There are the advanced placement tests that you really are required to take after an AP class. If you like get a 3 on that and get a stupendous grade on the computerized placement test during registration, then they might give you more credits. But the AP is the surefire way to test out. If you get a five, you get out of everything and jump into requirements for the major instead of "helper courses"
International Baccalaureate (IB) courses have exams that colleges can accept to place out of intro courses as well.
In addition to AP and IB, you can take CLEP and Dantes exams. The tests cost about $65 and most are worth a one-semester class. Different colleges take different tests. You can usually find the info on the college website.
Also be aware that every college and university has its own policies regarding the AP, IB, Dantes and CLEPs courses/grades they will accept. If you're an adult student, it may be worthwhile to check the policies before enrolling, and choose a school with liberal programs.
Also, a few colleges will allow students to "test out" of a class, or "place into" a higher class, simply by passing the final exam for the class. This procedure is becoming much less common than in the past, but is still used in many schools, for example, in foreign languages. In order to receive credit for the lower class, you will still have to pay the tuition, but as long as you pass the test you will not be required to attend classes.
Yes! AP classes can be very useful; they can help to prepare you for college levels courses that you will take and also help if you get high enough test scores to be eligible to skip those classes in college. Even if you don't pass the test you are able to get enough backround knowlegde to pass the college class with ease.
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