Is CLEP Harder than AP?

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As a high school or college student, it is prevalent and easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the sheer amount of opportunities presented to you. Whether it is in the form of job offers, internships, different exam options, or your day-to-day life, things can start spiraling out of control in seconds.

For that reason, many students consider getting ahead of their peers and looking for routes that lead to early graduation from college. Two of the most common ways students do that are the College Level Exam Program (CLEP) and the Advanced Placement (AP) exam.

At first glance, these two exams do not seem very different, but they do differ in their more intricate details. Taking the CLEP or AP will lead you down a different path, so you should contemplate which one to take. To do so, we discuss everything you need to know about CLEP and AP exams in this article.

CLEP vs. AP: What’s the Difference?CLEP vs. AP: What’s the Difference?

What Is CLEP Testing?

The abbreviation CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program. It is a program that allows students to earn college credits for fundamental, introductory-level courses that will replace mandatory credit courses in college. CLEP exams are offered by College Board.

You can earn those credits bypassing the minimum passing grade. The great thing about the CLEP exam is that your overall score does not show up on your transcript; all you need to earn those course credits is to pass the subject’s exam.

CLEP examinations include 34 topics that fall under 5 categories: composition and literature, world languages, history, and social sciences, science and mathematics, and business.

CLEP is an excellent option for independent and self-motivated students as it ultimately makes you rely on your own capabilities. CLEP exams are accepted in over 2,900 universities across the United States and are administered over 1,800 year-round.

What Is the AP Program?

AP stands for Advanced Placement program, and they are also administered by the College Board. AP exams are based on a standardized, college-level curriculum. They are offered across thousands of high schools across the country.

The content in one AP subject is based on the material you take in one semester in college, which means numerous colleges accept AP subjects and equate them to the related course in college. That way, you save up time if you are willing to go through the extra trouble and classes during your senior year of high school.

While AP classes are usually offered in high schools that encourage their students to take AP, they cannot self-study for these exams.

Many students choose to study on their own. They often do that to get ahead of their peers, pursue courses that are not offered at their school, or even do it if they believe they can study more efficiently on their own.

AP subjects are composed of 36 tests offered across the following categories: world languages and cultures, sciences, math, and computer science, history and social sciences, English, arts, and AP Capstone Diploma Program (based on seminars and research).


Let us talk about the similarities first. Both CLEP and AP examinations are administered by College Board. They aim to aid students in their journeys towards college or even during college. They both help students earn college credits earlier than usual and save them time, energy, and money.

Below is a list of comparisons between the CLEP examinations and the AP tests:

  • The number of exams offered: CLEP consists of 34 different presented exams, while AP has 36.
  • Cost: one CLEP exam costs $89. In contrast, AP costs $95 per exam in US and Canada, $125 for international locations, and $143 for AP Capstone exams. (these fees do not include any additional costs you might be subjected to due to proctoring).
  • Curriculum and courses: CLEP exams do not have an official curriculum provided by College Board. AP students typically take courses before their examinations, but it is not mandatory.
  • Typical Examinees: CLEP exams are often taken by adults returning to school, military service members, college students who want to be ahead, international students, master’s students, and professionals. AP exams are usually taken by high schoolers, homeschooled students, and independent study students.
  • Availability: CLEP exams are available throughout the whole year. AP exams are only available on specified exam dates.
  • Score: CLEP exams are scored on a scale of 20 to 80, while AP exams are scored from 1 being no recommendation to 5 being extremely well qualified.
  • Passing score: CLEP passing score is a minimum of 50, stated as the recommended bare minimum. For AP exams, the minimum recommended passing score is 3.
  • Where they are accepted: CLEP exams are approved in over 2,900 colleges and universities. AP exams are taken in most colleges and universities worldwide for 2-year and 4-year degrees.
  • Testing centers: CLEP exams are administered throughout 2,000 test centers. In contrast, AP tests are given in high schools or specific locations designated by the school.
  • Transcript fee: CLEP and AP exams do not charge you to report your score back to your school. However, they both cost for each transcript request you want to send to a school not designated during your testing or registration. For that, CLEP exams cost $20 while AP exams cost $15.

Is CLEP Harder than AP?

Is CLEP Harder than AP?

First of all, let us talk about the minimum recommended passing grade for CLEP exams. While 50 out of 80 might seem like a high score, the average passing score for May 2019 was 68%, and there was a total of 168,922 examinees.

On the other hand, the passing rate for examinees scoring 3 and higher on the AP exam was 65% for that same period. A total of 5,068,815 examinees sat for the exams.

So, is CLEP easier than AP? According to the same study in May 2019, students found AP exams to be slightly more complicated. So, in general, CLEP exams are more manageable than AP exams. Some students have even testified that you can sit for CLEP exams with your accumulated knowledge of AP subjects.

So, in general, are CLEP exams harder than AP exams? Think about it this way: CLEP exams test your general knowledge and replace the credits for an introductory college course. On the other hand, AP exams are literally the equivalent of a college examination.

Well, you might be wondering how hard is it to get a 50 on CLEP? You need the equivalent of a “D” grade, which is 50 out of 80, to pass, right? That does not seem difficult to achieve, primarily since CLEP mainly tests you on general knowledge. They also cover a wide range of topics, so it does not involve in-depth information.

But how hard is it to get 3 in an AP exam? It is generally considered a more challenging task to achieve than passing CLEP exams. Usually, AP preparation requires a full year of classes in high school, which means preparations for the exam are much more intense.

CLEP vs. AP: Which Exam Should You Take?

CLEP vs. AP: Which Exam Should You Take?

AP exams are the most popular choice, and it seems like more students annually sit for AP tests compared to CLEP exams. This is mainly because many high schools integrate AP classes into their curriculum. Students are often obliged to take them.

But, how can you choose which exam to sit for? Some students do prefer to sit for both exams, but if you are short on money or time or both, then here is a way to find out which examination program is best suited for you:

AP Tests

The AP testing system has been designed for high-achieving students who plan on heading to college after university. It provides them with a head start on their courses and more knowledge and preparation for the classes ahead of them.

AP exams are also more prevalent among colleges and students than the CLEP exams, and they are even administered internationally. It is trendy in the United States because it is advertised more than CLEP exams are, and it is offered in almost all public schools.

However, AP exams are mostly only taken during your final year of high school. Although you can still study for the AP test individually and take it, later on, it is most commonly taken as part of the high school curriculum. But remember, AP exams are only offered in May. Moreover, even Harvard accepts AP scores, but only if you get a score of 5 on your examinations.

CLEP Tests

On the other hand, CLEP tests are not only for students planning on registering for college or university; literally, anyone can take the CLEP examination if they desire. CLEP exams test your existing knowledge and skills more than they try you on your studying capabilities.

CLEP examinations are better fitted for self-motivated students who prefer studying independently instead of going through rigorous classes for a year. That means that anyone can sit for CLEP exams, even adults and military service members.

As opposed to AP exams, CLEP tests are offered all year round in multiple centers around the state. So, all in all, you will need to prepare for these exams on your own without much guidance. For that, you can always find a CLEP study guide that will guide you through the material related to the subject.

CLEP study guides are offered on the College Board’s official website. They help you build the perfect foundation for success before your exam. However, not all universities and colleges accept CLEP exams as a way to get course credits.

Well, does Harvard accept CLEP tests? Unfortunately, Harvard is one of the many Ivy Leagues that do not take CLEP examinations as substitutes. This is because of several things, including their incredibly competitive admissions and that their courses are generally more advanced than other universities.

Wrapping Things Up: Is CLEP Harder than AP?

The gist of it is that CLEP exams do seem to be easier than AP tests. While these two programs have their distinct differences, they are both excellent choices. However, CLEP exams are generally great options if you look to earn your college credits on your own. In contrast, AP programs help you finish college courses during high school.

Moreover, AP exams are much more popular as they are accepted by more universities and colleges. While many colleges accept CLEP examinations, many top-ranked universities and colleges do not accept them.

All in all, both programs are designed for similar purposes but are executed through different means. Do not stress too much about which direction to go towards. Still, if you are in university right now, your only option might be the CLEP examinations. However, if you are still in high school, then AP would be a great option.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other interesting articles about the CLEP exam.

> Are CLEP Exams Hard?

> Are CLEP Exams Worth It?

> What Classes Can You CLEP?

> How to Study for CLEP Exams

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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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