How hard IS the CLEP College Algebra exam?

Discussion in 'CLEP, DANTES, and Other Exams for Credit' started by beholdweb, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Hi Everyone,

    I am feeling somewhat frustrated as I study for the CLEP College Algebra exam.

    I am not really a math-minded person and so I have been studying a little at a time to let everything soak in. I am not yet ready to take the exam, but I am getting there slowly but surely.

    I have been studying using various online "College Algebra" sites as well as a software program. Through hard work, long hours, and intense study, I am now at the point where I can correctly answer most of the example questions that the study aids throw at me. It feels great and, as a result, I am gradually feeling more and more confident in my math skills.

    However, every time I look at the sample exam in the Official CLEP Study Guide book...I end up feeling as if I still know nothing at all.

    Can anybody tell me if the questions asked in the study guide are the same difficulty as the actual exam? If they are, I am pretty much screwed. Because although I feel comfortable now in every area listed in the exam outline, when it comes to the questions in the book, I feel like I am reading a foreign language.

    How difficult IS the actual CLEP College Algebra exam to pass compared to the mock exam provided by CLEP in the book?

    I am in no rush to take the exam, and I will keep on studying as long as necessary...but geez! Is this exam REALLY as hard as the CLEP book makes it seem?

    Thanks as always for your helpful ideas, opinions, and advice,
  2. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    ..Am I to assume, by the silence, that CLEP College Algebra was such a traumatic experience for those that took it, that they have erased all memory of it from their minds and have vowed never to mention it's name again in public?


    I hope it wasn't THAT bad an experience for you all,
  3. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Nor am I. I had a tough enough time with CLEP general math exam.

    Do you need to take this exam? I did not take this CLEP exam but took many others. I didn't take any exam (or course) I didn't need to if I wasn't comfortable with subject matter.
  4. DTechBA

    DTechBA New Member

    Took it in 1986 or so......

    I did not find it difficult which surprised me at the time if I remember right.....
  5. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Yep! I have to take Precalculus or above to meet my degree requirements. Goodness knows I would not be taking this exam unless I absolutely had to. It is not by choice that I am taking on the devil. ;0)

    I am actually pleased with the progress I have made as I have studied for this exam. I have been able to grasp so much more than I ever did in high school. It really is making sense to me now.

    The problem is, even though I am doing well on all the quizzes and example questions I encounter in my studies, whenever I look at the Official CLEP Study Guide exam it completely demoralizes me.

    I have studied all the topics listed in the outline for this exam and I can now speed through almost any questions that are thrown my way. But when it comes to the Official CLEP mock exam, I can hardly answer any of the questions. It doesn't make sense.

    My only hope is that the mock exam in the book is really much more difficult than the actual exam. I can dream, can't I?

    I'm hoping somebody with experience of taking the exam will be willing to provide some reflection on it's difficulty compared to the mock version in the book.

  6. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Re: Took it in 1986 or so......

    Hi DTechBA,

    Thanks for the feedback. Obviously, the level of difficulty is highly subjective depending on each persons' individual ability in math.

    I am wondering whether, in your experience, the actual exam seemed easier than the sample questions presented in the CLEP Study Guide.

    I have the REA book as well, but I already know from other subjects I have studied that the REA book is always more difficult than the actual exam. REA books are not usually an accurate guage of the difficulty of the actual exam.

    The Official CLEP Study Guide is usually pretty accurate though. If that holds true for this Algebra exam, then I am in big trouble.

    I just don't understand how I can feel so comfortable with all the topics covered, and yet totally struggle with the "official" mock exam.

    Despite all my studying, and despite feeling quite confident in what I have learned, Algebra (according to the CLEP Study Guide) seems to be kicking my a**!!!
  7. DTechBA

    DTechBA New Member

    Re: Re: Took it in 1986 or so......

    Hate math and don't consider myself particularly good at it. Granted, I was younger then and closer to my high school math years where I had taken 2 years of algebra. Plus, multiple choice helps....
  8. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Usually official CLEP practice tests match the actual exam. I actually failed a few CLEPS though despite doing well in practice exams. For the exams that were tough for me (general math & science) I just reviewed over and over again and took 8 or 9 mock exams and hoped for the best. I passed both but had to retake math.

    As Gregg has said just practice, practice ,practice. Whenever I got stuck that's all I did.
  9. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Hi FWD,

    Yep! That is certainly my strategy for this exam. Practice, practice, practice.

    Of all the exams I have taken (and will be taking), this one scares the bejeezus out of me. I have a few choice words for the person who came up with the idea of Algebra. Obviously a sadist of the highest order. ;0)

    If I fail this exam, I will likely try and take it as a course instead. I definitely know more about Algebra now than I did when I started, but I am still afraid of this exam. If I can't pass the mock (especially if the mock is indeed an accurate indicator of difficulty) then I may even forego the exam altogether and just enroll in a course.

    This College Algebra requirement is a real roadblock for me at the moment.

    Does anyone fancy taking it for me? There's a buck-fifty in it for anyone who is willing. ;0)

    Anybody else have any words of wisdom regarding this exam?

  10. Assuming you've given it as much effort as possible (within a reasonable timeframe) and still don't do very well on the sample exam, I'd probably still take the CLEP - it's a small investment in time and money and you may end up passing it.

    You're probably more comfortable with certain areas than others. If you noted the breakdown on the CLEP site:

    25% Algebraic operations

    25% Equations and inequalities

    30% Functions and their properties

    20% Number systems and operations

    you can approach the exam two ways...

    1) Ignore where you're strongest and focus your study on the weak areas to boost them up, or;

    2) Focus only on a couple of strong areas so you can score well for 1/2 of the questions, and then guess on the rest.

    If you're content with a pass you'll need a scaled score of 50 out of 80 which often translates to about half of the questions right. In that case if you get 1/3 correct plus 20% right through random guessing (or even better odds obtained through eliminating at least one or two of the possibilities) you will get around 1/2 right.

    When you've done enough prep, go and take the exam - don't stress about can always take the course.

  11. james_lankford

    james_lankford New Member

    I haven't taken it, but you might want to look at these FREE online videos. You have to register to view, but registration is free.

    just click on the little
    [​IMG] to play the video

    Complete list of subjects -

    and this seriese of books is pretty good (I have the chemistry and economics ones)

    Practical Algebra: A Self-Teaching Guide, 2nd Edition
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2005
  12. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Thanks for your advice Mark and James,

    I agree, it probably would be worth $55 just on the off chance I might pass. I'm saving thousands by testing out, so $55 is neither here nor there in the big scheme of things.

    I would be delirious with pride to score a passing grade on this exam. I would gladly take the "C" grade and hug it and kiss it and call it my friend.

    I have scored in the 70's on every exam I have taken so far. I seem to be well suited to this style of self-learning and multiple-choice testing. However, math is just not in my comfort zone. I will be so happy to finally get this requirement out of the way (one way or another). For me, a "C" grade in College Algebra would be just as satisfying as an "A" grade in any other subject.

    Math anxiety sucks!

    I read Unixman's thread where he suggested taking the Algebra & Trig option because it is pass/fail. This obviously would allow me to just barely scrape a pass and still maintain my GPA. So I am seriously considering trying that route first as a long shot, and then if I fail I will go for the straight Algebra exam. If I fail that, I will take an online course...and if I fail that, I will pack my bags and go home and sulk for the rest of my life. ;0)

    Thanks so much for the links. I need all the help I can get at this point. As I said before, I am in no rush to take the exam, so I can use as many resources as necessary and take as long as I need to in order to allow the material to 'soak in'.

    I hope a wing and a prayer is enough...because that's about all I have going for me at this point!

    Thanks again for your advice,
  13. BlueMason

    BlueMason Audaces fortuna juvat


    Let us know how you make out when you do take it :)

    Good Luck! :)
  14. alczar

    alczar New Member


    I used a post from the famous Unixman. I hope this helps! If you still have questions, I hear he checks back at degreeinfo every now and then.

    Unixman Post

    Today I finally took the CLEP College Algebra & Trigonometry exam. I scored a 61 out of a scaled score of 80, adding three new additions to my ever-burdgeoning pot o'credits. I am now officially approaching the finish line for my BS in Business from TESC. Just 9 measly little credits remaining!

    I know a lot of you are in the same boat as me. You have to take this miserable exam (or a similar course) in order to meet your degree requirements. So, I want to share with you the background on this exam, and then give you arguably the single biggest tip you can use to pass this exam. Read on!

    The math requirement for TESC's BS in Business is a course in "Pre-Calculus", or any advanced math course that covers BOTH "college algebra" and "trigonometry". The combined CLEP College Algebra & Trig exam fits the bill nicely, and while it may be considerably easier than taking a full-fledged course in the subject, it will most likely still require some serious study for most folks. Like so many adult learners, I last dabbled with algebra back in high school. I was pretty good at it! But that was 20 years ago.

    Perhaps a harder course of action would be to take and pass the two individual CLEP exams for College Algebra and Trigonometry (rather than the single combined CLEP exam). Of course, if you choose this path, you will end up doing twice as much math, and twice as much studying! However, it is an option as far as TESC is concerned (as well as for possibly other schools). Also, the two separate exams could serve as a "fallback" plan, should you not do well on the combined one, as you wouldn't have to wait six months to take the separate ones!

    At any rate, I started brushing up on my algebra about a year or so ago. I grabbed the "Algebra for Dummies" book and breezed through it. So much of it came back to me it was frightening. Nevertheless, there is a marked difference between high school algebra and college algebra. So I knew that some additional study was required.

    I fumbled around trying to learn the key topics on my own, but I got the feeling that I was in a bit over my head. So, I signed up for the "Precalculus for Business" course at TESC (this course covers both college algebra and trig). Just days before the course began, I had to drop out, due to some unexpected life events. Nevertheless, I found myself in possession of the textbook and video tape lectures for the TESC course. After a few weeks went by, I decided to start going through the tapes on my own, with the CLEP now being the target at the end.

    Ok, now obviously I used the tapes, the textbook, and a few other tools (Standard Deviants tapes), but it would be remiss of me not to pass on this huge tip. This saved my ass on this exam, and if you are about to take it, it could save yours too.

    The combined CLEP exam for College Algebra and Trigonometry is broken down roughly as follows:

    Section 1: 30 algebra questions, 45 minutes (on-screen calculator is provided)

    Section 2: 13 trig questions, 15 minutes (no on-screen calculator provided)

    Section 3: 20 trig questions, 30 minutes (on-screen calculator is provided)

    Consider these data points:

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that college-level trig is more difficult to learn than college-level algebra. So we're going to focus on the algebra part of the exam.

    Basically, you have about half the exam (30 questions) covering college algebra, and the other half (33 questions) covering trig.

    On the algebra, you have an average of 1.5 minutes to spend per question

    On trig section 1, you have an average of 1.15 minutes to spend per question

    On trig section 2, you have an average of 1.5 minutes to spend per question

    You can't "bank" extra time for use on other sections - each is timed independently

    To pass a CLEP exam, generally speaking, you need to get approximately half (50%) of the questions right (raw score). This will lead to a scaled score of 50 (on CLEP's scale of 20-80), which is considered a "pass" at most schools.

    If you are taking this test, and you are not aiming for a letter grade (i.e. Excelsior), do yourself a favor: STUDY YOUR ASS OFF ON THE ALGEBRA. Knock it out of the ballpark! If you can get 75% of the algebra questions right (the easier part of the exam), you only need 25% of the trig questions in order to get a pass. Obviously, if you can do better than 75% on the algebra, you can take an even heavier beating on the trig, and still pass!

    Don't forget, with CLEP, you have a 20% chance of getting a question right by simply guessing. So you may end up stealing another question or two here or there to augment you on the trig. Technically speaking, if you got all 30 algebra questions right, that would give you a raw score of 30/63. Not quite 50%, but if you factor in the fact that you would probably get anywhere from 3-6 trig questions right simply by guessing, that would push you up over the 50% threshhold and nab a passing mark.

    The 30 algebra questions that I was given were quite frankly easier than most of the questions that I had been seeing in my study efforts with the textbook and other guides. So keep that in mind. KNOW YOUR ALGEBRA. KNOW IT INSIDE AND OUT. Then study the basics of trig, and don't sweat it.

    Also, the first trig section (13 questions, with no calculator) are designed so that you should not need to do lengthy calculations to arrive at the answer. For example, they might ask you something like:

    If sine of x equals .886, what is the cosecant of x?

    They are expecting that you know that the cosecant is the reciprocal of the sine, so the answer would be 1 over .886 (1/.886). If you have no idea what I am talking about, you will after you watch the standard deviant's tapes, or do some basic trig studying.

    This brings me to another quick side item. The people who write the CLEP exams are not out to trick you, and they are not out to make it overly difficult for you to prove what you know. You are not going to get some convoluted questions that take you 20 minutes just to unravel. You either know how to solve the problem, or you don't. Keep that in mind.

    As far as studying goes, the CLEP study guide breaks it down pretty well. On the algebra, know the basics of algebraic operations, logarithms, linear graphs, graphs of exponential functions, and function operations in general.

    Also, avoid the REA college algebra book (and/or their software that comes with certain editions). The book itself is good as a review tool for algebra, but the exams in the book (and on the software) are riddled with errors.

    For trig, here are some helpful links (the first one has the most awesome method of memorizing the basic trig identities): (exhaustive list, but you won't need 95% of these)

    FINAL NOTE: As of June, 2006, the CLEP combined College Algebra/Trigonometry exam will be replaced by a newer CLEP Precalculus exam. The standalone CLEP Trig exam will also be going away. The changes are twofold, from what I can tell. First, instead of 3 separately timed sections (with a total of 63 questions), the newer exam will have one timed section (with a total of 48 questions). Fewer questions means that each one is worth more...reducing the margin of error. Also there are content changes abound. More focus will be applied to analytics, functions/models, etc. The trig component of the new exam will only be 15% of the total exam makeup. Whereas before, it was 52% or so. Irrespective of this, in my opinion, the newer exam will be more difficult. So if you are planning on taking this exam as part of your degree pursuits, I would recommend trying to take this one sooner rather than later. The change doesn't go into effect until a year from now, so you have a bit of time to work with ...

    Cheers, and good luck!
  15. 3$bill

    3$bill New Member


    Can you get a handle on why the CLEP practice exam is harder than the practice problems?

    Is it that the calculations are more involved, or the form of the problem is unfamiliar, or are the CLEP problems less straightforward?

    Do you think it could be that the practice problems resemble one another more closely than the CLEP ones do? (They cost a lot less to make; maybe they are mass produced with interchangeable parts?)

    Could you post an example of a pair of similar problems, one that you can solve readily and one that gave you difficulty?

  16. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Hi Bill,

    I can't quite put my finger on what it is that is different about the CLEP questions that makes them seem harder to me.

    As I study a particular topic, I use several different sources to try and grasp the concept. After studying the skills and methods needed to solve a particular type of problem, I then work my way through as many example questions as I can lay my hands on.

    This method has been working for me. I come away feeling like I am comfortable with that particular topic and get almost every single example question correct. Then, to relate what I have learned to the actual CLEP Exam, I open the CLEP book and try to find a question that is based on the specific topic I have just studied. No matter what the topic, it always seems as though the CLEP question is harder than all the examples I have been working on.

    This could well be MY MATH ANXIETY simply freaking me out the moment I see the CLEP question (even though I did fine on the non-CLEP Examples).

    Alternatively, it could be that the CLEP switches the format of the question around in a way that makes it SEEM more difficult.

    Or, perhaps it is that the CLEP questions are THE most difficult questions taken from each topic (since it only has opportunity to ask a few questions on each topic to determine ability level).

    Of course, it may also be that I am not studying (or grasping) each topic at a high enough level. Although, each site that I am studying with clearly states "College Algebra" as it's level of difficulty.

    One thing that I do know is that the CLEP is NOT designed so that you have to do lengthy convoluted calculations to answer every question. By it's nature, it has to ask questions which can be answered within a very short time-frame.

    So I am wondering if it is the THEORY behind each particular topic, that I am not grasping well enough. In other words, maybe I can do the examples because, as you say, they are all basically the same questions with interchangeable parts...learning by rote. And then perhaps the CLEP takes the same question and words it in such a way that rote methodology is not enough to answer the question, and you have to fully understand the theory and be able to SWITCH things around to tackle it in an unfamiliar way.

    Invariably, I study a topic until I think the concept has "clicked" in my brain, then I answer a gazillion example questions to try and solidify what I have learned. When I feel confident about a topic I then go and take a look at a CLEP question and end up thinking "Huh? How the hell do I answer that one? That's not what I am used to seeing!"

    Unfortunately, the CLEP book only gives the correct answer, it doesn't explain WHY it is the correct answer or how they arrived at that answer. So then I find myself going back to my study resources and reviewing to try and figure out how I might solve the particular CLEP question. This is when I get frustrated because none of the study resources organize their questions in the same way that the CLEP does and so I end up being unable to figure out how to solve the CLEP question...even though I do feel comfortable with the topic and can answer lots of the non-CLEP example questions.

    As I have said before, I am in no rush to take this exam and I will keep studying for six months if necessary. I am by no means a master of the Algebra that I am studying yet. My mind works extremely well with words, but struggles to think in terms of numbers. From my past experience with CLEP exams, I can usually study for each exam in about 2-4 days and then sit the exam and pass it with flying colors (70's).

    For me though, Algebra is like a whole different language. I might just as well say that I will study for, and try to pass the CLEP College Swahili exam.

    I am by no means done studying yet. So perhaps at some later point, things will 'Click' better for me and the CLEP questions will not seem difficult at all. Maybe I am prematurely assuming that I am comfortable with a topic after studying it in several non-CLEP sources. I intend to review and review and review, study, study, study, practice, practice, practice until I can slay this dragon.

    I am knocked down, but I am not knocked out...not yet at least!
  17. beholdweb

    beholdweb New Member

    Obviously, this is not the right place for discussing specific math problems. But since Bill asked for an example of what I mean, I am posting an example of a question that I don't understand from the CLEP Study Guide. It's difficult to format it properly on here, but it is a complex fraction (a fraction involving fractions in the denominator and the numerator)

    Where defined,

    Their answer =

    Now, I have studied long division of polynomials, and I know how to do complex fractions, and I am comfortable with factoring.

    But for some reason, when I look at this CLEP question, I have no idea how they got their answer.

    In addition, I cannot find anything remotely similar to this question ANYWHERE in any of my College Algebra study aids.

    Despite spending countless hours studying every topic listed in the content guideline and despite working on countless practice questions (and doing well on them), I still feel like a moron when I look at this question.

    This is why I am feeling frustrated. I don't know at what point I will have studied enough to actually be able to pass an exam that can throw out questions that are absolutely meaningless to me.

    I thought that the various algebra websites and the REA algebra book, as well as some educational software I have, would in time get me to the point where I can be confident in my algebra skills. However, no matter how much I study, whenever I go back to the CLEP Study Guide to guage my progress I end up feeling like I still know absolutely nothing. Grrrrrr!

    Now some of you may look at this particular question and think "Wow! That's easy!". But that isn't my point. My point is that none of my study materials have prepared me for such a how am I supposed to pass this test (even if I study and master everything explained in all the College Algebra study aids)?

    Any thoughts?
  18. 3$bill

    3$bill New Member

    Your replies to my questions were the kinds of things I was thinking about, particularly getting at the underlying theory.

    It looks to me, though, that solving this problem rapidly depends on recognizing an opportunity to simplify by symbol manipulation: the products of the extreme terms are divided by the products of the medians: (a/b)/(c/d) = ad/bc

    The clue is that X-3 is quickly recognizable as a factor of X^2-9, if you can get it in the right place.
    (And, I bet, when you see a double-decker fraction, that's often a simplifying move. It's a lot easier to multiply algebraic expressions than it is to divide them, so you want to reduce the number of quotients and hope something nice happens when you do:

    ______________ =


    "Criss-cross," as Robert Montgomery says to Farley Granger in "Strangers on a Train."

    Then all that's left is to recognize you have the difference of 2 squares in the numerator, and one of the factors in the denominator.

    So if this is a typical stymie for you (but how could you know :-( ), I'd say it's more a matter of having tricks in your repertoire than not grasping the principles. (Although of course the tricks depend on the principles, so ETS sees them as a good way to test your grasp of them.)

    Anyway, you're right, this isn't an algebra forum, but PM me if you want to pursue this further.
  19. buckwheat3

    buckwheat3 Master of the Obvious

    Ah Yes, the algebra class in the undergrad years, I too tried opting out with a clep test, I figured what the heck, it doesn't affect my GPA if I lose; its like betting on a horse race, if I use Clep's multiple-guess test. So I took it and crapped out! I actually came within 3 points of passing the darn thing. I knew the whole adventure had as much chance as hell freezing over and little demons beginning to ice skate, but I wanted to avoid math anxiety, afterall, everything up until the last few hours of the Bachelor's degree had been so wonderful...why spoil it!
    Anyway, I took the class and passed it; if you are not getting it find a good tutor or see if your school accepts Clep's and Dante's, that way you can make two shots in the dark before you have your head placed in a wicker basket during an algerba class.
    Good luck,
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2005
  20. AMB1989

    AMB1989 New Member

    Need help in passing CLEP College ALgebra, cheating or no cheating doesn't matter.

    Honestly, I don't care if I have to cheat to pass this exam. Does anyone have all the answers to the exam that they can give me?

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