College Credit by Exam

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Whether you’re coming straight from high school or you’re an adult learner who’s been in the career field for many years, you can earn college credit by exam.

College Credit by Exam

College credit exams allow you to test out for some college credits by using your previous skills and knowledge.

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Turns out, many colleges and universities offer credit by exam, meaning students can take an exam in a particular subject and, if they pass, they can skip ahead and/or earn college credit.

College Credit by Exam

Students doing an exam in university

If you are interested in pursuing credit by examination, there are several types of credit by exams.

Some exams available include:

Every college has its own unique policy as to how they handle credits by examination, so be sure to review the school’s website or speak directly with an academic advisor before registering for one of these exams.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exams

 group of students takes the test in class

Testing out of college classes is possible thanks to the several types of examinations available. These exams help you earn credit for knowledge or experience that you acquired before college.

If you are a high school student who would like to accelerate your future college education, you may also want to look into advanced placement (AP) testing. By taking AP exams in your senior year of high school, you can get a head start on saving time and money once you begin your college degree program.

It’s important to check with your desired school’s policy to see if there is a grade requirement for AP exams. Some schools require a student to earn a certain score on an AP exam before it will be accepted as credit.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams

You may be wondering what is CLEP? The CLEP test is one of the most popular ways to earn college credits for your knowledge and life experience.

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The CLEP exam is offered by the College Board and accepted at more than 2900 colleges and universities throughout the country.

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CLEP offers 33 different exams that cover topics typically taught in the first two years of a college degree program. The different subject areas covered through these tests include:
  • Business
  • Composition & Literature
  • Foreign Languages
  • History & Social Sciences
  • Science & Mathematics

Most CLEP exams offer three or more credits if passed. You can register for an exam in about 15-20 minutes using the easy-to-understand CLEP Registration site.

DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST)

college students studying for DSST exam

The DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) and the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program are other common options for testing out of college courses.

While the DSST program does offer special incentives to service members and veterans, the exams can be taken by anyone looking to test out of college courses and earn credit for knowledge and experience. All of the DSST exams have been evaluated and recommended by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit).

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More than 1500 colleges and universities recognize and award credits for passing scores on these exams. DSST offers more than 30 exams in a number of different academic categories, including:

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

The range of credits that you are able to earn through the DSST program varies by school, but most tests are equivalent to three credits for your degree program. Each DSST exam has a fee of around $85 for non-military students. Additionally, there are numerous study guides and resources available for purchase through the website to help prepare you for the exams.

You can register for a DSST exam online. Once you know your school’s policy regarding DSST credit, you may start by searching for a test center.

Excelsior College Exams (ECE)

student preparing for Excelsior College Exam

Students can also earn college credit for their knowledge or experience by taking UExcel examinations through Excelsior College. UExcel scores are accepted at more than 1,000 colleges and universities, which means they are not quite as widely accepted as CLEP or DSST exams so be sure to check with your academic advisor about your school’s policies.

UExcel exams are available in more than 60 subject areas, including:

  • Business
  • Education
  • Humanities
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Social Sciences
  • Technology
  • And more

The cost to take a UExcel exam is around $220, which does not include the cost of practice exams or study guides. However, they do offer payment plans as well as a “value package” that includes the practice exam, exam registration, and a free retake.

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You can register for UExcel exams online. Simply select your exam, create an account, register, and pay. Within 24 to 48 hours you will receive a message in your MyExcelsior message center to complete the process.

Institutional Challenge Exams (ICE)

Students taking Institutional Challenge Exams (ICE)

Institutional Challenge Exams are available to students who can demonstrate mastery of specific course content. These exams can be ideal for students who have previous knowledge in a specific subject from previous non-college programs, work experience, or self-knowledge and skill.

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If your school offers options for international challenge exams, you will likely be able to find a list of available options on the school’s website. You can also opt to contact the admissions office to inquire about available exams.

How Credit by Exam Help Students

university student studying online

Credit by exam helps students in two ways:

  1. Testing out of college courses: For example, college applicants who have taken advanced-level math courses in high school, or who have worked as CPAs for 10 years shouldn’t have to start their college journeys with entry-level math classes. These exams can show admission officials what you’re capable of, helping you get placed in a more appropriate course level.
  2. Saving money on tuition costs: Depending on the college you attend, the cost per credit hour can add up significantly. That adds up fast when you’re pursuing a 4-year degree. Although the various credit-by-exam programs do have fees attached, it’s minuscule when compared to the overall cost of tuition.

    There are several different programs that offer credit by exam. Choose the right program for you based on your skills and previous experience.

    Can You Test Out of College Classes?

    Woman preparing to take college test

    If you have mastered a skill or subject area, it is possible you can test out of that specific course. For example, if you are fluent in a particular language, it’s likely you can test out of taking a college-level language course and earn those credits after passing the test.

    Using your previous knowledge and skillset can help you save money by testing out courses but also finish your degree program sooner. You can also use your previous high school education to test out of college classes with advanced placement courses. If you passed the exam of an advanced placement course within the high school, you can likely use those credits and test out of the class altogether in college.

    Which Exam Is Right for Me to Test Out of College Courses?

    two students preparing for an exam

    The answer to this isn’t simple, but the first step is figuring out your college’s credit-by-exam policy. Because college credit for prior learning assessment policies varies widely from school to school, it’s essential that you understand your school’s policy before registering for one of these tests.

    Your school’s credit-by-exam policy will explain:

    • Which exams do they accept
    • What score do you need to earn in order to receive credit
    • How many (if any) credits will be awarded for a passing score
    • How many credits in total you can receive through exams (many schools limit this to 60 credits)

    Another factor to consider is that at some colleges, these exams are only used for testing out-of-college courses. Your score will allow you an exemption, meaning you will be able to skip over entry-level classes, but you will not receive any credits toward your program.

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    It’s so important to check the policy at your college or university to figure out what exams are accepted and what value they hold. If your school accepts more than one of the discussed examinations, then you will need to consider other factors to determine what the best choice is for you.

    • Do they all offer tests in the subject area(s) you plan to test in?
    • Which test has the most conveniently located testing center for you?
    • What is the total cost (the exam, study guides, practice materials)?

    By answering the above questions and working closely with your academic advisor, you will be able to choose the test that gives you the best chance of earning the credits you need.

    What Happens if I Don’t Pass the Exam?

    student checking exam results online

    This can be a major worry for students who are spending money on an examination to earn credit for college. When it comes to the tests described above, the exam fee is non-refundable. If you don’t pass the test, you do not get your money back.

    That being said, all of the exams offer resources and guides to help you succeed on test day. If you question whether you are prepared to sit for your scheduled exam, we highly recommend purchasing the related study guide in advance. While you may have forfeited the money spent on the exam fee, you also gained valuable experience and realized where your strengths and weaknesses are in the subject area.

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    Most tests have a waiting period before you are allowed to retake the exam (generally three to 6 months), so be sure to research this before committing to a test date. When it comes down to it, it’s better to take more time to prepare than rush toward completing an exam before you are ready.

    Earning College Credit by Examination

    Students taking college examination

    If you’re interested in accelerating your college career and saving money, credit-by-exam programs are an excellent option. Just be sure to check your school’s policies regarding which tests for college credit they recognize and how they award the credit before you register.

    These programs can help you earn college credit for the knowledge, skills, and experience you’ve already acquired, enabling you to move through your degree program faster and with less debt.

    When you’re ready to start researching accredited college programs, be sure to check out each school’s college by exam options and programs.

    Ready to start your journey?
    Elizabeth Abner
    WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

    Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.