Testing out of College Courses — AP, CLEP, and DSST

There are basically three traditional ways to get out of college courses. All three involve taking a test that shows basic competency in the course material. Many high school students are familiar with AP (Advanced Placement) courses. You take a course in high school, then at the end of the school year, you take the AP test, and if you score high enough on it, you get college credit.

The main problem with AP courses is that they are only available to high school students. Once you’ve graduated, it’s too late. Another problem is that it takes a whole school year to get your credit. This is where CLEP (College Level Examination Program) and DSST (Dantes Standardized Subject Tests) come in.

Both of these can be taken any time before or after college graduation. Better yet, you study at your own pace, so you can knock out two or three in a very short time if you put your mind and effort to it. There are some limits. Generally speaking:

  • You can only test out of 60 credits total. Most people will never reach this limit.
  • You cannot test out of a class you have taken, even if you withdrew. You can however sign up for a course, pass the test, and then drop the class if it has not yet started.

Which one should I choose?

Some subjects are covered only by one of the companies. In that case, you choose what is available. If both companies have the test, do some reading on forums and choose one.

How do I do I sign up for one?

Find a DSST test center.
List of subject tests
Find a CLEP test center.
List of subject tests

How should I study?

Generally speaking, you get a text book and study it. Many subjects have dedicated CLEP study guides or CLEP text books. For math tests, I would highly recommend Khan Academy.

It would also be a good idea search online forums for other people’s recent experiences with the test. For example, the Public Speaking test requires you to submit a video taped speech. Apparently one of the most important things is that the speech be within the time limit.

Additional tips below under specific tests.

Which courses should I take?

Here is a PDF document of the exams that most Florida colleges and Universities will accept. However, just because a school will accept your credit does not mean that it will help you graduate.

The following recommendations are specifically for Palm Beach Atlantic University (because that’s where I work) nursing students:

  • Composition I
  • Biology
  • Public Speaking
  • General Psychology
  • Lifespan Development
  • Algebra
  • Statistics
English Composition
You absolutely cannot go wrong taking this one*. Practically every school requires it. You need to take the test in the Summer before you start as a freshman, because it is almost always taken in the 1st semester. It is almost impossible to get out of taking Comp II. Your best bet is to CLEP a literature course and see if your school will count it, however, if your school also requires a literature course, you can’t have the CLEP test count for both Comp II and the literature course. You could CLEP two literature courses.
*Actually, if you’re planning on doing the Honors Program at PBA, then it won’t matter if you take this or not.  You’ll still have to take the Honors version.
Western Civilization I and II
This is a safe bet for most schools as they require Western Civ I and II plus a literature course. PBA is not most schools, and requires “Humanities I, II, and III”. They will however accept Western Civ I as Humanities I. Unfortunately, they will NOT accept the Western Civ CLEP for Humanities I. You’ll have to take this one through dual enrollment.
Biology I is required at PBA for A&P I and II and Microbiology. By taking this before you start as a freshman, you can get a jump start on these science courses.
Public Speaking
Oddly enough you can test out of public speaking, but you can’t get out of giving a speech. You have to submit a video of yourself doing one.  If you’re planning on doing the Honors Program at PBA, then it won’t matter if you take this or not.  You’ll still have to take the Honors version.
General Psychology
Students have told that this one is fairly easy. Here is a student’s experience with the test:

“I bought an AP Psychology prep book, and read it diligently while also taking notes on it. I then got on quizlet.com and used the flashcard for the Intro to Psychology Clep Test to practice my vocab. I studied about 2 hours a day for 2 1/2 weeks. I scored a 53 on the test.
As far as the test is concerned, a majority of it was giving you a scenario and you are asked what psychology concept is being used in the scenario. If you understand the vocabulary for Psychology, you should be able to successfully take the test. After taking the test, I reviewed what I studied, the only other thing I wish I had done, is there is a plastic card sold at Barnes n Noble for Intro to Psychology, it has every psychology vocab word used on the test.” — C.B., 2012, Freshman Nursing Student

Lifespan Development (Human Growth and Development)
Opinions vary on this one. Students that took General Psychology at PBA have told me that it is not a difficult test. It is essentially General Psychology with an emphasis on developmental theories/theorists, such as Erickson. Students who CLEPed both General Psychology and Life Span Development have told me that it was harder (but they still passed it.)

“The Lifespan Psychology test was quite simple for me to study and pass. I bought the review guide for this test and read the book in about 3 weeks. It was an easy read because the previous fall I had taken General Psychology which was a solid foundation to Lifespan. The material was not too difficult to understand and majority of it was interesting for me. I passed this test with a score of 59, in which passing is 50.” –T.M., 2012 Freshman Nursing Student

Almost everyone has to take “College Algebra” these days, but let’s be honest. It’s more like 9th grade algebra. You should be able to do this one in your sleep. Interestingly, PBA nursing does not require College Algebra, but does require Statistics. You could just go straight for Statistics, but if you change majors, you’ll probably have to go back and take College Algebra.
Required for just about every nursing program out there.

“Principles of Statistics however was much more difficult for me [than Lifespan Development]. I had never taken any statistics classes and therefore I was not able to understand it as well. Not having a teacher or tutor for an unfamiliar subject can be very frustrating at times. I researched the test and found many people suggesting “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Statistics” as a good research that simplified the material. I found the book to be very helpful despite the difficult content. I passed the DSST test with a 447 with the passing score of 400. –T.M., 2012 Freshman Nursing Student

American Government
NOT RECOMMENDED for PBA. PBA requires its own course “Freedom in American Society.” This CLEP will not help you at PBA, but should at most other schools.