How to take CLEP/DSST tests for college credit (Part 3)

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How to search for study books

When you go to the library to look for books to check out to use when studying, match book chapters with test sections. Both the DSST and the (official) CLEP study guides list out what’s covered on each test in sections, with headings for each section.

For the DSST study guides, if you take the contents of one of the recommended books, and match up the chapters with the sections in the study guide, you have a good idea of which chapters of a book you should concentrate on. Different books referenced in the study guide may have some or all of the sections shown on the study guide; you mix and match chapters until you get chapters in books for as many of the study guide sections as possible.

You may be able to use the title of the CLEP test or the headings of the sections on the CLEP test to generate a list of books to check out.

Use your local library

Here’s an example. Let’s say I live in San Diego, California, and I want to take the DSST test “Human/Cultural Geography“. Here’s how I would study for this test…

In the DSST study guide for Human/Cultural Geography (Rev. 20071115, the revision number is found on page 4 of the guide), it lists the following topics, organized into sections and given a percentage that shows you how much of the test will cover that topic:

  1. The Earth – basic facts and concepts (23%)
    1. Coordinate systems, seasons, time
    2. Maps and cartography
    3. Physiography
    4. Atmosphere
    5. Soils and vegetation
    6. Water
  2. Culture and Environment (40%)
    1. Cultural systems and processes
    2. Population
    3. Natural resources
  3. Spatial Processes (32%)
    1. Social processes
    2. Modern economic systems
    3. Settlement patterns
    4. Political Geography
    5. Social problems
  4. Regional Geograrphy (5%)
    1. Defining a region
    2. Geopolitical regions

And here’s a list of books that the DSST study guide recommends as far as studying for the examination:

  • Introduction to Geography (current edition), Edward Bergman and Tom L. McKnight
  • Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts (current edition) by DeBlij, H.J. and P.O. Muller
  • Human Geography: Culture, Society and Space (current edition) by DeBlij, H.J. and P.O. Muller
  • Human Geography: Landscape of Human Activities (current edition) by Jerome Fellman, A. Getis and J. Getis
  • Essentials of Physical Geography (current edition) by Robert E. Gabler, Robert J. Sanger and Daniel L. Wise
  • Goode’s World Atlas (current edition) by Paul J. Goode
  • Economic Geography (current edition) by Truman A. Hartshorn and John W. Alexander
  • Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation (current edition) by Tom L. McKnight
  • Cultural Landscape: Introduction to Human Geography (current edition) by James H. Rubenstein
  • Building Geographic Literacy (current edition) by Charles A. Stansfield
  • Modern Physical Geography (current edition) by Alan H. Strahler and Arthur N. Strahler

Going to the San Diego Public Library website, you can enter in the titles or authors of any of the books; I would try searching by author first, then title, as the author’s name is more unique and should give you better matches. If there are multiple authors for a book make sure you search on each author’s name.

To search for a specific author on the SDPL’s search engine, it needs to be author’s last name, comma, author’s first name, like so:

McKnight, Tom

You can usually leave off the middle initial. So if I search on McKnight, Tom, here are the top 5 hits:

910.02/MCKNIGHT 2005
Physical geography : a landscape appreciation 8th ed.
McKnight, Tom L. (Tom Lee), 1928-
Upper Saddle River, NJ : Pearson Prentice Hall, c2005.
1 copy available at Central Library in History Stacks

DVD 791.4372/BLACK 2004
Black angel [videorecording]
Neill, Roy William, 1887-1946.
1 copy available at Pacific Beach/Taylor in Stacks

917.3/MCKNIGHT 2001
Regional geography of the United States and Canada 3rd ed.
McKnight, Tom L. (Tom Lee), 1928-
Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall, 2001.
0130288659 : $81.00
1 copy available at Central Library in History Stacks

910.02/MCKNIGHT 2000
Physical geography : a landscape appreciation Virtual field trip ed., 6th ed.
McKnight, Tom L. (Tom Lee), 1928-
Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall, c2000.
1 copy available at Mountain View/Beckwourth in Stacks

910.02/MCKNIGHT 1993
Physical geography : a landscape appreciation 4th ed.
McKnight, Tom L. (Tom Lee), 1928-
Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice Hall, c1993.
0136671713 (Instructor's ed.) : $40.00
1 copy available at University Community in Stacks

Whoa! That’s THREE different copies of one of the books we’re looking for. Were it my gas money, I’d go down to Central Library and check that book out, as it’s the most up-to-date edition in the library system. If you make a list beforehand of what books are in which libraries, you can map out your library road trip beforehand.

What if you don’t want to road trip for books? Fear not; libraries in metropolitan areas usually have some kind of loan or borrowing agreement between each other. For example, in San Diego, I can place a hold on a book that’s in one city or county library branch, and have it delivered to branch that’s close to me for pickup (see the Interlibrary Loan webpage for information on how loans outside of the city library system works). According to the San Diego Public Library website, the hold service within the city library system takes about 4-7 working days for the book to be delivered to the destination library, and if you don’t pick up the book within 8 days, you get charged $1.00US.

One other thing about libraries; you can keep the books for longer than your allotted time, and pay a fine. I ended up paying lots of money in fines, figure $2 a book per test; I would keep them past their due dates to continue studying if I felt I was close to taking the test. Paying overdue fines is way cheaper than buying the books outright, and I’m “giving back” to the library with my fine money. Yes, you’re denying the book to someone else when you do this, so think carefully about whether or not you could live with yourself if you do it.

Check your local colleges and universities

The DSST study guides (as well as the ‘official’ CLEP study guide) have a blurb that says “current textbook used by a local college or university for a course on the subject”. This means that if you took a look at the course catalogs for a college or university (say SDSU, UCSD, San Diego Mesa College or Palomar College in San Diego), and were able to browse their booklists online somewhere, it’s another place to find study materials that you could use towards studying for the exam.

Use other tests on the same subject

The Advanced Placement (AP) tests are tests that you can take in high school that will give you college credit. You can probably use a study guide for an AP test in order to study up for a CLEP/DSST test. Given the Human/Cultural Geography test example above, there is an AP Human Geography test, and searching my favorite online bookstore ( gives me a large list of AP study guides for that test. Powell’s often has used books as well, so you can save money while you’re studying.

The San Diego Public Library catalog shows two different study guides for AP tests when I enter the search keywords “AP geography” into their book search engine;

  • AP human geography, Kaplan Publishing, 2008
  • Barron’s AP human geography, by Meredith Marsh, 2008

There are lots of AP study guides out there, chances are your local library system will have a handful for you to choose from. For what it’s worth, the AP program is run by the same people who run the CLEP program.

Onwards to part 4…

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