Are Credit-by-Exams Right For You?

By Jeffrey Simons, Barry Lenson, Beth Dumbauld and Jinshu Li

You Already Know What Credit-by-Exams Are

Credit-by-Exams may seem strange. Could it actually be possible for you to take a single test, and if you do well, earn as many college credits as if you’d spent an entire semester taking a course?

The answer is yes. Even more surprising, though, is the fact that you already know about credit-by-exams. The most famous CBEs are the AP test and CLEP exams, both of which are tests that let you “test out” of taking college courses based on your performance.

But AP tests and CLEP exams are just the tip of the CBE iceberg. There are DSSTs, ECEs, PLAs, the CLA and the ETS. It can all seem a bit confusing, can’t it? We’re here to cut through the confusing initials and show you how you can save money, save time and get the credit you deserve for what you know with Credit-by-Exams.

Tests for Credit vs. Learning Assessments

With a test for credit, you can take a single exam that covers a single subject, and if you score well, you can earn credit on your transcript and avoid taking that course wherever you choose to pursue your degree. Tests for credit are challenging, and you still need to have studied the course material if you hope to do well enough to test out of your course.

Tests for credit include:

  • Advance Placement Test (AP)
  • CLEP (College Level Examination Program)
  • ECE (Excelsior College Exams)
  • DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests)

Learning assessments tend to be more general, and are designed to give you the chance to show knowledge that you’ve gotten outside of the classroom. They could be a single exam, or they could be a process that includes creating a portfolio that demonstrates what you know. Some learning assessments let you earn college credits, and others are designed to let you show prospective employers that you’re the right person for the job.

Learning Assessments include:


Let’s take a look at each of these tests and assessments in more detail, starting with those tests or assessments that let you earn college credits. 

Excelsior College Exams

Excelsior College Exams have been around for more than 40 years. They are offered in nearly 50 subjects ranging from Abnormal Psychology to Business Law to Introduction to Philosophy. When you buy an ECE, you get more than just a test. You get an entire study program including extensive materials and a practice test – which you’ll need, because the ECEs are not easy. It takes weeks to prepare for an ECE, although the test itself takes just two to three hours, depending on the subject.

And unlike CLEP and DSST tests, your ECE score comes from a regionally accredited college, Excelsior College. Even better, more than 2500 colleges and universities accept Excelsior College Exams for credit.

You can find out more about Excelsior College Exams here

DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST)

DSST stands for DANTES Subject Standardized Tests. DANTES in turn stands for the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program.

That’s a bit confusing, right? But it won’t be if you visit the official DSST website or an additional page of DSST information provided online by  You’ll learn that DSST Exams are administered at National Testing Centers and at more than 500 military installations. 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. 

You can find out more about DSSTs here.

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