The summer before our senior year, I decided we would begin to "homeschool college" with CLEP® exams. I wanted to do it in the summer so that we could include passing scores in my sons' 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 in college. Homeschooling with CLEP® turned out to be a great success at our house - let me share how it can work for you too!
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CLEP® stands for "College Level Examination Program," but in our home we call it "Can Lower Education Payments!" Each exam can be worth a three- to six-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 - five 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! Nearly 3,000 colleges nationwide accept CLEP® exams and award college credit for each passing exam. There are 34 different subject exams.
We started with a $20 investment in College Board's book "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 were in the CLEP® test prep series by Research and Education Association (REA). They went through two or three 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 to 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 to 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!
From that moment, we developed a family routine. Every Wednesday during the summer, 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.
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 didn't have to take psychology in college, yet he had the knowledge he needed 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.
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