Right there on the brochure it said: "Who takes CLEP? A homeschooled 15-year-old." I felt somewhat reassured when I walked into the test center, knowing that my son couldn't be THAT unusual, since his demographic was right on the brochure. And imagine my surprise! Within the month, my son obtained college credit in "Principles of Marketing" and "Business Law" and yet I had never purchased marketing or law curriculum! How does that happen, exactly? As a homeschool parent, you may know what your children have been taught, but you may not realize what they know. There is a place where knowledge reigns supreme. A place where you can also discover their hidden learning -- your local CLEP testing center.
Why I chose CLEP exams
CLEP stands for "College Level Examination Program", but in our home we call it "Can Lower Education Payments!" Each exam can be worth a 3 to 6 credit college course, and save you a BUNCH of money on college expenses. At $65 each, the exams are inexpensive compared with the cost of regular college; and each exam can be prepared for at home, like any other homeschool course. The exams are offered all year round, even in the summer, 5 days a week, at conveniently located testing centers. Every test is on the computer, and they are all multiple choice. Because the exam is intended for "non-traditional learners," each question is straight-forward, with no nuance - you either know it or you don't. CLEP is often used for adult learners returning to college after a long time - even Moms! 2900 colleges nationwide accept CLEP exams and award college credit for each passing exam. There are 34 different subject exams.
The summer before our senior year, I decided to begin "homeschooling college" with CLEP exams. I wanted to do it in the summer so that we could include passing scores in their college applications. Since their senior year would be in community college, I wanted to know which courses they would pass by examination so they wouldn't be bored. We started with a $20 investment in the book "The College Board® CLEP Official Study Guide." To begin, I told my boys to look over the titles and see which test names they liked. I told them to take tests they were interested in, but encouraged them to stop if they got frustrated. I reminded them that they only had to get 50% correct to pass the CLEP exam. The reason for this is simple: ALL the questions are hard! I wrote their score percentage on the table of contents.
When they had their fill of sample tests, we decided to begin taking tests "for real" starting with their best subject. The pre-test where they scored highest was American Government, so I bought a review book for the CLEP exam in that subject. The books I liked the best for review was the REA series, "Best Test Preparation for the CLEP" by Research and Education Association. They went through 2 or 3 more sample tests using that book, reviewing the questions they got wrong. At that point, my boys felt they were ready to try their first CLEP.
When we arrived at the testing center, we paid a small fee to register with the technical college and get a student number. Then we went to the testing area, and paid the CLEP fee for the test. Unfortunately, the lone computer used for CLEP exams wasn't working, and the technical expert was not available to fix it. We waited for an hour, but no technician arrived, so we drove home disappointed without taking a test. When we got home, we got a phone call from the center explaining that the technician had "plugged in" the computer and it was finally working! How frustrating! The next day we tried a different testing center, at a different technical college. When we arrived, we recognized a difference immediately. This testing center had over a dozen computers devoted CLEP exams, so both of my kids could test at the same time, and they had technical help on site. Again we had to pay a fee register and get a student number, and we had to pay a fee for the test. This time we were actually able to take the test, and we were SO thrilled when they handed us the score report that showed a passing grade in a college course!
Our "Homeschooling College" Routine
From that moment, we developed a family routine. Every Wednesday we would go to the testing center and take one or two tests. After they passed, with their score report in hand, we would go out for lunch to celebrate. The next day, they would decide on a subject to tackle next. In general, we went from their highest pre-tested score and worked our way down. On Thursday we would go to the local bookstore, and buy the REA study guide for the next subject. If you can't find REA books, any AP or CLEP review book will work. They would take a sample test each day, and study the incorrect answers. The following Wednesday they would take another CLEP exam. It was really very fun, and so satisfying to see those college credits adding up.
One of my children took and passed six CLEP exams, worth two quarters of college. The other son passed fifteen exams, earning the maximum one full year of college credit by exam. (Only nine exams were required to get one year of credit, but my son really liked taking the tests!) Even with colleges that didn't give college credits, the tests were still useful. One college they applied to required SAT II exams, which we didn't have. The CLEP exams seemed to be accepted instead, so even though they didn't give college credit it still helped in the application process. The remaining tests were used to help my son place into upper division university classes.
Cumulative Learning or Intentional Learning
We had planned our "homeschooling college" as a way to simply document the cumulative learning from our homeschool. There is another way to homeschool college with CLEP exams, though. You can also decide what subject you want to learn, and then intentionally study for the test. For example, my son Alex knew that psychology was required in college, but he just did NOT want to take it. He was disgusted by Freud, and truly didn't want to hear his theories in a co-ed class. He tried taking the psychology CLEP practice exam, but didn't pass. He begged me to buy him the REA study guide anyway. How could I refuse? He read the study guide from cover to cover, and then took the sample tests in the book until he felt comfortable. A few weeks later, he took and passed the Psychology CLEP exam, was given five college credits, and met the university requirement for psychology. He will never have to take Psych in college, but yet he has the knowledge he needs to succeed.
Colleges do like to see some outside documentation of learning, and CLEP scores are delivered to the college in the form of a transcript - the "love language" of colleges. It was just the way they like it! You can choose to send the scores to a college each time you take an exam, or you can wait and send all the scores at once, leaving off any scores you want. It was nice to have a transcript that would supplement my mommy-made transcript as well. It was a wonderful way to document my students' learning, whether they got college credit for it or not. When they got a passing score, I made sure to put "honors" by the high school course on their transcript. I figured if they knew a college amount of learning, they should at least be given high school honors credit for it.
For more information about CLEP exams, check The College Board® website here: Meet the CLEP. If you are interested in getting more information about homeschooling college, check out "Accelerated Distance Learning" by Homeschool Graduate Brad Voeller. His book is available at most bookstores, and from his website. Consider homeschooling some college this summer!
Have you ever wondered about the difference between an accredited and an official homeschool transcript? Well, let's start at the beginning. The dictionary defines accredited as, "officially recognized as meeting the essential requirements, as