College Algebra

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2018 CLEP Official Study Guide

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This study guide provides practice questions for all 33 CLEP® exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by the College Board.

CLEP® College Algebra Examination Guide

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The College Algebra exam covers material that is usually taught in a one-semester college course in algebra.

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College Algebra


The College Algebra exam covers material that is usually taught in a one-semester college course in algebra. Nearly half of the test is made up of routine problems requiring basic algebraic skills; the remainder involves solving nonroutine problems in which test takers must demonstrate their understanding of concepts. The test includes questions on basic algebraic operations; linear and quadratic equations, inequalities, and graphs; algebraic, exponential, and logarithmic functions; and miscellaneous other topics.

It is assumed that test takers are familiar with currently taught algebraic vocabulary, symbols, and notation. The test places little emphasis on arithmetic calculations. However, an online scientific calculator (nongraphing) will be available during the exam.

The exam contains approximately 60 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 and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.

Scientific Calculator

A scientific (nongraphing) calculator is built into the exam software and is available to students during the entire testing time. Students are expected to know how and when it’s appropriate to use the calculator.

If you’re planning to take College Algebra prior to January 28, 2018, visit this site for a brief video tutorial and to download a free practice version for a 30-day trial period. Students are expected to download the calculator and become familiar with using it before taking the exam.

If you’re testing after January 28, 2018, it’s possible you’ll see a new version of the scientific calculator, the TI-30XS MultiView™. Information about the new version is available here. Practice with the calculators at both sites because you may get either version in your exam.

Knowledge and Skills Required

Questions on the College Algebra exam require test takers to demonstrate the following abilities in the approximate proportions indicated.

  • Solving routine, straightforward problems (about 50% of the exam)
  • Solving nonroutine problems requiring an understanding of concepts and the application of skills and concepts (about 50% of the exam)

The subject matter of the College Algebra exam is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the main topics indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions on that topic.

Get more information about the scientific calculator and download a trial version.

Students will find the online scientific calculator helpful in performing calculations (e.g., arithmetic, exponents, roots, logarithms).

Algebraic operations (25%)

  • Operations with exponents
  • Factoring and expanding polynomials
  • Operations with algebraic expressions
  • Absolute value
  • Properties of logarithms

Equations and inequalities (25%)

  • Linear equations and inequalities
  • Quadratic equations and inequalities
  • Absolute value equations and inequalities
  • Systems of equations and inequalities
  • Exponential and logarithmic equations

Functions and their properties* (30%)

  • Definition and interpretation
  • Representation/modeling (graphical, numerical, symbolic, and verbal representations of functions)
  • Domain and range
  • Algebra of functions
  • Graphs and their properties (including intercepts, symmetry, and transformations)
  • Inverse functions

Number systems and operations (20%)

  • Real numbers
  • Complex numbers
  • Sequences and series
  • Factorials and Binomial Theorem

*Each test may contain a variety of functions, including linear, polynomial (degree ≤ 5), rational, absolute value, power, exponential, logarithmic, and piecewise-defined.

Study Resources

Most textbooks used in college-level algebra 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 College Algebra 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.


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.

  • Aufmann et al., Algebra: Introductory and Intermediate (Cengage)
  • Barnett et al., College Algebra (McGraw-Hill)
  • Barnett et al., College Algebra: Graphs and Models (McGraw-Hill)
  • Beecher, Penna, and Bittinger, College Algebra (Addison-Wesley)
  • Blitzer, College Algebra Essentials (Prentice Hall)
  • Dugopolski, College Algebra and Trigonometry (Addison-Wesley)
  • Gustafson and Frisk, College Algebra: Essentials (Brooks/Cole)
  • Huettenmueller, College Algebra Demystified (McGraw-Hill)
  • Larson and Hostetler, College Algebra (Brooks/Cole)
  • Lial et al., College Algebra (Addison-Wesley)
  • Ratti and McWaters, College Algebra (Addison-Wesley)
  • Rockswold, College Algebra Through Modeling and Visualization (Addison-Wesley)
  • Stewart et al., College Algebra (Brooks/Cole)
  • Sullivan, College Algebra Essentials (Prentice Hall)
  • Young, College Algebra (Wiley)

Online Resources

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.

Score Information

Credit-Granting Score for College Algebra

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.