College tuition costs an average of $8,655 a year to attend a public in-state college and $21,706 to attend an out-of-state school. Private colleges and universities cost considerably more. Students who successfully take CLEP tests or AP exams can test out of college classes for a fraction of the cost required to take a class in college. Knowing the differences between the two programs can help students and families plan ahead financially and academically.

What Are CLEP and AP Exams?

College Level Examination Program tests allow students to earn college credit for information they learned on the job and during internships or through individual studies. CLEP test takers include adults new to college, those who are returning, military service members or traditional college students. In contrast, the Advanced Placement program features rigorous academic classes taught by accredited teachers in schools all over the world. Students take AP exams after taking an AP course.

What Courses Are Tested?

CLEP and AP exams are given in a wide variety of subjects.
CLEP and AP exams are given in a wide variety of subjects.

Both the CLEP and AP exams cover subjects like history and the social sciences, composition and literature, science and math, business and world languages. AP exams, however, allow students to test out of a much broader range of subjects. While both programs offer Spanish and French exams, AP exams are also given in Italian, Latin, Chinese and Japanese. Students can also take AP exams to test out of subjects like art, music theory and computer science.

What Do the Tests Look Like?

Format and subject determine the time students have to complete the CLEP and AP tests.
Format and subject determine the time students have to complete the CLEP and AP tests.

Depending on the subject tested, questions can range from multiple-choice options to essay questions. AP world language exams include listening comprehension and speaking components that the CLEP exams do not. CLEP exams typically have 90 questions that students answer in 120 minutes. AP exam length varies by the subject tested. Usually, though, students have over two hours to complete AP exams, which are given at high schools. CLEP testing takes place at a university testing center.

How Much Credit Can Be Earned?

Individual colleges and universities determine the credit students can earn.
Individual colleges and universities determine the credit students can earn.

Most CLEP tests correspond to single-semester classes, but some offer credit for one to two years of coursework. Scores range from 20-80 with a 50 being the minimum score to receive credit. AP exams also grant from one semester to two years of credit, depending on the course. Scores range from 0 to 5 and a 3 is required to earn credit. Both tests grant points for correctly answered questions, but each program has a different way of calculating the final score.