Credit-by-Exam Helps Defer Cost, Accelerate College Pace

It used to be that students attending college could only earn credits by sitting through weeks-long lectures, taking notes, and passing a litany of tests. Now, however, there may be a more productive way of earning credits for classes in less time, and at a fraction of the cost.

There are no assignments to complete, no quizzes to take, and no lectures or classes to attend—just an exam to pass.

Sound interesting? Students looking for a more efficient way to earn a college degree might want to consider credit-by-exam programs, which have become popular among those who want to accelerate their pace in school and contain costs at the same time.

“Credit-by-exam programs have been used for decades and continue to grow today because they offer real value to students and enable them to complete degree requirements more efficiently thank taking traditional courses,” says Marc Singer, vice provost of the Center for the Assessment of Learning at Thomas Edison State College (, which recently aligned several of its credit-by-exam programs with open courses to create new pathways for students to earn credit.

Currently 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. accept credit-by-exam as transfer credit. The programs allow students to earn credit by passing a single exam and are a good fit for independent learners, students who possess college-level knowledge, and students who are good test takers.

Credit-by-exam programs are not, however, a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. For instance, those students who prefer a structured environment and interacting with a professor and fellow students may not do as well with taking one test that covers a semester’s worth of material. This approach does tend to work well for busy adult students who have competing demands on their time and who prefer to work independently.

Two of the most popular credit-by-exam programs in the U.S. are the College-Level Ex-am Program (CLEP exams) and DSST exams.

“Students considering credit-by-exam programs should talk with their academic advisor to make sure credits from the exam they are planning to take can be transferred to satisfy a requirement in their degree program,” says Singer.

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