Book Review: Cracking the CLEP 1

Cracking the CLEPOnce a week I try to review some book related to college in order to lend some guidance to a field that has become completely overrun. So many people are writing test guides and college guides that it is easy to buy a book that is not useful and that will be occupying space on your shelf for years unused.

One of the best ways to get college credit quickly and inexpensively is taking CLEP tests. Taking one of the five general CLEP tests can give you 3 to 8 credit hours, depending on your school policy. The best way to prepare for CLEP tests is independent study. The process can be divided into three steps: get CLEP preparation books, learn the subject matter, and start answering practice questions.

After a little online searching, I found that one of the best study guides for CLEP tests is Cracking the CLEP (Random House / Princeton Review Books, 2007, $20) by Tom Meltzer and Paul Foglino. This book caught my attention for two reasons. First, I found that this book not only included information about CLEP tests in general, but it also went into detail on the five main CLEP tests: English Composition, College Mathematics, Humanities, Social Sciences & History, and Natural Sciences. This book includes enough information to study for and take the English Composition and College Mathematics CLEP tests and to build a solid foundation in the other three general CLEP exams.

The second reason that this book stood out to me was the practice questions. As I have said before, one of my favorite test preparation methods is that of answering practice questions. Cracking the CLEP includes full-length practice tests for each of the five general CLEP tests. There is a grand total of more than 500 practice questions!

General Introduction

Before launching into detailed explanations of the general CLEP tests, this book explains the CLEP format and good general test-taking strategies. Unlike the SAT, CLEP tests are normally taken via computer format. In this book the authors not only describe how the this test format works, but they also include screenshots to help those of us who learn visually. Many of the strategies that they explain are common sense, but it is surprising how often “common” sense is not so common. For example, under the title of “Time Management” they warn students not to get stuck on one tough question, but, instead, to answer the easy questions first and come back to the hard ones later. This strategy seems obvious, but I know that I have often been guilty of not using it. I spend way too long working on one problem because I think, “If I just spend a little longer…” The information provided in this section is useful for all tests, not just CLEP tests.

Individual Tests

After introducing you to the general format of CLEP tests, this book then explains the five main CLEP tests in detail. For each test, Cracking the CLEP includes a chapter on the test content, a full-length practice test and a detailed answer key to the practice test.

Test Overview

The size and completeness of the information on each individual test varies. As I mentioned earlier, the English Composition and the College Mathematics tests are both explained fully, while the other three tests are so large that they can only be introduced. The overview chapter includes information on the number and type of questions, the subject matter, and key ways to improve your score. Some of the overviews also include reviews of the subject. For example the part on the English Composition test has a review of grammar and a chapter on the essay. (You can take the English test with or without the essay. Cracking the CLEP explains the differences.)

Practice Test

The second section on each test is a complete practice test. This test comes complete with bubble sheets and 60 to 140 questions. Best, or worst, the practice tests are timed like the real test – you have 60 to 90 minutes depending on the test. The practice tests are one of my favorite parts of this book, because they help me to evaluate where I am and what parts of the test I need to study most.

Detailed Answer Key

After the test, this book gives an answer key. Their answer key is unusual, however, for two reasons. First, it is detailed. How many times have you not been able to figure out why your answer was wrong? With their answer explanations, it is easy to figure out where you went wrong and how to fix it. In addition, the answer key lists the question next to the answer. Remember when you had to flip back and forth between the questions and the answers? The authors of this book have changed that! The questions are reprinted next to the answer. That way, you can see the questions and the answers easily – helping you save time.

Short Reviews of the Subject Exams

After the detailed information on the five general CLEP tests, Cracking the CLEP lists short reviews of the twenty-eight “subject” CLEP exams. These exams are over topics such as American Government, Microeconomics, and Introductory Business Law. Obviously, there is not room for much information on all twenty-eight of these tests, but they do manage to cram quite a bit of information into one paragraph. They briefly list the number and type of questions, the subject matter, and the test length. I enjoy reading through this section and thinking about which tests I would like to prepare for taking.

Who Is It For?

Cracking the CLEP is a useful book for any college student who plans on taking any CLEP test, but it is especially useful for scholars preparing for one of the five general CLEP tests.  For more information about why CLEP tests are useful, read my series on “4 Steps to Passing the CLEP“.

What is your favorite CLEP prep book?

One comment on “Book Review: Cracking the CLEP

  1. Reply Homeschool College Student Oct 25,2010 8:00 AM

    I’m currently preparing for a number of CLEP exams, and I’m glad to see that you have a number of articles on here about them. There’s not nearly as much publicity over these exams as there should be, and it’s probably because the colleges would rather have it that people sign up for their expensive courses.

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