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Challenge Exams: Meeting GE Requirements in Nursing School

Organizations like the AACN believe that the liberal arts have something valuable to offer professional nurses. Higher education does enhance critical thinking skills. Sometimes, though, professionals gain similar competencies through other life experiences: the military, business, or even independent study.

Nurses may feel frustrated at the cost and time that general studies courses add to their program. Online learning isn’t cheap; for some, the 30 units or so of upper division nursing courses feel like just about as much as can comfortably be managed. If a person has a lot of liberal arts or nursing support courses left to do, degree completion may feel out of reach.

Is there a compromise, or a way to meet school requirements while spending less? In some cases, yes. Some schools require as few as 30 semester hours to be taken in residency at the institution. Many schools will allow a student to take challenge exams in lieu of some courses. This option can be especially attractive to working adults, who have a lot of life experiences under their belt, and who know how to learn.

Types of Challenge Examinations

There are several programs that schools may accept for credit by examination. It can seem like a confusing array of acronyms! If you’re past high school, AP tests are probably not an option. One viable option is DSST. Public speaking, technical writing, and world religion are among the tests that may fulfill general studies requirements. Your school may also accept credit by examination for the statistics requirement.

For many working adults, the CLEP, offered by the College Board, is a good bet. Schools vary with regard to what they will accept, but some have quite a long list of approved exams. The University of Southern Indiana, for example, lists 23 CLEP tests with USI course equivalents. Some courses, like biology, psychology, and composition you’ve probably already taken. But there are exams you can take to fulfill your history, western civilization, and arts requirements.

Picking the right exams for core (or general studies) courses is largely a matter of assessing your strengths. Are you a bilingual? Did you have several years of foreign language in secondary school? If so, Spanish might be a good choice. Or perhaps your life experiences, or first career, make macroeconomics a good choice. Some programs require prerequisite courses that are a little different, or a little more advanced than the ones nurses typically take in an associate program. A strong student -- or a very independent learner -- may be able to test out of them.

Challenge Examination Considerations

How do you know if this is the route to go? It’s a matter of need, but also of learning style. If cost feels like a big obstacle, and you really want that degree, you’ll have strong motivation to pass. However, the difficulty level is high. Online learning takes a certain amount of skill when it comes to self-pacing and self-discipline. Challenge exams take even more self management, unless you already know the material inside out. If you’re considering the CLEP program, you’ll want to visit the site of the College Board and look over the course descriptions. It costs about $25 to get a study guide that includes sample questions for all 33 of the exams. If you’re considering the DSST, you can find practice tests online. The official study guide also sells for about $25.

Not all universities accept CLEP credit. If you feel like the program is right for you, and if you need it to bring your costs down to a more manageable level, you’ll want to find out the policies of different institutions. Learn what their requirements are for general studies and support coursework, which exams they will accept, and what the minimum score is that they will allow for credit. These policies are among the many things to look into when selecting a college.

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