What's the Difference Between CLEP and DSST Credit?

Is There Really a Difference Between DSST and CLEP?

If you've considered standardized testing to earn college credit towards your degree, the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) and the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) may be just the thing. These credit-by-exam programs allow college hopefuls to skip over courses that cover basic or familiar information, saving time and money that can be better spent elsewhere. There are differences between the two, and benefits of each that test-takers should learn before signing up. Understanding these differences will help students to make an informed decision and get the most out of their alternative-credit program.

What is CLEP?

The CLEP is administered by the College Board. 33 tests cover five subject areas including History and Social Sciences, Literature and Composition, Science and Mathematics, Business, and World Languages. Credit earned from these tests is good at more than 2,900 colleges and universities, but students should speak to a counselor at their school of choice before signing up. Not all schools accept all tests, and any testing completed for subjects not offered by the school of choice may be of no use to the student.

Any student wishing to gain credit can use CLEP testing, including military personnel, college students, and home-schooled students. There is no age or income limit.

What is DSST?

The DSST exams are administered by Prometric, and while once a benefit reserved for military members and their families, it's now open to anyone. The DSST offers 30 exams in six subject areas, including Physical Science, Technology, Humanities, Business, Math, and Social Science. Currently, 1,900 schools accept DSST credit, but as with the CLEP, students should meet with a counselor before signing up. Students should ask which credits the school will accept and understand how they apply to the degree program. Many schools only accept select tests, and it's up to the student to know which ones.

What's the Difference Between the Credit They Offer?


Both the DSST and the CLEP give credit for a variety of classes. And, each is approved by the American Council on Education (ACE) to provide credit through testing, so what's the difference?

In simple terms: content.

While there is some overlap between what the two tests offer, there are certain courses that are only covered by one or the other. The CLEP offers mainstream testing in courses such as 'Human Growth and Development' and 'American Literature'. The DSST includes classes such as 'A History of the Vietnam War' and 'Principles of Public Speaking' that schools can accept in a variety of ways. Because of these differences, students should explore both resources to get the most from alternative-credit testing.

How Are Tests Structured?

The structure of these tests is similar, but there are key differences students should understand before signing up.

Both tests include 100 multiple choice questions that test student understanding. The CLEP test offers students five answer options in response to the question, while DSST offers four. Each CLEP exam must be completed in 90 minutes, while the DSST exams allow students two hours to finish. For certain subjects, CLEP exams include an essay component in addition to the multiple-choice questions.

For both types of testing, students must use a certified testing center and pay the appropriate fees before the test date.

How are Credits Awarded?


Each institution has its own policy for accepting CLEP and DSST credit. When meeting with the school's counselor, students should ask the following questions:

  • Which tests the school will accept?
  • How much credit is each test worth?
  • Is the test good for a degree or elective credit?
  • How much total credit will the school accept through testing?
  • What is the lowest score the school will accept on each test?

Students who do not receive a satisfactory score on their CLEP or DSST test must wait at least 90 days before taking the test again. Tests taken before the 90 days have expired will be invalid, and students will lose their testing fees.

What is the Maximum Amount of Credit You Can Receive from Testing?

As with credit and class determination, the total amount of credit a student can earn with testing depends on the school. A counselor can help students understand the school's credit transfer policy, particularly concerning non-standard credits.

Most schools will limit students' transfer options, allowing only a fixed percentage of degree credit to be earned off-campus. Such policies encourage students to spend their time, and money, at the school of choice. But, as Jay Cross notes in his blog for Brazen.com, there are notable exceptions. Selected online schools, like Excelsior College in New York, don't have residency restrictions. This flexibility allows students to use CLEP and DSST testing, as well as others, to complete more of the selected degree program.

For students who prefer to attend a local college or university both the College Board and the DSST website offer a list of schools that accept test credit.

Which One is Right for You?


There really is no reason to choose one testing source over another. Both the CLEP and the DSST are widely accepted. And, since there are many credits you can't get from choosing one over the other, limiting yourself has no benefit. By taking a variety of tests from both sources, and even exploring other alternative sources of college credit like portfolio assessments, you can maximize your credits and keep costs low.

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.

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