So you have decided that you want to take a test to get college credit for knowledge that you already have? That’s great, but where to start can seem a little overwhelming. In this article, we’ll be helping you determine if taking a CLEP exam or a DSST exam is the right fit for you.
We will walk you through each step, from truly understanding what makes each exam unique to learning the significant differences. By the end of this article, you will have all the tools you need to determine which test, either the CLEP or the DSST, is best for you. We’ll even send you on your way with the tools you need to start preparing for your chosen test!
Are CLEP and DSST the Same?
Although the CLEP and the DSST exams are similar and serve a similar purpose, they are very different exams. They are geared towards helping you receive college credit for knowledge you had before entering college. There are other ways to do this, such as by taking AP or IB exams, but the CLEP and DSST exams are geared at active-duty military and nontraditional college students instead of high school students.
Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a good idea of the major things that set these exams apart from one another and many of their similarities. Since they are so similar in many ways, it can be challenging to figure out which exam is the best for you but don’t worry; we’ll guide you through that process, so it’s not overwhelming at all.
What is the CLEP Exam For?
The CLEP exam is for anyone looking to get some college credit based on the knowledge they already have. It is made for anyone to be able to take and only costs a little over $89, depending on your testing location. The exams cover over 30 different subjects and are a great way to save time on taking classes and money on paying for classes in college. They typically allow you to skip introductory courses and are accepted at over 2900 colleges.
What is the DSST Exam For?
The DSST exam is similar to the CLEP exams in its goals, but the main difference is that the DSST exam was explicitly designed for active-duty military. It is free for all active-duty military and is offered to the general public at a relatively low cost. Although now anyone can take the exams, it was only provided to those in the military when it was first started. The DSST exam is typically given at on-base testing or education centers, so it still serves those in the military primarily.
What’s the Difference Between CLEP and DSST?
There are a few notable differences between the CLEP and the DSST exams. These differences fall into the categories of eligibility, test structure, cost, exam registration, passing rates, and credits.
Technically speaking, anyone can take either exam. They are both geared more towards nontraditional college students or students who do not go straight from high school to college. Most students who want college credit for a course they have taken will take the AP (advanced placement) or IB (international baccalaureate) test that goes with their class, but these tests are only given to high school students who have taken the course. With the CLEP and the DSST tests, anyone with any prior experience can take the exams.
That being said, the DSST exam is still much more commonly used by active-duty military members since it is free for them. The DSST exams are also most widely given at military testing or education centers, typically on a military base. This means that even though anyone can take the DSST, it is designed to be easy to access for military personnel.
The structure of the two tests is slightly different in both the timing and the answers. While the DSST exam takes two hours to take, and each question is a multiple-choice question with four different solutions to choose from. On the other hand, the CLEP exams take 90 minutes and are also made up of multiple-choice questions, but each question has five answers to choose from this time. A few CLEP exams, mainly the foreign language exams, also have a written essay that will be graded and count towards your total score.
The cost of each exam can be very similar or vary greatly, depending entirely on your specific situation. If you are a civilian and are looking to take either of the tests, they will each run you around $80-90. It costs $89 per test to take the CLEP exams and $85 per test to take the DSST exams. Neither of these costs includes the testing center administrative fees, which will vary depending on your testing center but will likely add another $20-40 to the fees.
If you are an active-duty military member, the DSST exams are all free. If you take them on a military base or at a military-run education center, even the test site fees will be free. Unfortunately, even if you are in the military and take the DSST tests at a local testing site, you will still have to pay the administrative fee of the testing center.
Since a different organization produces each exam, the exam registration will be slightly different unless you are taking them at the same testing center. Some testing centers do offer both exams and will allow you to schedule directly through them, but this is not generally the case. In most cases, you will need to go to Prometric, the organization that runs the DSST exams, or the College Board, the organization that runs the CLEP exams, to register.
One thing to note about taking subject exams, such as any of the DSST or CLEP exams, is that most testing centers will proctor the exams but don’t keep the tests on hand or have regular times. If you are used to signing up for tests like the ACT or SAT, where there are set times when the tests are given, you may be a little confused by the DSST or the CLEP. Usually, you have to sign up for the test through the testing body and the testing center, who will then coordinate to have the test there on your assigned test date.
It’s hard to say which exam is genuinely more challenging because it will vary from person to person. That being said, you can look up the previous year’s pass rate for the specific CLEP or DSST exam that you are planning on taking. This will give you a good idea of how hard it is in comparison to other CLEP or DSST exams.
In general, there are more DSST exams with exceptionally high passing rates than there are CLEP exams. That being said, there are also a handful of DSST exams with way lower passing rates than any of the CLEP exams, so it really is test-dependent on what the passing rate will be. A good number of subjects from either exam set will have a passing rate between 60% and 75%, although some exams might be higher or lower.
Ultimately, the amount of credit you will receive for either the CLEP exams or the DSST exams will depend on the school to which you submit the results, not the exam itself. Some schools only accept the CLEP exams, some schools only accept the DSST exams, and some schools accept both types of exams, so it is essential that you make sure that your school will accept your exam.
On a similar note, most schools have a limit on both how many introductory courses you can test out of as well as how much transfer credit can count towards your degree. It is vital that you find these numbers for your school because otherwise, you would be wasting your money by taking more CLEP or more DSST exams.
Overall, the CLEP exams are accepted at around 2900 schools, but this doesn’t’ mean that every exam is accepted for credit at every school. The same goes for the DSST exams, but they are only accepted at about 1900 schools. The most important thing with either exam is to make sure that your school accepts both the exam you are taking and the subject you are taking it in.
CLEP vs. DSST: Which One Should You Choose?
This decision comes down to what fits best with you and your life. There are a few key things that you can do to help you decide and figure out which test is best for you, but just know that neither test is inherently better at everything than the other, so make the best choice for you. This is how you might want to think about making this decision:
1. Check with your school to see which exams they accept. There’s no use in spending your time researching what subjects the DSST offers if your school won’t accept them anyway.
2. Think about the subjects that you might want to take a test in and see how those line up with the CLEP and DSST exam lists that you can find online. This will help guide your initial research into the exams.
3. Find a local testing center where you plan to take the test and see what policies they have surrounding the test you are thinking of taking. At this point, you should have a few tests that you might want to take, all of which you know are accepted by your school. The most accessible place to start looking for a testing center is at a local college, university, or community college. Some public libraries also have proctored testing centers.
Once you have gone through these three steps, you should have a pretty good idea of which subjects you are going to take and from which exam. This is the point where you can start looking for study materials and picking the date that you will be taking the exam. You can find some of the best CLEP and DSST study guides by looking at the main website associated with each test. They will also have some helpful study guides and practice questions available to help you crush your upcoming examination.
Wrapping Things Up: CLEP vs. DSST: Which is Better?
Regardless of which exam you think is right for you or which subject you end up taking, we hope that this article has given you the tools you need to start getting prepared to take that test. Taking an exam-to-credit exam, such as a CLEP or DSST exam, is a great way to save on both time and money, but only if you pick the exam that is the right fit for you.
Neither of the two exams is always the right choice for everyone, so making sure to take the time to figure out which one will work best for you is essential. Take some time to read through the subject lists for each exam online and really think about which subjects you would like credit for and which subjects you are really ready to take the exam for. If you take your time and do your research, we know you will pick the best exam for you!