The Humanities exam tests general knowledge of classical to contemporary literature, art, and music and other performing arts.
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2021 CLEP Official Study Guide
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CLEP® Humanities Examination Guide
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This guide provides practice questions for the CLEP® Humanities Exam only.
The Humanities exam tests general knowledge of literature, art, and music and the other performing arts. It is broad in its coverage, with questions on all periods from classical to contemporary and in many different fields: poetry, prose, philosophy, art, architecture, music, dance, theater, and film. The examination requires test takers to demonstrate their understanding of the humanities through recollection of specific information, comprehension and application of concepts, and analysis and interpretation of various works of art.
Because the exam is very broad in its coverage, it is unlikely that any one person will be well informed about all the fields it covers. The exam contains approximately 140 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. Any time test takers spend on tutorials or providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.
For test takers with satisfactory scores on the Humanities exam, colleges may grant credit toward fulfillment of a distribution requirement. Some may grant credit for a particular course that matches the exam in content.
Note: This exam uses the chronological designations b.c.e. (before the common era) and c.e. (common era). These labels correspond to b.c. (before Christ) and a.d. (anno Domini), which are used in some textbooks.
Knowledge and Skills Required
Questions on the Humanities exam require test takers to demonstrate the abilities listed below, in the approximate percentages indicated. Some questions may require more than one of the abilities.
- Knowledge of factual information (authors, works, etc.) (50% of the exam)
- Recognition of techniques such as rhyme scheme, medium, and matters of style, and the ability to identify them as characteristics of certain writers, artists, schools, or periods (30% of the exam)
- Understanding and interpretation of literary passages and art reproductions that are likely to be unfamiliar to most test takers (20% of the exam)
The subject matter of the Humanities exam is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the topics indicate the approximate percentages of exam questions on those topics.
- 10% Drama
- 10%–15% Poetry
- 15%–20% Fiction
- 10% Nonfiction (including philosophy)
The Arts (50%)
- 20% Visual arts: painting, sculpture, etc.
- 5% Visual arts: architecture
- 15% Performing arts: music
- 10% Performing arts: film, dance, etc
The exam questions, drawn from the entire history of art and culture, are fairly evenly divided among the following periods: Classical, Medieval and Renaissance, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nineteenth century, and twentieth century. At least 5–10% of the questions draw on other cultures, such as African, Asian, and Latin American. Some of the questions cross disciplines and/or chronological periods, and a substantial number test knowledge of terminology, genre, and style.
Most textbooks used in college-level humanities courses cover the topics in the outline given earlier, but the approaches to certain topics and the emphases given to them may differ. To prepare for the Humanities exam, it is advisable to study one or more college textbooks, which can be found in most college bookstores. When selecting a textbook, check the table of contents against the knowledge and skills required for this test.
To do well on the Humanities exam, you should know something about each of the forms of literature and fine arts from the various periods and cultures listed in the exam description. It may also be helpful to refer to college textbooks, supplementary reading, and references for introductory courses in literature and fine arts at the college level.
Combined with reading, a lively interest in the arts (going to museums and concerts, attending plays, seeing motion pictures, watching public television programs such as Great Performances and Masterpiece Theatre, and listening to radio stations that play classical music and feature discussions of the arts) constitutes excellent preparation.
A survey conducted by CLEP found that the following textbooks are among those used by college faculty who teach the equivalent course. You might purchase one or more of these online or at your local college bookstore.
- Adams, Exploring the Humanities (Prentice Hall)
- Benton and DiYanni, Arts and Culture: Introduction to the Humanities (Prentice Hall)
- Bishop, Adventures in the Human Spirit (Prentice Hall)
- Cunningham, Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities (Wadsworth)
- Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition (McGraw-Hill)
- Martin, Humanities through the Arts (McGraw-Hill)
- Sayre, The Humanities: Culture, Continuity, and Change, Vols. I and II (Prentice Hall)
- Witt et al., The Humanities (Houghton-Mifflin)
These resources, compiled by the CLEP test development committee and staff members, may help you study for your exam. However, none of these sources are designed specifically to provide preparation for a CLEP exam. The College Board has no control over their content and cannot vouch for accuracy.
Credit-Granting Score for Humanities
ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 3
Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.
*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.