What are the Hardest DSST Exams?

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you.

Spread the love


Are you thinking of taking a DSST exam, but you are wondering which ones will be the hardest and which ones will be easier? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Since there are so many DSST exams to look at, it can start to feel pretty overwhelming when you are looking at the complete list of all DSST exams offered, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In this article, we’ll discuss what exactly the DSST exams are and some of the exams with the highest passing rate and the lowest passing rate since this is really the only way to quantify difficulty. We’ll also be discussing some of the chaos that can be associated with scoring the DSST exams and hopefully clearing up the whole process for you, so you feel ready to pick your DSST exam.

What are DSST Exams?What are DSST Exams?

Before we discuss which DSST exams are considered to be the hardest or most challenging ones, it only makes sense that we first establish what the DSST exams are. The DSST exams, or the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, are a test-for-credit option that was initially designed to help active-duty military get credit for things they had learned while in service.

Although they are run by the testing organization ProMetrix, they are sponsored by DANTES or the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support. As we mentioned earlier, DANTES was designed to help active-duty military members achieve their educational goals. The DSST exams were a great way to do that.

Now anyone can take a DSST exam, although those in the military most commonly take them. There are over 30 DSST exams that you can take, and they are divided into six categories. There are anywhere from two to twelve different tests within each category that you could choose to take. If you are active-duty military personnel, these tests are offered to you for free through DANTES. If you are a civilian looking to take any of these tests, they will cost you around $89.

Each exam takes two hours to take and will consist of multiple-choice questions, each with four potential answers. The exams are generally given at test-proctoring locations, although there are more options to take the tests remotely now. Since the DSST exams were designed for military individuals, they are most commonly available at on or off-base military education centers or near military bases.

If you take a DSST exam and pass, you can submit your scores to any one of around 1900 colleges and universities nationwide that accept DSST exams for credit. This will allow you to opt-out of taking certain introductory level classes at that school, thus saving you both time and money.

How Many DSST Exams are There?

How Many DSST Exams are There?

As we previously mentioned, there are over 30 different DSST exams, 38 to be exact. These exams are sorted by category and range from super-specific, such as A History of the Vietnam War, to something more general, such as Environmental Science. You can take as many exams as you want, but keep in mind that not all schools will accept all exams and many schools have caps or limits on the number of introductory courses that you can test out of.

The DSST exams fall into six categories, each with a number of exams included in that category. Although both the categories themselves and the tests can change and have throughout time, here is a list of DSST exams as they stand now:

  • Humanities
    • Principles of advanced English composition
    • Ethics in America
    • Introduction to world religions
    • Principles of public speaking
  • Math
    • Fundamentals of college algebra
    • Math for liberal arts
    • Principles of statistics
  • Technology
    • Ethics in technology
    • Fundamentals of cybersecurity
    • Technical writing
  • Physical science
    • Astronomy
    • Health and human development
    • Environmental science
    • Introduction to geology
  • Social sciences
    • A history of the Vietnam war
    • Art of the western world
    • The civil war and Reconstruction
    • Criminal justice
    • Foundations of education
    • Fundamentals of counseling
    • General anthropology
    • Introduction to geography
    • Introduction to law enforcement
    • Lifespan development psychology
    • History of the Soviet Union
    • Substance abuse
  • Business
    • Business ethics and society
    • Business mathematics
    • Human resource management
    • Introduction to business
    • Computing and information technology
    • Management information systems
    • Money and banking
    • Organizational behavior
    • Person finance
    • Principles of finance
    • Principles of supervision

Which DSST Exams are the Hardest?

Which DSST Exams are the Hardest?

It can be hard to determine which DSST exams are the hardest since hard and easy are super subjective when it comes to testing. The best way to decide which exams are likely going to be the hardest on average is to look at the passing rates of the exams. While tons of different factors impact passing rates, these are the five exams with the lowest passing rate as of 2021.

  • Fundamentals of College Algebra: 17%
  • Art in the Western World: 16%
  • Introduction to Geology: 8%
  • Fundamentals of Counseling: 6%
  • Math for Liberal Arts: 5%

If you were thinking of taking one of these exams, this doesn’t mean that you will fail the exam. Statistics will not be on your side, but there is no reason you can’t be part of the passing number. These exams do tend to be the ones that trip people up the most, but that just means you should give it a little extra thought and time before deciding to take one of these exams, not that you shouldn’t take it at all.

One possible reason these exams have the lowest passing rate out of all 38 DSST exams is that these are not topics that the military prepares you for, on average. Since most people who take a DSST exam are active-duty military, they are drawing on military training and learning to help prepare them for the exams. These exams might just not be something that they feel as prepared for, so they tend to have a lower passing rate.

Determining which DSST exams will be the hardest for you is hard since nobody knows you like you. Try thinking back on all the exams you have taken throughout your schooling and reflect on which subjects have been easiest for you and hardest. Although this isn’t a perfect way to determine which DSST exams will be hard for you, it is an excellent place to start.

Since hard and easy are subjective terms, you will have to do much of the work of determining if a test is hard or easy on your own. With tools like your own personal history of test-taking and the known passing rates of the DSST exams, you can get a pretty good idea of how you might do. If you really put your mind to it and prepare for any of the exams, you can pass any DSST exam, though, so don’t get discouraged just because the exam has a low pass rate.

If you are struggling to prepare for your upcoming DSST exam or anticipate that it will be hard for you, try creating and sticking to a study schedule. This will help guide your studying and preparation, so you feel as prepared as possible when the test day comes. If you need any help, feel free to check out our articles on creating study guides.

How to Make a Study Schedule?

What are the Easiest DSST Exams?

What are the Easiest DSST Exams?

Just like determining which exam is hardest, choosing which exam is easiest is super subjective, so it can be a challenge to say. Again, the best way to find the easiest or most straightforward exam is by looking at the passing rate. It is worth noting that well over half of the DSST exams have passing rates above 50%. In fact, ten different DSST exams all have passing rates that are over 70%! Here are the top five exams in terms of passing rate:

  • Ethics in Technology: 90%
  • Business Mathematics: 86%
  • Technical Writing: 84%
  • Health and Human Development: 74%
  • Criminal Justice: 73%

There are so many reasons why these exams have the highest passing rate that it is nearly impossible to say precisely why. When looking at the passing rates of any DSST exam, one thing you should consider is if it differs between civilians who take the exam and military personnel who take the exam. A vast majority of the people who take DSST exams are active-duty military personnel, so keep in mind that if you are a civilian, they will have different preparations to take the exams then you will.

How are DSST Exams Scored?

How are DSST Exams Scored?

DSST exams used to be scored differently than they are now, so this can be confusing for some people since you can still find both numbers listed in some places. The exams used to be scored in a norm-referenced way. This means that each student is graded in terms of how they performed compared to other students who took the same exam.

In this scoring style, there is a set percentage of students who will pass, so the exact score you need to pass can change each year. These scores were reported as numbers ranging from 20 to 80, with a passing score typically being between 44 and 49, although it could depend on the year.

Now, DSST exams are graded based on a criterion-referenced system. This means that you are graded based on how many questions you can get correctly, not in relation to how anyone else does. In this scoring model, everyone who takes an exam in a given year could pass or fail. There is no predetermined number of students who will pass.

These scores are what you will see if you take a DSST exam and are reported to you as a number ranging between 200 and 500. Although this can vary slightly between schools, generally, a score of 400 and above is considered to be passing. Some schools will only accept credit if you get above a 425 or 450, but a 400 or above is considered passing according to the testing body.

Wrapping Things Up: What are the Hardest DSST Exams?

Determining which DSST exam is objectively the hardest is hard, but if you understand what you are looking for and what subjects work best for you, you are well on your way to picking a good exam for you. You can, of course, look at the passing rates of all the DSST exam options to help you determine which exams might be easier and which exams might be harder, but passing rates don’t tell the whole story.

Understanding yourself and the exam you are going to be taking is the only way to figure out which DSST exams will really be the hardest for you. Since each test-taker is different, make sure you take the time to think about what you want out of the test and what you think makes a test hard. That way, you’ll be prepared for anything, even the hardest DSST exam!

Picture of 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.

If you found this helpful, help us out by sharing this post!


Readers of this post also read...

A Guide to Effective Study Group Strategies

A Guide to Effective Study Group Strategies

Perhaps you have exams coming up and you’re considering studying with your friends but aren’t sure how to kick things off. Crafting the ultimate study group involves making sure that the time you spend together...

Read More