CLEP Exam vs. AP Test: Difficulty & Differences


What is the Difference Between the CLEP Exam & AP Test?

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the Advanced Placement (AP) program were both created by the College Board with the goal of helping students earn college credits through examination. While these programs look similar on the surface, they are actually very different. One big difference is that CLEP exams are tests only, while AP exams are accompanied by a high school course. To understand other differences, let's take a look at the CLEP vs. AP.

Program description CLEP allows students of various ages to take exams based on information they already know. Examinees who pass CLEP exams are granted credits by institutions that could be used toward a college degree or for advanced placement. AP allows high school students to take college-level classes that conclude with exams. Successful exam scores are accepted at college and universities for credit or advanced placement.
No. of exams available 34 exams 36 exams
Exam cost $89 per exam $94 per exam in the U.S. and its territories and Canada

$124 per exam for other international locations

$142 for AP Capstone exams
Course or curriculum availability CLEP offers no courses or College Board-developed curriculum. Students typically take an AP course prior to taking the corresponding AP exam; however, AP courses are not required to take AP exams.
Who usually takes the exam? *Adults returning to school
*Military service members
*College students
*Homeschooled and high school students
*International students
*Master's degree program applicants
*High school students
*Homeschooled and independent study students
Dates administered Administered throughout the year Administered on specific exam dates
Score range 20 to 80 1 (no recommendation)

2 (possibly qualified)

3 (qualified)

4 (well qualified)

5 (extremely well qualified)
Passing score 50 (minimum recommended) 3 (minimum recommended)
Credits granted 3-9 credits per exam (minimum recommended) 3-5 credits per exam (minimum recommended)
Where scores are accepted 2,900 colleges and universities Most two- and four-year colleges and universities worldwide
Where tests are taken CLEP is administered in more than 2,000 test centers. AP tests are administered at high schools or school-designated off-site testing locations.
Transcript/score reporting fees Free: No cost for a score reported to the school chosen during registration or testing

$20: Cost for each transcript request used to send score to a school not designated during registration or testing
Free: No cost for a score reported to the school indicated on the AP answer sheet

$15: Cost for each score report sent to a college or university not designated on the AP answer sheet

CLEP vs AP Test Difficulty: Which is Harder?

According to May 2019 pass rate data, students may have found AP exams more difficult. CLEP exams had a 68% pass rate while AP exams had a 64% pass rate. However, there were many more AP examinees than CLEP test takers. To get an idea of the difficultly levels of the CLEP exam and AP test, let's take a closer look at passing score requirements and the percentage of students who pass each test.

What are Passing Scores for the CLEP and AP tests?

Both the CLEP exam and AP test look for students to earn the equivalent of a grade C or higher to pass their exams. The recommended passing score for CLEP is 50, and the recommended passing score for AP is 3. For both exams, however, individual schools are able to determine the scores they will accept as passing scores.

Pass Rates

CLEP pass rates were averaged at 68% while AP pass rates were 64%. The most recent CLEP results available are from fiscal year (FY) 2018, and the most recent AP results available are from FY 2019. Learn how students fare when taking both the CLEP exam and AP exam by exploring the number of examinees and percentage of those examinees who earn a passing score.


  • CLEP examinees: 168,922
  • Pass rate: 68%


  • AP examinees: 2,825,710
  • Pass rate (score of 3 or better): 64%

How do I Prepare for the CLEP Exam & AP Test?

If you're interested in taking one or more CLEP exams to earn college credit, can help you prepare. We offer dozens of CLEP study courses that include entertaining lessons, multiple-choice quizzes, practice tests and additional resources designed to boost your confidence as you study. You can also take advantage of AP study courses for dozens of subjects. Our study courses are available 24/7 using any computer, smartphone or tablet. This flexibility makes it easy to prepare for your chosen exams whenever your schedule permits.

Continue reading: CLEP Tests for the Military

By taking College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, you can earn college credit for a fraction of what it costs to take courses. Read on to learn about CLEP test-taking strategies and test-prep resources so you are prepared to ace your tests and save money on your way to a college degree.

Take the CLEP Exam with confidence
Try our test prep resources risk-free today and achieve the test score you want

CLEP Scholarship

Need help paying for the CLEP Exam?

Our CLEP scholarship could be yours!

Learn more