What is Credit-By-Exam (CBE)?

What is Credit-By-Exam (CBE)?

5 minute read

We know college can be expensive and time-consuming for many. One way to get ahead and save money is by earning college credit before you start school. This can be done in several ways, including a credit-by-exam program, or CBE. You simply test out of a particular course without having to pay tuition for that class – or even attend it.  But is CBE the best way to save time and money on your college education? Let’s find out.

How Does Credit-by-Exam (CBE) Work?

A credit-by-exam (CBE) program allows you to earn college credit for what you already know by passing a test in a specific subject that you would normally take in college. Students can pick and choose college-level subject matter exams from various credit-by-exam providers. Passing tests through a credit-by-exam program offers students the opportunity to earn college credit or transfer credit to colleges and universities that accept CBE. Each exam program sets its own testing schedule at test-taking centers. You’re allowed to take some CBE exams online, but not all. If you don’t pass on the first try, there is a specified waiting period before you can retake the exam for credit.

CBE Providers

There are plenty of CBE test providers out there. In addition to outside providers, your chosen college or university may allow you to test out of certain required classes. These are sometimes called University Challenge Exams. Not all colleges offer these, they’re not available for all classes, and not all of these exams will give you the course credit you need to graduate – they may only allow you to skip the class, meaning you would still need to earn those credits, just with a different course.  Make sure to check with your intended college or university about specific questions regarding CBE. Here are some of the most common CBE providers:


The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) is offered by the College Board, a non-profit organization. They offer 34 tests in five subjects for $90 per exam. Colleges and universities set their own policies concerning whether they accept CLEP exam results and, if so, the minimum score they will accept.  Exams are offered at official CLEP testing centers around the country or online via remote proctoring. Failure to pass a CLEP exam requires a three-month waiting period before you can retest.


The Defense Subject Standardized Test (DSST) is another exam company that offers both in-person testing at designated facilities as well as online proctored testing. There are 37 exams in six subjects for $100 per exam.  Failure to pass a test with DSST requires a 30-day waiting period to retest. As with CLEP, your chosen school will have its own policies regarding accepting DSST credits and scores.


Advanced Placement® (AP) classes are generally offered to students in high school. These are college-level courses that can be taken in place of regular high school-level classes during the school day.  Students may start taking AP classes as early as 9th grade. There’s no extra cost to take an AP class at school.  At the end of your AP class, you’ll be administered an exam, which costs $97 per course. Most colleges and universities will not accept a score lower than a 3 on the exam (which equates to a C grade) when transferring the course for credit. Exams may be repeated the following year. As always, check with your chosen college or university’s AP exam policies to find out which courses to take and what minimum passing score you need.

How is Credit Awarded with CBE Testing?

While being able to test out of a college class is a great way to save time and money on your college education, it’s not always possible to achieve. Every institution of higher education is unique, and as such, they have their own policies when it comes to transferring CBE credits.  Some colleges and universities will only accept CBE results for certain courses. Others will only grant credit for CBE results of a certain score or higher. Some may only grant credit transfer for certain tests, such as the AP exams, but not other types of CBE, such as CLEP. And still others may not accept CBE at all. It’s important to check your school’s policies before you sign up and pay for any type of CBE test.

Take Advantage of a Credit-Transfer Guarantee with StraighterLine

StraighterLine isn’t a credit-by-exam model. We’re an online learning provider designed to help you achieve your college degree quickly and affordably. We offer over 60 courses in nine subject areas. Costs per class start at just $79 plus our membership fee of $99 a month.  Our courses include free eTextbooks, tutoring, and live student support. Go at your own pace and on your schedule. At the end of your course, you’ll be given a proctored online exam. Don’t pass your course the first time? There’s no waiting period to retake the course unlike with CBE providers. But the best part about earning college credit with StraighterLine is that we’re already partnered with over 150 colleges and universities that are guaranteed to accept your StraighterLine credits! Plus, StraighterLine credits have been accepted at over 2,000 institutions with the ACE CREDIT transfer program. Don’t wait to save time and money on your college degree. Speak with one of our knowledgeable Enrollment Specialists by chatting with us live to get started.

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