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Overview of the Compass Reading Diagnostics Tests

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

The ACT Compass reading skills test has two testing parts, one for placement and one for diagnostics. This lesson explains the more detailed reading diagnostics tests, including the proficiencies measured.

The ACT Compass

You probably know people who performed poorly during their first semesters in college. Students often enter college unprepared for the rigorous coursework or under-prepared for advanced level classes. Ben is headed off to college and wants to make sure that doesn't happen to him.

Many new college students find they are under-prepared for the advanced coursework.
College student studying

That's why many colleges, like Ben's, require their entering freshmen to take the ACT Compass tests. The tests are produced by American College Testing, or 'ACT', the same company that produces the ACT test Ben took when he was applying for college.

Compass is an acronym for 'Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System'. The Compass tests are computerized and untimed. Ben's tests will be scored, but he cannot fail the tests. Instead, Ben's Compass results will be used to measure Ben's overall readiness for college coursework and to determine his appropriate placement in remedial, standard, or advanced college courses.

Today, Ben is taking the Compass reading skills test.

General Reading Skills Test

All Compass skills tests have two parts. Each starts with a general placement test designed to evaluate the student's basic skills in the subject area. The college will use Ben's reading placement test scores to recommend English and literature courses appropriate to Ben's skill levels.

The placement portion of each Compass skills test presents assorted multiple-choice questions. The questions progress based on Ben's responses. This is known as adaptive testing. As Ben responds correctly, the questions become more difficult. If Ben is unable to answer correctly, the questions decrease in difficulty. The test has no set number of questions, as it simply ends when Compass has enough data to determine Ben's general reading proficiency.

The reading placement test uses reading passages. Ben will be asked to find specific information and make logical inferences using reading passages that vary in difficulty.

Reading Diagnostics Tests

Many students are also asked to take the second part of the skills test. This part is known as diagnostic testing. It is much more detailed than the general placement portion. The various reading diagnostics tests are used to pinpoint a student's specific reading deficiencies.

Whether or not Ben is asked to take the diagnostic tests might depend on his performance on the placement test and the college's placement rules. For example, some colleges require the reading diagnostic tests for those students with a Compass reading placement score lower than 80 out of 100.

Let's say Ben scored a 75 on his reading placement test so his college requires him to complete the reading diagnostic testing. Ben's reading diagnostic tests will include the Reading Comprehension Diagnostic Test and the Vocabulary Diagnostic Test.

Let's take a closer look at each of these diagnostic tests.

Reading Comprehension Diagnostic Test

The reading comprehension diagnostic uses 200-word reading passages, adaptively selected to match the student's skill level. The passages include selections from humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Each passage is followed by up to seven multiple-choice questions. These questions test two general proficiencies: finding explicit information in the passage and making suppositions based on implicit information. Specifically, the questions cover five different comprehension skills:

  • Details - to find facts explicitly expressed in the passage
  • Relationships - to make connections between various ideas explicitly expressed in the passage
  • Main idea - to identify the implicit central meaning of a passage
  • Critical understanding - to discern the author's implicit intent or purpose
  • Inferences - to draw conclusions using different pieces of implicit information from the passage

Vocabulary Diagnostic Test

The vocabulary diagnostic test measures the student's proficiency in context. This means Ben will need to determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word by looking at the way it is used. It tests the meaning of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. He'll be presented with one or two-sentence items, adaptively selected. The difficulty ranges include:

  • Low, reflecting grade levels fourth through sixth
  • Medium, reflecting grade levels eighth through tenth
  • High, reflecting grade levels twelfth and beyond

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