Test Comparison: CLEP vs. DSST vs. ECE

Test Comparison: CLEP vs. DSST vs. ECE

5 minute read

[Updated 7/2015] By Jinshu Li

There are many options to choose from when it comes to alternative paths to get college credit. As the Senior Product Manager at StraighterLine I decided to get some hands on experience and take three credit-by-exam options and share with you what I learned. Want to try an online class? Take two free lessons on us today! Credit-by-exams are tests that allow you to prove your knowledge in an area to obtain college credit. It’s a great way to facilitate recognition of college-level learning for adult learners. Just like many of you, I had never taken a credit-by-exam before. Here are the tests I registered for:

CLEP (College Level Examination Program) - Principles of Management

DSST (Dantes Subject Standardized Tests) - Introduction to Business

ECE (Excelsior College Examination) - Introduction to Macroeconomics These tests are similar to each other to some extent, but there are some interesting nuances as well. Most of the 33 CLEP tests are for general education classes. For DSST, there are 38 subjects to choose from in upper and lower level credits. The Upper Level tests are more specialized and can be applied towards a major, and therefore can be more difficult. There are a total of 49 Excelsior College Examinations, of which 15 are nursing related. Not sure where to start? Get your free personalized degree plan today!


Both CLEP and DSST tests are offered at local community colleges, which I found out by searching for test centers on both the CLEP and DSST websites. Because each school has its own registration process, I was advised to call the test center. While on the phone they helped me through the registration process for both tests and scheduled a test date for me. For the Excelsior College Exam, I scheduled the test online via Pearson VUE. I like the fact that I can check test availability online, as well as the scheduling flexibility.

Test Preparation

To prepare for the exams, I studied the complementary test preparation materials available on each of the exams’ official websites. This included a test information guide, content guides, and test taker’s handbook. If you have extra time, I’d recommend you also prepare by taking practice tests and reading the recommended textbooks and materials. I wanted to save some gas money and travel time so I registered to take the DSST and CLEP exams on the same day. I arrived 30 minutes before my scheduled time to allow sufficient time to pay the test center fee ($25/test) and check-in. However, energy proved to be a challenge. I was definitely not at my very best after 4 hours in the test center, so I would not recommend taking two exams in row. All the tests are computer-based and consist entirely of multiple-choice questions. The CLEP and DSST test each have 100 questions to be finished in 1.5 hours and 2 hours respectively. The Excelsior College Exam has 120 questions to be finished in 2.5 hours. I found all three tests I took to be at the same difficulty level. There is plenty of time to finish each test, but I wish there could have been a greater variety of question types such as open-ended tasks. Ready to get started? Sign up for a free trial today!

Don’t Forget to Print

My unofficial score report was printed automatically for CLEP and the Excelsior College Exam. But for the DSST test, I was supposed to hit a print button after viewing my results on screen. I didn’t see the button, so I did not get a score report. I wish I had known this prior to the test.

Results: I Passed!

I successfully passed all the exams and got 3 credits for each exam at the cost of $305 in total. I have not decided how to utilize the credits yet, but given that CLEP, DSST, and Excelsior College Exams are widely accepted among thousands of colleges, credit-transfer should be an easy process. In general, I think that credit-by-exams offer many benefits, including accelerating time to degree completion, saving tuition costs, and avoiding the need to re-learn materials a student already knows. I would definitely recommend the exams to students who want to be recognized for prior learning, don't need a structured learning environment, and  want to earn college credit and complete their college education at a lower cost! If you’re not ready to test out of courses through credit-by-exam, you should check out StraighterLine’s self-paced courses. StraighterLine costs are equally affordable, and instead of one big test determining whether you get credit or not, the course grades are based on several quizzes and tests. That means there’s less pressure, and less risk. Plus you can get 10-hours of free tutoring for each course you enroll in to help you learn the course material. By the way you can take Macroeconomics, Introduction to Business and Principles of Management at StraighterLine. Request Info Jinshu Li is the Senior Product Manager at StraighterLine. She has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and Bachelors of Arts in English from Beijing International Studies University. Prior to StraighterLine, she had gained professional experience in the education industry, most recently with Pearson in its London office.

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