course on another campus.

Take a close look at the course requirements for a given college and map out the related CLEP exams you will need to complete to pass them. Keep in mind that some majors may have courses that are mandatory to take online or in-person, so work this out early to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises when you are hoping to graduate.

Some degrees also have a lot of “practical” components that might be hard or impossible to replace with CLEP exams.

Preparing for a CLEP Exam

To prepare for a CLEP exam, it’s a good idea to get the official study materials, which include the Official Study Guide ($25) for all 34 exams or individual exam guides ($10).

You can also try Modern States, a nonprofit education alliance dedicated to college access for all, where you can sign up for a free CLEP course. It has developed more than 30 freshman college courses taught by leading universities and professors, which are aligned with CLEP subjects.

You should also become familiar with the descriptions of each exam, including how much time is given to complete them, and try the sample questions on the “At a Glance” sheets for the tests.

Also, keep in mind that American Literature, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, College Composition Modular, and English Literature exams have optional essays that could be required by some colleges and universities, which also score them.

An online video will help you get familiar with the testing platform, including the testing tools, the types of examination questions, and the types of calculators that will be used. Speaking of which, it’s a good idea to practice with the graphing and scientific (nongraphing) calculators needed for exams that include Chemistry, College Algebra, and College Mathematics.

You should also have some idea about how your CLEP exam score is calculated, including how your raw score is converted into a scaled one, which is the number that appears on your score report. 

Taking a CLEP Exam

Once you know what CLEP exam you want to take, it’s time to register and pay for it online. After you have registered, you have six months to contact one of the more than 2,000 testing centers around the country to schedule your exam.

When you have completed the exam, you’ll immediately receive an unofficial score from the test center. If you specified an institution to receive your score during registration, they would get it within 10 to 14 business days. They may need some additional time to review the score and award the credit.

On the actual day of the test:

  • Print out and bring your registration ticket.
  • Bring two No. 2 pencils with erasers (other kinds are not allowed).
  • Bring a valid government-issued ID that includes your signature.
  • Don’t bring a cellphone.
  • Don’t wear a sweater or a sweatshirt with a hood.

Since many of the CLEP questions are multiple choice, here are some best practices for exam day:

  • Keep your eye on the clock and pace yourself so that you don’t run out of time.
  • Take educated guesses on the answers you don’t know since there are no deductions for wrong answers.
  • Read the questions and possible answers carefully since one option might be partially correct, but another is better.
  • Don’t spend too much time on one question, but go on to the next. You can mark a question to come back to later.

Get the Education You Deserve

Even if you realize some savings by taking CLEP exams for course credits, a college or university education can still be expensive. CollegeFinance.com is dedicated to helping students, parents, and graduates make informed choices about financing their college education.

By having all the financial planning, borrowing, and repayment information you need, you can make the right choice for your needs and concentrate on what’s important — getting the education you deserve.