Testing Out



In this section we will consider effective preparation for the exams. Worth taking a time-out however, to note that in addition to earning a bachelor degree by examination, it is possible to complete an accredited master degree in similar fashion, by passing a series of multiple-choice-with-essay exams. Oh, and uh, you don't need an undergraduate degree nor indeed, any academic credential to be admitted to the program.


Is this for real? Absolutely.


The Edinburgh Business School of Heriot-Watt University, offers a distance learning Master of Business Administration degree, which is conferred after passing nine 3-hour exams (9 exams if no exemptions or waivers granted, and as few as 7 exams with waivers). No attendance, midterm paper, thesis, or other rites required. Just turn up for and pass the exams. You get seven years to complete the program, and a nominal two shots at each exam (you may get yet another shot if other circumstances warrant, IIRC).

The cost of the program has risen significantly since I bought a "course" in 1995. I can tell you that the self-study courseware is second to none. Prices today, including exam fees (at about $100 a pop) fall into two categories: cost of the electronic mediated courseware, and cost of the paper-based courseware. You can chose one or the other. I know they intend to drop the paper-based option sometime soon.


Heriot-Watt is a Royal Chartered, state funded, British university situated in Edinburgh, Scotland. I've been on campus, it is quite real and quite well regarded..


Very much depends on the discipline but by way of quality relative to its peers (other Scottish universities) I would rank Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews in the top tier, with Aberdeen, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt next, followed by Stirling, Dundee and the "new" universities created recently (c 1992). That grading is sure to upset someone but is offered to provide an (opinionated) anchor to relative worth.    


I said no undergraduate degree or studies are required for admission to the program; this statement requires further refinement. For full time and part time residential students, an honors degree and two years "appropriate" work experience are normally required in addition to an acceptable GMAT score. Distance learning students are NOT ADMITTED TO THE DEGREE PROGRAM WITHOUT AN UNDERGRADUATE HONOURS DEGREE OR OTHER EVIDENCE OF SUITABLE ACADEMIC ATTAINMENT.


However, anyone can take the individual course modules. If they should pass any two of the compulsory courses, this will provide "evidence of suitable academic attainment" and they will then be admitted to the MBA degree program. The two modules passed prior to admission will count as full credit toward the degree. I truly admire the thought that went into that one.


Effectively, not so much as a high school diploma is required to enter the program, yet the bachelor degree requirement rules for admission to the graduate school and to the MBA program, are still technically enforced. The MBA can be earned without ever completing even one undergraduate course.








Now back to preparation for the bachelor degree proficiency exams . . .



Use practice tests in the first instance to assess your current knowledge level. Once you have some objective reading of your current ability, you will be able to tailor study to fit the gaps. Links to practice test publications are provided within the outlines presented in this chapter, and on the Critical Resources page of the web site. The core of the test/study strategy is summarized in the following algorithm:-




sit mock test

score test




     sit mock test
     score test


sit examination




Again, the purpose of the,  examine – revise – examine  strategy, is to generate an objective estimate of the learner's current level of competence and to provide direction for efficient focused study and revision (if required and as required).


It is important to know the test subject well enough that distractions (such as the angst of testing) do not impede demonstration of competence. Being good at tests can assist a marginal test candidate. The purpose of doing the mocks is to ensure you never test as a marginal candidate, that you only test when you know what the outcome will be, and that that outcome will be the one you want it to be.








Testing Out - Equations and pencil











Princeton Review's  Cracking the CLEP  is useful for the CLEP General exams.  It is comprehensive and can be a very accurate predictor of performance in the actual exams (see the critique). The  CLEP Official Study Guide  from the College Board covers all the exams (from the horse's mouth), but suffers from the relatively meager question sample size. Nevertheless, it is essential you read this book and practice these example questions too.


Practice tests for the Excelsior College Exams are available free, and can be accessed using the links provided on the BA in 4 weeks Critical Resources page. Additionally, and a little confusingly, the College Board also publish a book for the ECE exams called, the Official Study Guide. Excelsior College offers more comprehensive study packs for some of their exams.


Practice tests are available in book form from Thomson Learning in the publication DSST: The Official Test-Preparation Guide   Individual practice exams are available for electronic download at a price from here. The TESC practice exam book used to come with a separate book of practice exams for DANTES. It may still.


GRE Subject

Full exam practice tests are available for free, and links to individual exams are provided on the Critical Resources of this site. In addition, ETS publish a series of thin volumes for the GRE subject exams, called  Practicing to take the . . .  exam



·  Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology

·  Biology

·  Chemistry

·  Computer Science

·  Literature in English

·  Mathematics

·  Physics

·  Psychology



These contain the same type exams as are available in the free download, but there are more of them in the books (at least two exams), and the more practice you can get, the better. Remember, these are the GRE subject exams, not the GRE general exam, which is a completely different animal.


Princeton Review, publish the Cracking the GRE [subject] book series. These are an essential tool if you are taking the GRE subject exam in BiologyLiteratureor Psychology.  Click the subject of choice for a link to the publication.


A critique of these and other GRE subject exams practice materials as well as a wider briefing on the exams, can be found  here  on this web site.


Exam book available from Thomas Edison State College (TESC) is called TECEP  Test Description Book . As noted, this used to come with a separate book of DANTES practice exams - it may still.


One thing people often fear when practicing for these exams, is their apparent poor performance. This is a standardized test. It would be very difficult to determine a range of performance if contents were skewed to produce an average "pass mark" of 90% (common in the U.S.). Instead we have to have enough questions and grades of quality of questions, that will accurately assess and reflect a range of abilities of the total population of examinees. Bottom line, look for 40% to 45% raw score for a standardized score of 50 (out of 80) in the subject and general CLEP exams. 





As a general rule, to be sure of passing a CLEP exam, ensure you're hitting 50% raw score in the mock tests, and you WILL pass each and every one.


As a general rule, to be sure of scoring an "A" (Excelsior and COSC students only), ensure you're hitting 77% raw score in the mock tests, and you WILL score an "A" every time.


In the penalty  GRE subject exams (CLEP  now exclusively CBT in the US with no penalty for incorrect answers -see note *),  if you can eliminate even one of the five possible choices - pick an answer! Do not leave the question blank. If you eliminate one choice as definitely wrong, your chances of randomly picking the correct answer are 1/4. If, for the entire exam, for all the questions, you could only eliminate one choice per question, and had to randomly pick the answer from the remaining four possibilities, you will, on average come out 18.75% ahead. That is, in a test of (say) 100 questions, you haven't a clue but can eliminate one in five choices per question, your score is:


25 - 75x0.25 = 18.75




On the margin, if you are struggling for a pass or to make an "A", such things matter. Other treatments of this issue appear in various test prep books, this is not an original thought.


In the no-penalty exams (CLEP-CBT* ,  ECE/Regents and DANTES), make sure you leave no question unanswered Don't have a clue? Don't matter. Pick an answer (one should never miss an opportunity to state the obvious).







People often ask if one type of exam is easier than another. It seems that the ECE/Regents and the TECEP exams in particular are thought significantly more difficult. There is one type of exam more difficult than the rest, and that is the GRE subject exam, but that is because it tests the student with questions covering undergraduate freshman to senior years across a whole academic discipline. It is a comprehensive exam, but one that yields a great deal more credit than any of the other types.


Looked at in terms of credit-yield-per-unit-effort, GRE subject exams are not more difficult than other exams. If an Excelsior College exam is akin consuming a ham sandwich, the GRE subject exam is like eating a six course meal in approximately the same period of time.


On the ECE/Regents exams, my experience offers no evidence that they require different study or revision approaches than those applicable to CLEP, DANTES or the GRE subject exams. In fact, in the case of ECE multiple choice tests, I found that most of these 3-hour exams could be completed in an hour or an hour and a bit.


In comparison, I took the full 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete the GRE subject exams and the full 90 minutes to complete most of the CLEP exams (though a few CLEP exams took only 60 minutes 30+30 - paper and pencil version). DANTES exams do not have a time limit, but most agree 90 minutes is appropriate, and, for these exams I took at least that amount of time to finish.


So, all else being equal (knowledge of the specific subject), which it seldom is I grant, these data would indicate the ECE/Regents tests are in fact a bit easier to pass AT THE SAME LEVEL (upper or lower division) than other proficiency exams. Looking at the results in terms of grade or percentile ranking, my performances were remarkably similar for ECE, GRE, DANTES and CLEP examinations, i.e. the outcomes were about the same.


As with the other exam types, I used none of the recommended preparation material for the ECE/Regents tests (too expensive) with the exception of the free tests and free notes downloaded from the Excelsior web site. These notes are a vital preparation tool. It may be however, that the exam-specific proprietary study materials available directly from Excelsior College, will prove valuable to some learners.


Incidentally, for the TECEP examinations, TESC offers a book detailing all of the tests for about 20 bucks. You get a bonus DANTES test book thrown in. Though I ended up taking no TECEP tests, I did intend to do so, and used the practice exams in this book to revise. I found it most useful. Most TESC exams have a passing score of 60% and may be a tad more difficult than DANTES or CLEP due mainly to the higher pass threshold. The book is the "TECEP Examinations Test Description Book", which to repeat, comes with a freebie DANTES test book.


Bottom line, don't be afraid to take the ECE or the TECEP exams, they are not significantly more difficult than any of the other proficiency exams, level for level. You do not necessarily need to buy Excelsior College study materials to pass their exams (ECE). In fact, you do not need to buy the recommended books to pass any proficiency exam. You  do  have to make sure you understand the subject material before writing the test of course. O, would that it were otherwise.












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