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Policy - Credit by Departmental Exam

Details on the Policy on Credit by Departmental Exam, which provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of material that is equivalent to what would be learned in a specific UW-Madison course.

This is a summary of the Policy on Credit by Departmental Exam. Click here to view the official policy in its entirety in the UW-Madison Policy Library.

Overview and Context

Students may acquire knowledge, skills and competencies through experiences that are academic in nature but may not necessarily correspond to a setting in which UW-Madison awards traditional credit. Credit by department examination (hereafter credit by exam) is one opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of material that is equivalent to what would be learned in a specific UW-Madison course. The course credits granted through credit by exam are based on a student’s demonstration that they have mastered the learning outcomes equivalent to those for the specified course. Examples of circumstances that will lead students to seek credit by exam may be: they completed preparation for advanced placement exams in high school but were unable to take the AP test; they have a placement test scores that place them in a course lower than what they think they are prepared for; they didn’t get transfer equivalency for a course but they judge that they have completed the material in a course at another university; they learned course content in a non-credit setting that wouldn’t otherwise count for credit.

Offering students the opportunity to earn credit by exam has several benefits for both students and the University. Students will have a low-cost option for earning credit for skills and knowledge they already possess. They will have the opportunity to quickly move on to more challenging and enriching courses. The University will benefit by freeing up seats in courses that are in demand and by supporting timely progress to degree.

This policy is primarily intended to serve degree-seeking undergraduates but does not prohibit credit by exam at for degree-seeking students at other levels.

This policy does not address transfer credit, UW System placement exams, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), retroactive credits or departmental placement examinations. These mechanisms for awarding credit are covered in well established, existing policy. 

Students who wish to earn credit by exam should contact the relevant department. A list of courses that offer credit by exam is available in the Undergraduate section of the Guide.

For the purposes of this policy the word “exam” or “examination” will be cover all potential methods of evaluation of student learning.

Eligibility and Limitations

A student must be classified as a degree-seeking student. They must be in good academic standing with no holds on their record.

Credits earned by department examination do not count toward the credit residency requirements for a bachelor’s degree.

Students may not attempt a department examination for credit for any course they are enrolled in or were previously enrolled in at UW-Madison beyond the add deadline.

Students may not take a credit by examination for a specific course more than once.

Students may not earn credit by examination for a course or course equivalent for which they have previously been awarded credit.

Students must satisfy all prerequisites prior to attempting credit by examination for that course.

The credits will be posted for specific regularly taught UW-Madison courses. (Credit by exam will not be provided for independent study, topics courses, general or departmental credit.)

No student may attempt credit by examination in a course which is a prerequisite, stated or implied, for an advanced course in the same subject for which credit has already been earned, without approval from the department offering the course.

Native speakers of a language cannot earn credit by exam in that language. For UW-Madison, native language is defined as the language of instruction at the student's secondary school.

Students must take a separate exam (or set of assessments) for each course they are seeking credit for.

The department offering credit by exam is responsible for confirming degree-seeking status and otherwise determining a student’s eligibility for taking the exam. In general, once a degree seeking student has been given permission to take the exam, they will be considered eligible to receive credit regardless of circumstances that may indicate otherwise.

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to take departmental examinations for credit prior to earning 90 degree credits (including the semester in which the 90th credit is earned) in order to avoid complications with the residence requirement.

The College of Engineering limits the use of credit by exam to a total of six (6) credits or two (2) courses during an engineering undergraduate student’s career.

Posting Credits

Credit by Examination will be posted as ‘Other Credit’ and will reflect the course for which the student is earning credit.

The Office of the Registrar will post credits earned through credit by exam to the student record within 10 days of receiving a completed credit by exam form from a department.

Credits earned will be posted on a student's transcript if the student successfully completes the requirements for departmental examinations. If the attempt for credit by exam is unsuccessful, no record of the attempt will be noted on the student’s transcript. The course credits will be posted to the term that corresponds with the date the examination was completed.

Course credit earned via examination does not carry grade points and does not factor into the grade point average.

Course credit earned via examination does not factor into a semester course load.

Department Requirements

It is up to each department to determine which courses they offer that they want to make eligible for credit by examination. There is no requirement or expectation for credit by examination, but if a credit by examination will be offered for a course, it must follow these policy guidelines. Generally, courses that provide credit by examination will be large enrollment and will be offered as lower- or mid-level undergraduate courses.

Department faculty will determine the standards, methods, and procedures for evaluation. Departments may use any evaluation method or combination of methods including:

  • Written examination
  • Oral examination
  • Performance evaluation (practical exam)
  • Examination of completed work and/or records presented and defended by the student (portfolio)
  • Other methods consistent with evaluation of student learning in the corresponding regular course

The content, quality and quantity of material covered in the examination for credit must be consistent with what is covered in the specified UW-Madison course for which the exam is intended to provide credit. The method of evaluation must be similar to the standard method used in the equivalent course. (Ex. a dance course that had a performance as the final exam should include some type of performance evaluation, a writing intensive course would not use a multiple choice exam format etc.) Because some course attributes, like Comm B or Service Learning, are assigned to courses that use particular pedagogies, it would be difficult for a department to measure mastery of course content and evaluate students’ learning gains with respect to those pedagogies. As a result, Comm B, Service Learning, and other courses may not be appropriate courses for awarding credit by examination.

In order to pass the examination, the student must demonstrate a clear mastery of the course material and student performance must be at a sufficient level that they are well prepared for higher level work in that field of study.

If a course is cross-listed, all cross-listed units will agree on an examination and select one department to administer all examinations for the course.

If the department also offers placement exams, the department must clearly state whether the examination results in credit or course placement. Such information must be clearly communicated to students.

Approval to Offer Credit by Examination for a Course - Credit by Exam Online Proposal Form

Before offering credit by examination for a specific course, a department must get approval to do so. Credit by exam for a course will be proposed and approved by the subject owner (department) of the course and by any cross-listed subjects. Please use the Credit by Exam Proposal Form to request approval. 

Once a course has been approved it will be listed on a master list of all courses available for credit by exam (scroll to the bottom of the page). This process will serve as the only avenue for awarding departmental credit other than by offering for-credit courses. Departments will be expected to review and assess all credit by exam opportunities on an ongoing basis to assure that the exam continues to match the content of the course. Anytime the equivalent course is changed through the course change proposal process the examination must be updated to make sure it is still aligned with the learning outcomes of the course. If credit by exam for a course goes unused for three years, it will be removed from the approved list.

Administration of Exam

Department examinations must be administered and/or supervised by a member of the faculty or academic staff.

The department is responsible for validating the identity of the student prior to administering the exam, by checking the student ID.

The department is responsible for determining that the student is a degree-seeking student and otherwise eligible to take the exam. If the department administers an exam to a student, it is assumed that they have verified their eligibility. Training and tools will be available to assist department faculty and staff in validating eligibility.

Departments must submit a Credit by Departmental Exam Form to the Office of the Registrar within 7 business days of scoring the exam/evaluation for all students who attempted credit by examination, even if the attempt is not successful. The Office of the Registrar will process the form and archive it with the student’s record in ImageNow. The ImageNow student record will serve as a record of all credit by exam attempts and will allow for the enforcement of the single attempt rule.


The fee for each exam is $135 and goes to the department offering the exam. Departments may request a lower fee of $75 or $100.

The fee must be paid prior to attempting an examination. The fee is not refundable. The department offering the exam is responsible for verifying that the fee has been paid.

The fee is waived for Banner, FASTrack, Bucky’s Tuition Promise and Pell students.

The fee will be paid using the CASHNet system. The Bursar’s Office will provide support with set up and reconciliation.

The fee will be reviewed annually by the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research.

Official Policy Document

Placement by Departmental Exam Policy (10 May 2019)

Policy History

Approved by the University Curriculum Committee: 10 May 2019

See Also:

Keywords:credit, exam   Doc ID:110514
Owner:Karen M.Group:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
Created:2021-04-26 13:27 CDTUpdated:2022-02-03 15:59 CDT
Sites:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
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