It's considered one of higher education's best-kept secrets, but we're here to fill you in.

Accepted at nearly 3,000 colleges and universities nationwide, including dozens in the Garden State, the rigorous testing program known as CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) allows students to receive college credits without the time or expense of a traditional college course.

Through the exam, students earn credits based on what they already know — thanks to their high school education or work experience, for example — as long as they receive a qualifying score.

According to The College Board, which developed CLEP, 60 higher education institutions in New Jersey grant credits for the exams, including Rutgers, Seton Hall, Georgian Court University and the state's community schools.

At Ramapo College of New Jersey, about 35 exams are offered over five subject areas, according to Joseph Connell, assistant vice president of student success.

"Five years ago, we administered about 30 CLEP exams per year. Today we administer over 100 CLEP exams annually," Connell said, noting the college would like to see that number grow.

If you were a whiz in Spanish class, for example, you could take Ramapo's related CLEP exam for $122 and, if you pass, earn the credits that would have cost over $1,000 by taking an in-class course.

"It is also a great way for returning adult students to receive college credit," Connell said.

The format of most CLEP questions, according to The College Board, is multiple choice. Other types may require students to fill in a numeric answer or order items correctly. Most exams are designed to cover one-semester courses, although some can correspond to one- or two-year courses.

A 2016 study, according to Modern States Education Alliance, found that students who received credits through a prior-learning assessment, such as CLEP, were more likely to complete their degrees than students who did not.

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