The Power Of CLEP Testing – A Story Told By An Idiot

First things first, I’ll admit that I’m not at all proud of this story. My own lack of effort and motivation to get this finished up could have cost me a lot of money. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about below. I’m telling this story because is showcases the power of some of the programs out there meant to help students out with college.

March 2010 – A Joyous Day

It’s official. I graduated college with a Bachelors of Science in Software Engineering. I was so excited to be done with school! I was burning out altogether and if college had lasted any longer, I never would have finished. It’s not that the material wasn’t interesting or challenging, it’s just that I had other things going on in my life that were more interesting. Sounds like a common problem thinking back, but I couldn’t help but let my mind drift onto other projects while I should have been doing school work. But it doesn’t matter at this point because I’m finished! Or so I thought.

After my graduation ceremony was over and friends and family departed, I set to take advantage of the time I had just gained by cutting one of the biggest uses of my time out of my life. I really ramped up on other projects, this blog included. I got involved in a lot of things and completely put school out of my mind. Isn’t that what a college graduate is supposed to do? Until I applied for my diploma…

At that point I was told that my degree program had changed and there were 6 additional credits (two classes) I needed in order to get my degree. I guess this is pretty common? Either way I wasn’t happy. There was no way I could get back into school mode and go through two more classes. On top of that, tuition had just been bumped up yet again and two classes would cost about $3500 at my college.

I had to find another way so I got to researching. It turns out that there is a program called CLEP that lets you test out of certain courses at a fraction of the cost. I’ll admit another mistake of mine was not researching this before I got into college. I discovered CLEP in my third year and by then was already going full force through my courses so decided not to pursue it any further. But now CLEP was my answer.

I spoke to my school counselor and got all the details I needed to complete the CLEP exam. The credits I needed were elective credits and there happened to be a class that would satisfy both credits so I would only have to take one CLEP exam. The cost of one exam is $70 paid to the College Board + $20 enrollment fee paid to the school where I take the exam. That sounds a lot better to me than $3,400. I asked my counselor how long I had to take the exam and she said, “there is no time limit”.

That is the worst answer to give a guy that has struggled with procrastination his entire life….

I almost instantly forgot about my degree being incomplete and my CLEP test.

Work got busy, side projects started to crop up every other day and my family continued to grow. Before I knew it, it was 2011 and almost a year had passed since I graduated. Then I got an email from my counselor reminding me that I needed to complete my degree program, this time with a warning that I needed to get things done by my one year anniversary. She didn’t say why and I remember that she had told me that I had no time limit for completion, so I halfheartedly started working on the CLEP program. I downloaded some of the sample test material, read some info online about the test I would be taking and got a few study guides. Then I got sidetracked again with more interesting things.

Her next email was not so friendly. My counselor told me that if I didn’t get my CLEP test completed within 365 days of my original graduation date, that would invalidate my degree program and I would have to reapply for enrollment and complete any additional courses that the new degree program required!

Uh oh. My graduation date was March and it was now late January!

Well, that lit the fire..sort of. My brain didn’t remember how to shift back into school mode! But in a panic I found out where I needed to take the CLEP exam. I called and scheduled an appointment to take the test the following weekend and got to scouring the web for more study help. I bit the bullet and bought the official CLEP study guide for $10. That turned out to be a complete waste of money, only containing a dozen sample questions from the real exam and information about how to take the CLEP test.

At this point I was freaking out for so many reasons, all self-inflicted!

After reading everything I could find on the web, the only thing I had learned is that the CLEP test I had so casually signed on for was actually Psychology level 3 and was the most difficult of Psychology tests. I didn’t even take into Psych in High School or college.

I called and canceled my appointment to take the CLEP test. I’ve always been a good test taker but there was no way I could pass this test with only one week of study time!

Canceling the test somehow took some of the pressure off which is not what I needed. Without pressure I relaxed again and didn’t worry about the CLEP for that week. It was mid February.

The next week, I got a call from my counselor. She said that my CLEP needed to be in by the 1st of March! The date I had in my head was March 16th, that’s when I actually graduated. But it didn’t matter, my deadline just got bumped up by two week. I called and scheduled my CLEP exam again for the following Friday. That gave me three days to study. I was dead meat.

I got back to researching. I didn’t know how I was going to pull this off but while scouring for help, I found a site all about ways available to prepare for a CLEP test. This site mentioned paid study sites that guarantee your success.

It was my last hope. I went to one of the paid study sites and started checking it out. It was 10PM. One day down.

This paid site cost $15 a month to sign up and guaranteed CLEP success or your money back. It claimed to be able to prepare you for any CLEP test in a matter of days. Ha, little did they know I would be taking that statement very literally. I signed up and spent the rest of that night going through their test material. I barely scraped the surface.

The next night as soon as I got off work, I told my wife I had to study and got to work. I devoured the material on the paid site. I went through as much as I possibly could and didn’t leave my computer for what felt like ages. 6pm, 7pm, 10pm I couldn’t stop. If I failed this test it would cost me $3,400! 11pm 1am 3am and I called it quits. I looked over the study material that I had gone through and what was still left…I still hadn’t gone through even half of the material. I went to bed and slept like a rock.

I woke up early the next day and got back to studying. My test was later that afternoon and I wasn’t even close to being ready. I decided that instead of going through the material thoroughly, I would just familiarize myself with the other 60% of what I needed to know and hope for the best.

With some of the material still untouched, it was test time. I headed over to the local college on a mission. I had to pass this thing! Ugh, what a feeling it is to be back on a college campus. I shuffled into a small room packed with studious college kids taking their exams and stepped up to the counter. I paid my $90 fee and was shown to a computer to take my exam; I had 90 minutes and 90 questions to answer. I was nervous.

I got to work. Ah, I think I remember this one, and that one. This isn’t so tough! Hmm I don’t recall this one, or this one or this one…

It was tough. I finished the exam in 40 minutes and went back through to double-check my answers. 20 minutes later, I was satisfied..I had no idea whether I would fail or pass this test. I turned it in. The lady at the counter asked how I did. Ha!

She handed me back a few printouts, one which displayed my score; 52!

I passed?

I read and reread the printout. On it it said that the College Board who administers this test gives basic guidelines to colleges who accept CLEP. One of the guidelines is that any score over 50 points is acceptable to the College Board as a passing grade but these guidelines are just that and any college can decide whether to accept a 50 for CLEP credit.


I figured there was no way that my college would be one of the lenient ones but at this point there was nothing more I could do. My electronic score had already been sent over to my school.

Or had it? The following Tuesday was the first of March. I let me counselor know that the test was in and the score should be there but on Tuesday she said it still hadn’t come through. A week later the score was still not there.

My counselor instructed me to fill out the diploma application just in case my score came in by my real graduation anniversary but that came and past. The day after that, my score went through. One day past the 365 deadline.

My counselor said she would do everything she could to get the late score accepted. It was so close to the deadline there was a good chance they would let it slide.

They didn’t. The score was late and I was going to have appeal the decision much like you would appeal an expulsion from college. I got the process started, filled out some forms and wrote a letter to the dean. How embarrassed was I? I had a full year to complete a test only to get it finished one day after the deadline. Now I have to explain to the dean why I needed to be reinstated in my degree program. Would he accept my letter?

Well, I never did find out. The next day I got an email of congratulations from my school stating I had completed my program and that my diploma was on it’s way. I don’t know what happened or why they let me slide but my counselor verified this was for real and I had actually pulled it off.

Thanks to the awesome College Board providing such a great program to get college credits, and to InstaCert Academy for their amazing testing material and study guide program I was officially a college grad!

My poor choices aside, this just goes to show how useful the CLEP exams are. They have CLEP tests on a few dozen topics and there is plenty of study material out there. If you are a college kid, don’t put yourself in the same position I did. Take some CLEP or Dante tests before the deadline and get your college credits at a fraction of the cost!

Have you ever taken a CLEP test?

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5 People have left comments on this post

» SquirrelersNo Gravatar said: { May 19, 2011 - 03:05:32 }

What a harrowing tale! Seems like a living nightmare, but somehow you pulled it off.

Great post, you told a great story. Not that it was great for you to deal with this, but you told the story well:)

Procrastination is such a tough hurdle to overcome….things feel so much better when they’re just taken care of. I’ve been on both sides.


Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

haha thank you. I felt so stupid about the whole thing but was greatly relieved when it was all over!

I’ve battled procrastination my entire life. I’m a perfectionist (there are a lot of causes of procrastination) and have to have things just so. If they aren’t perfect, I stall and stall and stall.


» Car Negotiation CoachNo Gravatar said: { May 20, 2011 - 02:05:43 }

Dude, that is insane! Sounds like the counselors at your school need to get their act together and council! But glad to hear the end result was a positive one.

I still occasionally have nightmares about similar situations and I graduated 14 years ago!


» Justin @ MoneyIsTheRootNo Gravatar said: { May 24, 2011 - 01:05:35 }

My degree program changed a couple times when I was attending college, luckily they only made me complete my original curriculum…the only exception is if you are still going to school past the time credits begin to drop off and expire. As you retake them, you need to do so according to current guidelines.

I never took any CLEP tests, in fact I dont know that they were offered for me or not…? I have my MBA now and dont ever plan on going back (regardless of the temptation to force my friends and family to call me doctor), so I guess i will never know! lol


Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

heh I’ll call you Doctor..

CLEP and its sister tests are only offered for maybe 10-15 courses, all general ed stuff or electives, nothing specific to a degree program.

I agree though, looking ahead, I see very little reason to go any further with school in the traditional manner. I may take certification programs and courses just for me, but at this point, I’ll pass on the MBA and PHD