Policy - Third-Party Test Credits

Information on the policy regarding third-party test credits, which are college credits based on a student’s score on an examination administered by an organization not affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This is a summary of the policy on Third-Party Test Credits. Click here to view the official policy in its entirety in the UW-Madison Policy Library.

There are several ways a student can earn credit toward a UW-Madison degree. There are different policies that guide the determination of course equivalencies for the different types of credit. The following table summarizes the various ways students earn credit at UW-Madison. Please also refer to the Ways to Earn Credit at UW-Madison KnowledgeBase document for full details and explanation.

Course-Based Credit
Military Credit
Credit for Prior Learning
(at UW-Madison)
(from another institution)
(from the Joint Service Transcript)
Credit by Department Exam Retroactive Foreign Language Credit Third-Party Credit by Exam Portfolio Review
(not currently available at UW-Madison)


Third-Party Credit by Exam: Providing college credit based on a student’s score on an examination administered by an organization not affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Exam Provider: An organization or entity that offers standardized exams in one or more subject areas and transmits the results (i.e., scores) of the exams to institutions of higher education

Exam:A standardized testing activity offered by an exam provider to individuals who seek this service. Typically exam providers divide their offerings into subject-based exams. For example, Advanced Placement (AP) has separate exams for Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Chemistry, and Psychology.


This policy is developed to advance UW-Madison’s goals to support students in their timely progress to degree. By awarding appropriate credit for prior learning experiences, the university helps students keep the cost of their education down and frees up space in high demand courses for students who need it. This document provides a policy by which the course equivalency for third-party exams can be established or changed, through an established campus-level process that aligns with processes for approval of for-credit courses and assures consistency and transparency of such assignments.


UW System and Board of Regent policy set standards for awarding of credit based on third-party exams, and places responsibility for determining specific course and credit equivalencies at the institution level, as described in this policy. UW-Madison’s University Curriculum Committee (UCC) is responsible for overseeing institutional policy and course equivalencies related to third party credit by exam.

Appropriate course credit equivalency for third-party exams is recommended by the faculty of the relevant academic department. The faculty are best positioned to evaluate and assign the course credit equivalency in their disciplinary area.

Subsequently, the recommendation of the department is communicated to and considered for approval by the UCC. In its review, the UCC considers if the course credit equivalency is consistent with relevant existing policy (e.g., the Board of Regent policy on assignment of credit equivalency for AP courses) and if the course credit equivalency meets institutional goals for recognizing prior learning of students through appropriate assignment of credit.

Once the determination of course credit equivalency is approved, it will apply to all students who meet the approved score criteria for the third-party exam regardless of program or other circumstances. This establishes consistence in application with other ways of earning credit such as taking a UW-Madison course or transfer credit.

UW-Madison approved exam-to-course credit equivalencies are posted online so that all prospective students are aware of what to expect and can use the information in planning their progress to degree. Such equivalencies are recorded in the Student Information System (SIS) and are available to be integrated into degree audit systems (i.e., DARS) and other digital systems.

In addition to UW System and Board policy there are broader higher education expectations for the awarding of credit associated with third party-exams, for example those set by a common ACE/CHEA/AACRO joint statement.

Rationale for Policies and Practices

This policy fills a gap in the assignment of credit for prior learning activities. Prior to this policy’s approval, there was no institutional policy guidance for the assignment of credit equivalencies for third-party exams that was consistently applied and transparent to the academic community. The components of this policy are parallel to other processes associated with the awarding of credit for prior learning that have been established as within the purview of the UCC. The policy furthers the goal of UW-Madison supporting timely progress to degree and keeping costs down by ensuring a mechanism for the academic community to assign credit equivalencies for third-party exams and make sure that students have an opportunity to be appropriately awarded credit for prior learning.

Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) has done numerous analyses of student progress and success in courses based on preparation in Advanced Placement (AP) and other third-party exams. These analyses consistently and repeatedly show that students who earn credit based on scores on AP exams do as well and often better than their peers in the next sequential course. All existing evidence confirms that the AP test score course equivalencies are helping students advance in their programs and make progress to degree.

Process for Adding or Changing Equivalencies

Establishing a Course Credit Equivalency for a New Exam or Making Changes to Existing Third-Party Exam Equivalencies 

There may be opportunities to add course credit equivalencies when new third-party exams are established, or changes may be required due to changes in third-party exams or changes in UW-Madison courses being used for equivalencies. When a department, school/college, or other academic or student services unit on campus becomes aware of a new exam or a change in the exam, they may determine a change in the course credit equivalency is warranted. Such information should be communicated to the department that serves as the home of the relevant subject and to APIR who can assist in the change process. If there are no changes to the third-party exam or the UW-Madison course used in an equivalency, at a minimum, third-party credit by exam equivalencies will be reviewed every seven years. The faculty of the relevant department will make an evaluation and determine a recommendation for course credit equivalency for a third-party exam or exam component, either as a new equivalency or a change of an existing equivalency. The chair of the department or designee makes a written request via memo to the UCC via APIR. The request will specify the third-party exam or exam component, the current course credit equivalency if relevant, and the proposed course credit equivalency. The memo will include a rationale for the course credit equivalency and a proposed implementation date.

The Initial Establishment of Acceptance for a Third-Party Credit by Exam by a New Exam Provider

If a new third-party exam provider is identified as offering credit by exam that is aligned with UW-Madison course offerings, the exam provider must be approved before course credit equivalency is approved. In consultation with APIR, the UCC will determine whether there is alignment with UW System policy and ACE/CHEA/AACRO standards and will decide whether to approve the use of exams offered by the provider. Once the exam provider is approved the individual exams can be reviewed and course equivalencies established. The department or departments with subject listings in the discipline covered by the exam will review the exam content and make a recommendation using the process described above. All existing third-party exam providers with existing UW-Madison equivalencies will be formally approved at the time of policy implementation.

Changes to Policies Related to the Acceptance of Third-Party Credit by Exam

Changes to policies related to receiving credit for a third-party exam may be requested via a proposal to the UCC. Examples of policies that would be included are classifications of students eligible to receive credit, limitations on the amount of credits, or limitations on when students are eligible to receive credits. The request should specify the change to be made including the specific exam providers and exams, the rationale for the change, the anticipated impact and a timeline for implementation of the change. All policy changes must apply to all UW-Madison students within a career.

Approval and Communication

All decisions about exams and related policy must align with State of Wisconsin statute, UW System and Board of Regent policy, and any other relevant existing third-party policy. Decisions made by the UCCrelated to third party credit by exam will be communicated to the relevant departments, Office of Admissions and Recruitment, Credit Evaluation Services (Office of the Registrar), and the advising community (via advisor-link). The UW-Madison staff person designated as liaison to UW System for credit by exam issues will communicate the updated information to UW System.

Recording Credit

  • Third party credit by exam will only be recorded for matriculated UW-Madison undergraduates and will only apply to the requirements of a bachelor’s degree program. 
  • No grade is assigned; the equivalency will not carry grade points and will not be used in the grade point average calculation. Credit earned by third party examination does not count as credit earned in residence.
  • Credits earned do not count toward the 165 excess credit surcharge.
  • If a student submits scores for more than one examination that leads to the same UW-Madison equivalency, credit will only be awarded once.1
  • Third-party credit may be removed at the request of the student if it was earned during high school.
  • Official test scores must be sent to the university by the last official class day in the semester the student intends to graduate from UW-Madison.
  • There is not a limit to the number of credits a student may earn through third-party examinations.
1  Note: It is possible to earn credit more than once for transfer elective courses, such as GEN ELCT X12. Transfer electives can be identified by the X in front of the course number.

Relevant Policies

Advanced Placement Regent Policy Document 4-11

International Baccalaureate Program Regent Policy Document 7-2

Project Lead the Way Regent Policy Document 4-17

Undergraduate Transfer Credit PolicyUW System Administrative Policy 135

Credit by (Third-party) Exam

  • Advanced Placement (AP)
  • GCE Advanced Level (A-Level)
  • Cambridge Pre-U
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams

Credit by Departmental Examination

Departmental Placement Examination

Policy History

Approved: University Curriculum Committee, 10 April 2020

Keywords:third, party, credits, exam, AP, IB, transfer   Doc ID:101914
Owner:Karen M.Group:Academic Planning
Created:2020-05-09 11:08 CSTUpdated:2022-02-03 15:31 CST
Sites:Academic Planning
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