CLEP vs DSST: What’s the Difference?

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If you are looking to receive college credit for knowledge you already have before starting college, you will likely be taking one of two significant exams to show that you have the requisite knowledge. Although there are other options aimed more at high schoolers, such as AP tests or IB tests, for non-traditional college students, the CLEP exams and the DSST exams are the best bet.

Trying to figure out which of these exams to take can be challenging, though since at first glance, the tests seem pretty similar. It is essential to understand the similarities and the differences between the two exam sets before you decide which one is right for you. In this article, we’ll be breaking down what makes these exams so distinct so that you have all the information you need to be fully prepared for whatever test you end up taking.

Are CLEP and DSST the Same?Are CLEP and DSST the Same?

Although the CLEP and the DSST exams are similar and serve the same purpose, they are not precisely the same. It is essential to understand the differences between the goals of the two testing systems and the differences in tests offered to make sure that you choose the proper test for you.

Both tests are ways to receive college credit for existing knowledge that you had before entering the institution. They both offer tests in a variety of subjects and are both accepted at well over 1000 schools, although the exact number varies between both the exams themselves and the subjects that are being tested for.

What are CLEP Exams?

What are CLEP Exams?

The CLEP exams, or the College Level Examination Program, are administered by the CollegeBoard and are accepted by around 2900 schools. These exams can be taken by anyone and cost $89, plus whatever your testing center’s administrative fee is. If you are active-duty military personnel, you will be able to take these tests for free, but you will most likely need to pay any administrative fees for your testing center.

They have minimal restrictions, and each exam is structured pretty much the same as the next. In general, CLEP exams will take 90 minutes to take and will consist of multiple-choice questions with five answer options. They are then scored, and you will receive your score as well as if you passed or failed the exam. As with many test-for-credit options out there, the score isn’t really what matters. Most schools only care that you pass the test, but this can vary between schools, so make sure you check with your school.

There are 34 different CLEP exams that are grouped into five different categories. Each category has anywhere from 4 to 12 different exams that are offered. The categories are:

  • History and social science
  • Composition and Literature
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Business
  • World Languages

What are DSST Exams?

What are DSST Exams?

The DSST exams are another option for someone looking for a test-to-credit exam as a way to turn their existing knowledge into college credit. Initially, the DSST exams were only available to active-duty military and were designed to help support their continuing education. Now, however, anyone can take the DSST exams, but it is still free for all active-duty military, and these exams are offered at many military base education centers completely free of charge.

Unlike the CLEP exams, the DSST exams take 120 minutes or two hours, so they are slightly longer. They are multiple-choice, like the CLEP exams, but they only have four answer options instead of the five that the CLEP exams have. Still, both exams are very similar.

The significant differences between the CLEP and the DSST come in the subjects that they cover. The DSST exams are organized into six categories. Of all the categories, there are 38 different DSST exams that you can take. Each category has anywhere from 2 to 12 tests in it, but most average around six tests. The categories for the DSST exams are:

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

How is CLEP Different from DSST?

How is CLEP Different from DSST?

There are many minor differences between the two tests, such as how many answer options there are for each question, but there are a few major options to note when trying to decide which test you should take. The main things you should think about are the subjects each exam offers, the overall benefit to the student, and the exam scores.

Exam Subjects

Since each exam offers so many different subject tests, there is bound to be both some overlap in subject areas and some that are specific to each test. General subjects such as algebra and some of the business-related fields are covered by both, but many topics are only offered either through the DSST exams or through the CLEP exams, but not through both.

For example, the DSST exams cover ‘The Principles of Public Speaking,’ ‘A History of the Vietnam War,’ and ‘Fundamentals of Cybersecurity, among other subjects. On the other hand, the CLEP exam covers’ Chemistry’, ‘Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, and ‘American Government,’ among others. Since both the DSST exams and the CLEP exams offer over 30 subjects each, it is essential that you find the tests that are right for you and the knowledge that you possess.

This is the most apparent difference between the two exams and will likely be the deciding factor for most students who are trying to decide which test to take. If one of the tests offers the subject that you wish to take the test in and the other doesn’t, that will more than likely be what pushes you to take either the CLEP or the DSST over the other one, so it is essential that you really look closely at the list of exam subjects that are offered through each test.

Benefits to Students

The overall benefits to students are similar across both tests since the goal of offering tests like this is to make college more accessible. By allowing you to pay less than you would for a college class or even nothing and still receive college credit, you save money and save yourself valuable time. The focus of the tests is different, though, so it is crucial to pick the tests that are right for you.

More colleges accept the CLEP test since the college board runs it. On a similar note, the best ways to study for the CLEP will all come directly from the college board since they are known for creating great tests and study materials. These tests are often the most straightforward tests for the average person to find near them.

The DSST tests were initially designed to be only for active-duty military personnel, but, since then, they have started offering the tests, at a cost, to the general public. This does mean that the DSST is often harder to find in the general population since most testing sites are on military bases. These exams are also accepted at fewer institutions but are an excellent option for anyone who is currently serving in any branch of the military.

Exam Scores

Each exam is scored slightly differently, but what matters for each exam is if you passed or failed. The other thing to note when it comes to scores on either exam is that each college can set its own credit-worthy score, so make sure you check what you will need to receive to get credit at your school.

For the DSST exam, the raw scores will range from 200 to 800, with a 400 generally being what is counted as passing. As we said before, though, every school will have its own cutoff for passing, so make sure you check with the schools that you are applying to.

If you are taking the CLEP exams, the scores are a bit different. The raw score is simply based on how many questions you answered correctly, with one point per question. This raw score is then converted to a score between 20 and 80. Most schools consider a 50 to be passing, but each school is different, so make sure you check.

CLEP vs. DSST: Which Exam Should You Take?

CLEP vs. DSST: Which Exam Should You Take?

Trying to figure out which exam is best for you can seem challenging, but it really doesn’t have to. The first thing you should do is think about what subjects you want to take a test in. Then, you should look at the lists of tests offered by both the CLEP and the DSST to see which one aligns best with what you are looking to take. If there are tests from either organization that you could take, you’ll want to start thinking about testing availability and cost.

You’ll also want to check and see which tests, either from the CLEP or the DSST, will be accepted by the school that you are planning on attending or by the schools you are applying to. This will help you determine which tests are worth paying to take. Make sure you also check if the schools you are looking at will take the specific subjects that you want to take the tests in. Some schools only accept tests in particular subject areas as a way to test out of their intro-level courses.

If you want to take a test from the DSST but are having a really hard time finding a testing center near you, you may want to think about looking more closely at the CLEP. You’ll also want to look for testing availability in your area. Ultimately, either test can be the correct answer, so make sure you take some time to figure it out.

Once you decide which test to take, you will have to start preparing. Investing in the best study guides for the DSST or the CLEP is a significant first step. Both exams will have study guides that are put out by the organization that runs the tests, which is a great place to start looking for materials to help you out.

If you are taking the DSST, the best comprehensive study guide for the DSST is usually thought to be the Princeton Review guide, which is general to the DSST and is one large book. If you are looking for subject-specific study guides for the DSST, MoMetrix makes excellent study guides for each of the test subjects.

No one knows the test better than the people who created the test! If you are taking the CLEP, the best study guide for the CLEP is the official CLEP study guide that is put out by the college board. Since the college board creates study guides and runs the CLEP exams, it makes sense that they are the ones who make the best CLEP study guide.

Wrapping Things Up: CLEP vs. DSST: What’s the Difference?

Understanding which test fits your needs best is essential to figuring out which test to take. Since both the CLEP exams and the DSST exams are ways to receive college credit through testing, they can seem like they might be the same. Hopefully, through this article, you’ve come to understand the nuances that set these tests apart and have gained the necessary information that you need to pick the right test for you.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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