Tips to Make Studying for Your CLEP or DSST Exam a Breeze

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Don't let studying for the CLEP or DSST overwhelm you. With a few study tips and some handy resources, you can ace these college-level tests and get credit for what you already know.

Want to Do Well on the CLEP or DSST? Follow These Easy Tips

The CLEP and DSST are exams that allow you to prove college-level understanding of certain topics. The benefit to this is that it allows you to bypass the expense and time it would take to complete a traditional college course. If you're considering getting college credit through CLEP or DSST testing, we have a few tips and resources to make your study sessions more successful so you can get the credit you deserve.

Scoring High on the CLEP


The CLEP, or College Level Examination Program, is offered by The College Board. CLEP allows students to get credit for subjects ranging from U.S. history to German language studies. CLEP testing has become popular in recent years not only with busy adults looking to earn college credit but, as Lee Binz notes, also with the growing number of home-schooled students earning college credit while working towards a high school diploma.

CLEP tests can shave weeks off a traditional degree and save students as much as 90-percent on the cost completed credits.

On their website, The College Board offers prospective test-takers a list of ways they can prepare to do well on any of their exams, including:

  • Get a study guide. Students can buy guides for single courses or a single master guide that covers every course offered by the College Board. These guides include sample questions, test-taking information, and study resources. If you can't afford a guide, check your local library to see if they have a copy available to borrow for free.
  • Check the bookstore. Contact your local college bookstore to see what texts are assigned in the class you're testing out of. You should also be able to find a syllabus for the course. This information will help you to get a better idea of the topics you're likely to see on the test and materials you should be familiar with.
  • Befriend your local librarian. Many community colleges and some state universities allow community members to use library resources at no charge. If yours does, make a point to get to know the librarian and ask them to show you what study resources students in the course are using.
  • Use CLEP resources. Whether you're studying for the CLEP or taking an online course, the College Board's study resource page is a gold mine. This page gives students access to lessons, notes, podcasts, and more to help solidify their knowledge in dozens of topics.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Peterson's offers plenty of resources as well, including access to sample tests that allow students to check their knowledge and readiness.

Other materials from third parties, such as the flashcards recommended by Mometrix, are available for a fee and may help students test themselves and see where any gaps in learning lie. That said, proceed with caution when purchasing materials from third parties. It's generally best to stick to 'official' study materials.

Acing the DSST


The DSST, or DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, are offered by the Department of Defense to both military and civilian personnel. These tests allow subjects to gain college credit in a variety of topics from military history to ethics and public speaking. Once students have verified that their college of choice accepts the DSST for credit, they can begin studying in earnest. The official DSST website offers a few helpful tips:

  • Find a prep guide. Find the testing guide you need online or through your local library or bookstore and use the study tips, practice lessons, and content outlines to help you understand what your test will cover and what kind of questions you should expect.
  • Use practice tests. Both Peterson's and the DSST site offer students access to practice exams. Practice tests can give students a feel for the subject matter and testing structure. These tests come with small fees but can save students time and money o retests later.
  • Paid resources. If you're willing to spend a little to get the information you need, iStudySmart.com and InstantCert.com offers courses, exam products, and other resources to help students prepare for the exam of their choice.
  • Free resources. MOOC courses, the public library, and online textbook resources like CK12.org can help students brush up on topics, explore test-taking strategies, and more while keeping the bottom line in check.
  • Use your skills. You've already completed courses, training, and self-paced study during your career. Use those skills and clever strategies like these offered by Dartmouth College to help you focus your study time and get the most out of this unique opportunity.
  • Network. Speak with others, online or in person, who have already taken the test. Get feedback from them on areas of concern and their general feel for the test, so you have a better idea of how to plan your study sessions.

Be Careful


As with the CLEP, there are hundreds of online resources that promise students success with the DSST. Explore the ones that interest you, but do so with caution. Many offer useful materials and access to learning experiences that can help to further your goals, but there are charlatans online too. If you find a resource that looks good, check it out. Look for online reviews and student feedback - especially if they ask for money. Don't give anyone money sight unseen, and be wary of any program that promises guaranteed results or instant credit. There is no guarantee of success when testing; there is only you and your best efforts.

By Patricia Willis
January 2018
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