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The College Level Examination Program (CLEP), is a program administered by the College Board that allows students to save time and money by earning college credit for knowledge they already have from work experience, AP classes or independent study. Upon passing a CLEP exam, students can earn college credit at more than 2,900 institutions. This program is open to anyone, including high school students, adult learners, active military service members, veterans and current college students.
What is CLEP?
Although it was originally designed as an inexpensive and flexible way for adult students and military service members to earn degrees, CLEP has since become a way for anyone to earn affordable—and in some cases, free—college credits. CLEP is designed to reward students with low-cost college credit for prior knowledge. More than 2,900 colleges and universities grant credits to students who pass CLEP exams, allowing students to bypass introductory college classes as they work towards earning their degrees.
CLEP offers 34 exams that cover introductory-level college course material, including biology, history and business. CLEP exams are multiple-choice tests that are taken on a computer at more than 2,000 official testing centers. They’re offered year-round and typically take between 90 and 120 minutes to complete.
Benefits of CLEP
In addition to being an affordable way to earn college credits, CLEP offers several other important benefits. Research has found that CLEP students:
- Tend to have higher cumulative GPAs
- Are more likely to complete their degree
- Have higher retention rates in college
- Earn college degrees faster
Additionally, CLEP provides flexible learning opportunities for students—including first-generation college students and underrepresented students—who have other obligations, such as family and/or work.
How do CLEP scores work?
Multiple choice CLEP exams are scored by a computer, and the essay portions of the exams are graded by two or more English professors. Multiple-choice and essay scores are combined for a total exam score. The required score for earning credit and the number of credits awarded per exam vary depending on both the institution and the test.
Students receive unofficial scores immediately after completing the exam, excluding essay scores. In order to receive college credit, students must send their CLEP scores to their college or university. All CLEP exams allow students to send one score for free, and this institution must be designated during registration for the exam. Students can send additional scores after the exam for an added fee.
How to prepare for CLEP exams
- Familiarize themselves with the exam content by reading the exam descriptions and reviewing sample questions
- Get comfortable with the testing platform and exam tools (this video, created by the College Board, can help)
- Understand how exam scores are calculated (Students receive one point for each correct answer, and points aren’t deducted for incorrect or skipped answers)
- Review multiple-choice and essay question strategies
- Participate in the Freshman Year for Free program, which is sponsored by the Modern States Education Alliance
Freshman Year for Free
Free online CLEP courses are also available. Modern States Education Alliance a nonprofit organization dedicated to college access for all, has created the Freshman Year for Free Program. This program offers 32 self-paced online courses taught by college professors from schools including John Hopkins University, Rutgers University, and George Washington University.
As part of the program, students can enroll in these online courses for free. Once they complete a course, Modern States provides a voucher to take the corresponding CLEP exam for free (exams regularly cost $89). The Freshman Year for Free program also provides free practice CLEP exam materials. There is no limit to the number of courses and exam vouchers a student can receive, which means students can earn enough college credit to complete their freshman year at no cost, at their own pace and from anywhere.
There are no prerequisites or other requirements to register for the Freshman Year for Free program—all you have to do is sign up.