College Composition CLEP
Free Study Guide

Free College Composition CLEP Study Guide

Name of Exam: College Composition CLEP

Number of Questions: 50 + 2 Essays

Time Limit: 90 Minutes for Multiple Choice + 30 Mins for 1st Essay + 40 Mins for 2nd Essay

ACE Recommended Passing Score: 50

Practice Test Available?: Yes - Click here

Cost: $80 + Sitting Fee (Usually no more than $20) at your testing site. Military can take CLEPs for free with Tuition Assistance. Check with your Educational Officer!

Difficulty 1-5 : 2
(One being the easiest, and five being the hardest)

Alternatives: StraighterLine English Composition I and II

Exam Description:

The College Composition CLEP tests your ability in identifying errors in existing sentences and passages. You will need to have a basic understanding of good sentence structure, but will not necessarily be asked to explain "why" you chose the answer you did.

The essay portion of the College Composition CLEP will test your abilities in two ways. According to CollegeBoard, the first essay "is based on the candidate's reading, observation, or experience". This is your average, run-of-the-mill "Write me an essay about _______" or "Defend your viewpoint on _______". You'll get 30 minutes to do this essay and we'll walk you through essay creation below, so don't stress out too much. Just remember to stay on topic and give them what they're looking for.

The second essay "requires candidates to synthesize and cite two sources that are provided". You get 40 minutes to read the two sources and write your essay, so you'll need to keep an eye on the clock for this one. You need to know how to cite sources here. APA or MLA is fine, but make sure you have that down. Check out the study guide for the Modular version of this exam where I include sources. (Link is below)

Personal Thoughts:

I've already written a small novel on the multiple choice portion of this exam. You can find it here - The College Composition Modular CLEP Study Guide. I would highly suggest looking it over as the same advice and resources apply to this exam as well. The difference between the two is, obviously, the addition of the essays in this version.

So the essays are the bad news. The good news? This version has less multiple choice questions! Let's look at what makes up the College Composition CLEP.

Exam breakdown:

According to the College Board website, the College Composition CLEP exam is broken down as follows:

Types of questions:

10% Conventions of Standard Written English
Syntax (parallelism, coordination, subordination)
Sentence boundaries (comma splice, run-ons, sentence fragments)
Concord/agreement (pronoun reference, case shift, and number; subject-verb; verb tense)
Logical agreement
Logical comparison
Lack of subject in modifying word group
Active/passive voice
40% Revision Skills, Including Sentence-Level Skills
Awareness of audience, tone and purpose
Coherence between sentences and paragraphs
Main idea, thesis statements and topic sentences
Use of language
Evaluation of reasoning
Consistency of point of view
Sentence-level errors primarily relating to the conventions of standard written English
Level of detail
Consistency of point of view
Sentence variety and structure
Rhetorical effects and emphasis
Evaluation of author's authority and appeal
Sentence-level errors primarily relating to the conventions of standard written English
25% Rhetorical Analysis
Evaluation of evidence
Rhetorical effects
Use of language
25% Ability To Use Source Materials
Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA (know these)
Use of reference materials
Evaluation of sources
Integration of resource material

Areas of Study

I'd like to discuss the Essay portion here since it worries so many people. For the multiple choice section, just click on the Modular CLEP link above.

A quick disclaimer: If you can't tell from this website, I am not an English teacher. There will be plenty of "Official" help below, but I'm going to share what works for me. Hopefully it will help someone else out too. After all, that's why we're here.

The First Essay (30 Minutes)

To begin with, if you can hold a conversation with someone, then you can pass this portion of the CLEP. The first essay will simply ask you to share your opinion on a specific topic. That's all!

This is where most people run into trouble. They try to immediately begin writing and they can't think of anything. Then they sit there staring at a blank screen until they're out of time. That's not going to be us though. The actual writing won't take that long if we set things up right. So let's get started.

First of all, we need our outline. On the scratch paper that the test center gives you (or should have given you, ask before the test) write out the main points of an essay. Seriously, just write the following on the paper:

  • Title (Thesis)
  • Introduction
  • Body
    • Paragraph 1
    • Paragraph 2
    • Paragraph 3
  • Conclusion

Now you have your outline, and you just need to fill it in. Pulling one from the Machiavellian air, let's say your the topic on your College Composition CLEP is:

"It is better to be feared than loved."

So now you have to pick your side. Do you agree or disagree? Let's say you disagree in this instance. You now have your title. It's going to be something along the lines of, "It's better to be loved than feared", or "Love conquers all", etc. Be creative, and be persuasive. All that being said, don't spend more than a few minutes thinking it up. We're not writing Shakespeare.

Next comes your introduction. Answer these three questions:

  1. What is the essay's purpose? Answer - To support your title
  2. How are you going to do that? Answer - By showing A, B, and C
  3. What is the end result? Answer - To convince your reader/defend your position

If you answer the above questions, you'll have an Intro already written. To keep with our above topic, here's an example:

"In this essay I will show you why it is better to be loved than feared. I will demonstrate by historical examples that cruelty will only end in rebellion. I will also show that a leader who is loved often has no need to enforce his will. In the end, I will demonstrate that the love of his subjects is one of the most powerful tools a leader can have."

(It won't win a Pulitzer, but it took me around fifteen seconds to type)

Writing is like anything else. It takes practice!!

So now we have our Intro, and in that Intro we have a few topics for our essay body too. Can you spot them?

In the intro I said that I would show historical examples of cruelty ending in rebellion, and I would also show that a leader who is loved doesn't need to enforce his will. That sounds like at least two paragraphs right there, though I could probably stretch it to four if I gave two example for each.

So thinking quickly, I've decided that for my cruelty examples, I'm going to use the American Revolution. For my leader who is loved example, I'm going to use the King of Thailand. (Just go with me here, chances are that both of us know more about the King of Thailand than the essay reviewer.)

So now my original outline looks like this:
  • Love Conquers All
  • Intro......
  • Body
    • American Revolution Causes (taxes, troop cruelty)
    • American Revolution Results (Loss of prestige, colonies)
    • King of Thailand (Love of the people)
    • King of Thailand (Though not political, enormous influence on politics)
  • Conclusion

The conclusion is merely wrapping up. You repeat your original thesis, and show how you have proved that thesis correct point by point. Considering we're swimming in examples, here's another:

"In this essay I have shown that it is truly better to be loved than feared. While cruelty may give short term gains as it did for England in the colonial times, I have shown that the end result cost them much more than they wished. I have also shown that although the King of Thailand has no temporal power, he has the love of the people and wields tremendous influence on the government and military because of it. In this way we can see that a truly wise leader will always take the path of love over one of brute force."

Once again, 30 seconds tops. It may not be pretty, but it's a conclusion!

You've got your outline now, and it shouldn't have taken you more than 10-15 minutes to put it all together. The College Composition CLEP gives you 30 minutes to type the first essay, so you have another 10-15 minutes to do the typing. Plenty of time. Most of the work is done, so all you need to do is go from point to point. Pay attention to those transition sentences!

Not so hard after all, was it?

The Second Essay (40 Minutes)

So you've got the essay writing covered. No problems there, right? The second essay is the same thing as before, but you'll also include citations this time.

You'll be given two excerpts from different publications, or even two mini-essays that you'll be asked to read. You should quickly notice that these resources already have footnotes/bibliography info. You'll be using that in a second.

After you get done reading both resources, you'll then need to write another convincing essay about whatever topic they cover. You will be expected to use (and cite!) the information from the two excerpts/essays that they provide.

This isn't as hard as it may sound. As long as you know how to cite resources, you'll be fine. There is a literal ton of free resources out there that teach you how to do this. Purdue Citing Sources is one of my current favorites.

Write the essay in the same way we covered above, and remember to stick to your topic and don't stray from it! Use the resources to back up your arguments and cite them correctly (just pick APA or MLA, whichever you're more comfortable with).

The only thing I'd caution is that you'll probably burn some time reading the excerpts they give you, so keep an eye on the clock as I mentioned earlier. Do that and you'll be fine.

Free study resources:

Click on the titles to go to the study resource.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) - Some very good information here. Don't get too far down in the weeds with the reading. Stick to the more basic topics on the right side of the screen.

Most of the essays for the College Composition CLEP will fall under the "Argument Paper" category. Expand "The Writing Process" to see a complete breakdown. It's an outstanding resource!

Connecticut Community College - A great writing resource touching on a variety of subjects. Easy to navigate, so take a look around and find an area you're weak on.

Do NOT pass up the quizzes on this website - Quizzes Here! Score well on these and you'll have the multiple-choice portion of the College Composition CLEP down cold.

University of Ottawa - HyperGrammar - A great place to get a quick refresh on when and how to use punctuation, pronouns, and a host of other grammar rules. Know these before walking into the essay potion of the College Composition CLEP

The Elements of Style - A book originally written in 1918, it covers most of the common mistakes people make while writing. I only used it for chapters 9 through 18, as those applied to paragraph construction. Glancing briefly through the first half of the book; it appears to be just as valuable as the latter half.

Recommended bargain-priced study resources

Always check your library first! You may be able to find some of these for free. You don't have to buy the officially recommended resources all the time. If you're the type of person that prefers to study from a textbook source however, then please see below.

CLEP College Composition & College Composition Modular w/CD-ROM (CLEP Test Preparation) - The new REA for the College Composition CLEP.

CLEP Freshman College Composition (REA) - The Best Test Prep for the CLEP Exam (Test Preps) - Your library may not have the new REA book for the updated exam, but it will probably have this one stashed in a corner somewhere. It covers much of the same material, but make sure you use another resource that covers citations..

InstantCert Academy - College Composition Specific Exam Feedback - Five pages of study notes, specific topics of study, and after action reports from returning test-takers. The community has done a great job with this particular thread. Definitely check out the Flashcards! They're for the old English Composition CLEP but still apply to this one. Sections two and three are set up in the same format as the College Composition CLEP. It's great practice for the real thing!

If you don't know what InstantCert is, then click here for the scoop as well as a discount code: **InstantCert Academy**

You'll find an InstantCert link for every exam here if that gives you an idea of the amount of information they have available. It's an outstanding resource.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully I've calmed any fears you may have had about the essay portion of the College Composition CLEP. It tends to worry quite a few people, but the mechanics of writing a decent essay aren't that complicated. Don't forget to check out the The College Composition Modular CLEP Study Guide. for the multiple choice section. It's only 50 questions, but it still makes up 50% of your score. Don't neglect it!

A final word about the essays - Keep in mind that you don't always have to pick the side of the argument you truly believe in. Pick whichever side has the most supporting information, fill out the outline, and then get writing. It'll go by quicker than you think! Just remember - Good examples, logical arguments, smooth transitions, and a solid intro and conclusion. If you have those, the rest is gravy.

Best of luck!

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