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Earn College Credit for What You Know

Education Writer and Counselor: Thomas Nixon
About.com's Continuing Education Page  

While many students have heard of GRE exams, CLEP exams and the rest, the best choice may not be quite as recognizable. The DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, or DSSTs, were originally designed as a way for members of the military to earn college credit for either information they already possessed or information which they could learn through self-study. At present, there are close to forty examinations available with more in the works.

DANTES stands for Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support.

Why use the DSST exams when there are others available? For starters, the exam cost is only $60 each. (* Fees are subject to change.) Yes, that is $60 to earn three units. The tests are free to members of the military. Also, these exams are accepted at over 3,800 colleges and universities around the world and are recognized as worthy of credit by the American Council on Education.

Widespread recognition at a very reasonable cost is a difficult combination to beat.

Tests are in the general areas of mathematics, social science, business, physical science, applied technology, and humanities. Test titles range from 'Ethics in America' to 'Principles of Physical Science' to 'Organizational Behavior,' and many, many more. There are enough tests in enough different areas to earn a large portion of a college degree in this manner, provided you have or can get the knowledge necessary to pass the test.

Each test has a fact sheet that is downloadable from the website. The fact sheet includes information on the areas covered on that test, plus sample questions to give you some idea what to study. Should you need to study, the fact sheet also includes a list of recommended books.

If you're not ready to pass an exam and think that you need extra help, the Chauncey Group, creators of the exam, has partnered with iStudySmart.com to provide study courses, both online and by correspondence. Even with the $149 (or somewhat more) for the courses, that is still a reasonable amount for three units. iStudySmart.com offers courses for over twenty of the tests.

If you're not sure if you are ready to pass the exam, you can take practice tests. GetCollegeCredit.com is the civilian DSST website. On that site, you can take nineteen practice tests. Clearly, all practice tests are not available for all subject areas, but this can be a useful tool for those areas where one is provided. While passing the practice test in no way guarantees passing the real test, it is a good indicator.

If you hope to be successful with DSSTs or other credit-by-examination options, you may wish to follow this plan:

1.  Check out the fact sheet for that test. Does it seem like this is something where you have previous knowledge? If it is, go to the next step. If it is not, you would be wise to study prior to taking the practice tests.

2.  Test your knowledge. Use one of the practice tests at GetCollegeCredit.com or from one of the test preparation books available.

3.  If you don't nail the test, consider either purchasing a textbook for the topic or using a test preparation company such as iStudySmart.com.

4.  After sufficient studying, take a practice test again.

5.  If you do well on the practice test, it's time for the real thing!

It's important that you don't rush the process. If you pass a practice test, but did not do particularly well, you are well-advised to learn more before taking the test. However, one advantage with the DSST is that the cost is so low relative to other tests that a failure on a single test does not cost you hundreds of dollars.

* DSST fees changed to $80 as of December, 2008.

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