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  • DTP Success Team

Top 5 Reasons Why DSST Exams Are Easier To Pass Than CLEP Exams

Updated: Feb 16

Woman holding a hand, showing the Top five reasons why DSST exams are easier to pass than CLEP exams.


If you're considering alternative ways to earn college credit, you've likely encountered CLEP  (The College-Level Examination Program) and DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Test) exams.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the realm of standardized testing and reveal the top 5 reasons why DSST exams are easier to pass than CLEP tests.

Whether you're a seasoned student or starting your academic journey, understanding these fundamental differences could be the game-changer you've been seeking.

Let's unlock the secrets behind DSST exams and discover how they offer a smooth path to earning college credits.


Table of Contents


Advantage One: DSST Exams Present Four Answer Choices Per Question, While CLEP Tests Present Five

Four pencils illustrating Advantage One: DSST Exams Present Four Answer Choices Per Question, While CLEP Exams Present Five Answer Choices.

DSST Exams: The Advantage of Fewer Answers

The number of questions and answer choices in standardized testing can significantly impact your exam performance.

Let's look into the advantages of testing out with DSST exams versus CLEP tests.

First, let’s try a small experiment.

Answer both questions below, and see how you feel afterward.


CLEP Exam Question:

Select one correct answer from the following five choices.

What year was the American Academy of Pediatrics created?

A) 1900

B) 1930

C) 1950

D) 1970

E) 1980


DSST Exam Question:

Select one correct answer from the following four choices.

What year was the American Academy of Pediatrics created?

A) 1900

B) 1930

C) 1950

D) 1970


If you selected answer choice B) 1930 - Congratulations!

Notice that the CLEP Exam question offered five possible answers, while the DSST exam question only had four.

Which format would you prefer to take on a final exam?

The clear choice would be the test format with an option of four possible answers.

The difference between the option of four answer choices versus five could be a game-changer in your test performance.

Probability Theory: CLEP Vs. DSST Exams

Poker chips and Ace and King cards relating to Probability Theory for DSST vs. CLEP exams.

Probability Theory

Test takers are more likely to randomly guess the correct answer with DSST exams than with CLEP tests.

Fewer answer options also mean test-takers have a pronounced advantage when guessing the correct answer.

Let's delve into probability theory to understand the difference between questions with the option of four answer choices or five.

In a multiple-choice question, the probability of randomly guessing the correct answer can be calculated based on the number of choices available.


Here's the breakdown:

DSST Exams

  • Four (4) answer choice questions: 1 correct answer / 4 total choices = 25% probability.


CLEP Tests

  • Five (5) answer choice questions: 1 correct answer / 5 total choices = 20% probability.


DSST exam’s four answer choice questions present a substantial edge.

A lucky guess provides a significant 25% chance of getting the question right.

On the other hand, the format of the CLEP exam’s five answer choice questions reduces the guessing advantage to 20%, which makes it slightly harder to benefit from blind guesses.

If you're unsure of the correct answer to a question and need to make an educated guess, the structure of the DSST exams give you an edge over CLEP tests.

DSST Exams: Don't Fear Guessing

Woman hiding under a blanket - showing  that you Don't need to Fear Guessing

Educated Guess

Unlike other standardized tests, DSST exams do not penalize a test taker for wrong answers.

If you answer a question incorrectly, you won't lose points for that specific question.

Furthermore, DSST exam questions are equally weighted when it comes to scoring.

It doesn't matter whether a question appears at the exam's beginning or end; each question holds the same point value.

Do not leave any questions unanswered. 

If you’re unsure of the correct answer, make an educated guess.

DSST Exam Strategies

Man throwing up dice illustrating making  Educated Guessing Strategies.

Study Smart

If you're faced with questions you don't know the answers to, here are some suggestions for effective test-taking.


Process of Elimination

Carefully read each question and answer choices.

Eliminate answer choices you are sure are incorrect and don't seem plausible.

This narrows down your options and increases your chances of guessing correctly.


Educated Guessing

DSST exams do not penalize test takers for incorrect answers, so guessing an answer is better than leaving questions unanswered.

Pace yourself and allot equal amounts of time for each question.

If you're stuck on a question, don’t dwell on it for too long.

Instead, mark it for review, move on to the next question, and return to it after completing the exam.

Make educated guesses by ruling out incorrect answers.


Keyword Clues

Look for keywords or phrases in the question that may provide essential information and help lead you to the correct answer.

Read the entire question thoroughly.

Sometimes, the context within the question itself might provide hints or clues about the correct answer.


Review Practice Exams

Practice exams and repetition are essential to successfully passing DSST exams.

Repeated exposure to practice exams helps users retain the subject material to prepare and become more comfortable with the test-taking process.

With effective study strategies and probability theory in a test taker's favor, DSST exams offer a fast and inexpensive way to earn undergraduate college credits.

Advantage Two: Extra Exam Time

Man looking at his watch illustrating how DSST exams provide Extra Exam Time over CLEP tests.

DSST Exams: Time is on Your Side

With the standardized testing process, test takers are in a race against the clock to complete exams in an allotted amount of time.

What if you could give yourself more time?

DSST exams offer an additional time window to complete a test—a distinct advantage over CLEP exams.

On average, DSST exams consist of 100 questions with a time allowance of 120 minutes (2 hours) to complete the exam.

In contrast, most CLEP exams vary between 90 and 140 questions, with a time allowance of 90 minutes (1.5 hours) to complete the exam.

In most cases, DSST exams provide an additional 30 minutes for test takers to complete an examination.


Consider the following subject examples of time limits for DSST and CLEP exams.


CLEP Exams:


  • Questions: 140 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 90 Minutes (1.5 hours)

History of the United States I

  • Questions: 120 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 90 Minutes (1.5 hours)

Human Growth and Development

  • Questions: 90 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 90 Minutes (1.5 hours)


DSST Exams:

Health And Human Development

  • Questions: 100 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 120 Minutes (2 hours)

Substance Abuse

  • Questions: 100 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 120 Minutes (2 hours)

Technical Writing

  • Questions: 100 multiple-choice

  • Time Limit: 120 Minutes (2 hours)


Regardless of the number of questions, most CLEP exams allocate a stringent 90-minute (1.5-hour) time limit to complete an exam.

With an average of 100 questions, DSST exams grant a 120-minute (2-hour) time limit to complete an exam.

As you may recall, the questions offered in DSST exams have the option of four (4) answer choices, while CLEP exams have five (5) answer choices.

The extra 30 minutes that DSST exams provide are a clear advantage to allow test takers an opportunity to approach answering questions thoroughly and confidently.

In standardized testing, every minute counts.

DSST exams include fewer answer choices and give test takers more time to complete their exams.

Advantage Three: DSST Exams Lenient Scoring Method vs. CLEP Tests

Board game pieces spelling out "simple" because DSST exams have a simply scoring system compared to CLEP tests.

The Advantage of A More Lenient Scoring Process on DSST Exams vs. CLEP Tests

Standardized testing is an essential aspect in which academic performance is measured.

However, not all standardized tests are created equally.

While both DSST and CLEP exams offer valuable opportunities to earn college credit efficiently, the methods of scoring passing results are significantly different.


How CLEP Exams Are Scored:

CLEP exams utilize a scoring system that may initially appear complex.

Test-takers receive scores ranging from 20 to 80 points, with a passing score typically set at 50.

However, the complexity lies in that this scoring is scaled, not based on a simple percentage.

The College Board administers CLEP exams and uses an internal scale for each test to determine how many questions a test taker can get wrong and still achieve a passing score.


Here's a breakdown of how a CLEP exam score is determined:

1. Raw Score:

This is the number of correctly answered questions.

Each correct answer increases the raw score by one point.


2. Scaled Score:

A raw score is then calculated into a "scaled score," which will fall between 20 (the lowest) and 80 (the highest) points.

This scaled score appears as a “pass” or “fail” on a test taker’s score report.


How many questions must be answered correctly to pass a CLEP exam?

The challenge with CLEP exams is that it's impossible to determine the precise number of questions a test taker can get wrong and still pass.

While the passing score is 50 out of 80 points, the College Board establishes a “scaled score” grading scale based on how other test-takers have performed.

CLEP exam test takers are challenged to gauge their performance without an actual number.


How DSST Exams Are Scored:

DSST exam results are scored using the “criterion-referenced” method.

This system determines a passing score by evaluating a test taker's knowledge rather than the scoring approach (used by CLEP exams) of comparing performance results to other test takers to dictate passing scores.


How many questions must be answered correctly to pass a DSST exam?

To successfully pass most DSST exams, a test taker must correctly answer (on average) 58% to 62% of the questions.

The exact percentage depends on the specific subject exam. Refer to the table below for a comprehensive list.

DSST exams utilize a criterion-referenced scoring model that bases passing score results on individual test questions or the test as a whole.

The passing score for DSST exams is consistently set at 400 points (on a scale ranging from 200 to 500).

DSST exams provide an advantage over CLEP exams with a more lenient, transparent scoring system.

With an understanding of the number of correctly answered questions required to pass a DSST exam, test takers can develop a strategy to study with additional confidence to meet the requirements to pass successfully.

The Minimum Percentage of Questions Test Takers Must Answer Correctly to Pass DSST Exams Varies Depending on the Subject. Here's the breakdown.

​Exam Title

​Percentage Correct To Pass

50% - 52%

51% - 58%

48% - 50%

57% - 58%

​DSST Business Mathematics

​45% - 46%

​67% - 68%

​55% - 56%

​58% - 60%

55% - 61%

​44% - 45%

Advantage Four: DSST Exams Don't Require Written Essays

Open books lying flat, illustrating that DSST exams don't require essays, unlike CLEP test.

No Essays

Unlike some CLEP exams and other standardized tests, DSST exams do not require a test taker to submit a written essay.


CLEP Exams Require Typed Essays

Open laptop with essay, showing CLEP exams require essays and DSST exams don't.

Multiple Essays

In addition to multiple-choice questions with five (5) answer-choice options, some CLEP exams require test takers to compose a typed essay on a particular subject matter.

For instance, the CLEP College Composition exam consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and requires not one but two essay submissions.

There is a 55-minute time limit to answer the multiple-choice questions.

There are 70 total minutes to complete two typed essays: 30 minutes for the first and 40 minutes for the second.

The CLEP exam essays will scrutinize a test taker's abilities in argumentation and analysis.

The first essay prompt draws from individual reading skills, observations, and experiences.

The second essay requires synthesizing the material and citing two of the provided sources.

With DSST exams, the absence of a written essay requirement is highly advantageous for test takers with weak writing or typing skills.

DSST exams do not impose the burden of essay requirements.

With straightforward multiple-choice questions with four answer options, the streamlined format of DSST exams showcases test takers' knowledge without typed essays.

Advantage Five: Practical Knowledge Vs. Academia

A person doing their taxes, showing that DSST exams focus on practical knowledge.

Master the Basics

DSST exams employ a practical approach toward education, while CLEP exams are driven by academia.


CLEP Exams: Academic Focus

Student doing math homework, showing that CLEP exams focus on academia.


CLEP exams were established in 1967 by the College Board, a nonprofit organization known for administering standardized tests like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test).

CLEP exams were designed to allow high school students to earn college credit by demonstrating their knowledge and proficiency across various subject areas.


College Level Content

Over time, CLEP exams have earned widespread recognition and acceptance by many colleges and universities as an alternative means for students to prove their mastery of college-level content and receive academic credit.

CLEP exams are commonly taken by high school students who have completed corresponding advanced placement (AP) courses and established comprehension of theoretical concepts within the standardized high school curriculum.


DSST Exams: Practical Knowledge

Students looking at computer screen.

Real World Experience

DSST exams were introduced in 1974 with a distinct mission: to support active military personnel in pursuing their academic aspirations of obtaining an undergraduate degree.

DSST exams were conceived by the United States Department of Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program.

Recognizing military members acquire significant knowledge through basic training, technical school, and on-the-job experience, DSST exams emphasize assessing real-world, applicable knowledge in specific subject areas and offer an alternative way for active military members to obtain college credits while deployed overseas.

The ease of comprehension is an advantage of DSST exams.

Hands-on Training


Questions are straightforward and directly applicable to real-life scenarios, making them more approachable, especially for individuals with hands-on experience or a strong foundation in the subject matter.

In addition, DSST exams are offered to active military service members at no cost on their first attempt, and results do not affect their overall grade point average (GPA).

Some military service members could select a DSST subject exam they were familiar with and, without preparation, take the final exam and successfully pass.

While we highly recommend extensive study to ensure passing DSST exams, this example demonstrates how the material is derived from knowledge obtained outside the confines of a traditional classroom setting.

DSST exams offer an opportunity to earn college credits fast and save money on college tuition.

DSST Exams: Now Offered to both Military and Civilian Students Since 2006

Female student typing on laptop computer.

Available to Everyone

DSST exams became available to civilians in 2006, providing a wider audience with the opportunity to earn college credits.

This expansion has welcomed individuals from various backgrounds, including working adults, homeschooled students, high school and college students, and military personnel.

DSST exams especially appeal to individuals who resonate with the practical-oriented approach to standardized testing.

For example, if you're a nurse, you may consider taking DSST exams in "Substance Abuse" and "Health and Human Development."

Hands-on experience will likely give you a substantial edge in testing out of DSST exams.

Flexible Subject Choices

Female student standing holding a notepad.

Over 33 Subjects

DSST exams are offered in diverse subjects, encompassing business, humanities, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, and technology.

The variety of topics offers flexibility in selecting the subjects you desire to challenge.


Conclusion and Summary

Two graduating students walking off together smiling.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, DSST exams are more straightforward to pass than CLEP exams.

We've highlighted how the straightforward approach of DSST exams makes them an accessible and valuable opportunity for many students to receive undergraduate college credits.

While there are multiple advantages of taking DSST exams, the following vital benefits favor a test taker who prefers:

  • A test format with few answer choices per question to improve the likelihood of correctly answering each question

  • An additional window of 30 minutes to complete an exam

  • A lenient scoring method to process exam results

  • An exam without essay requirements

  • A practical approach to demonstrate knowledge in standardized testing subjects

These advantages can be used to help favorably leverage your success in fulfilling general education college credits by passing DSST exams.

Please get in touch with us anytime if you have any questions or need additional help.

Good luck on your exams!


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