Structure of the Compass Reading Section

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Many incoming freshman college students are required to take the Compass Reading Test. This lesson explains the structure of the reading portion of the Compass Test, and it provides sample questions so you can approach the test with confidence.

What Is the ACT Compass Test?

Whether you're getting ready for college or earning your degree, you know that college preparation is an exciting time. There's much to do, from celebrating the completion of high school to trying to select a major. High school graduates may think their standardized testing days are behind them, but hold on! Many colleges require incoming freshmen to take the Compass Test.

The test is produced by ACT and was originally named the Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System. The Compass Test is a computerized exam used to determine the appropriate level of college courses for the test-taker. Unlike many other standardized tests, the Compass Test is untimed. Additionally, there are no failing or passing scores on the Compass Test. Rather, the scores serve to guide colleges in placing students in the right classes according to their skills in math, writing, and reading.

The Compass Test is computerized and often taken in college testing centers.
Computers in a college Testing Center

What is the Compass Reading Section?

Let's look specifically at the structure of the Compass Reading Test, which is the section of the Compass that measure your skills in reading. It's used to determine a student's likelihood of success in standard-level English and literature college courses. The reading section is particularly significant because college courses in all subjects generally require a heavy reading workload. That's why academic experts say that it's important to identify students in need of academic support for reading skills. Without receiving prompt academic support, these students could find themselves behind in many of their courses--not just English classes.

Structure of the Compass Reading Section

The Compass reading test is divided into two parts. Let's take a look at each:

Reading Placement Test

The reading section starts with a placement test. This portion is a general, multiple-choice exam designed to evaluate the student's basic reading skills using different reading passages. The reading passages include these five categories:

  • Practical reading
  • Humanities
  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Prose fiction

These reading comprehension questions come in two types: referring and reasoning. Referring questions ask about information explicitly stated in a passage. For example, a referring question might read, 'According to the passage, what percentage of dogs have one blue eye and one brown eye?'

Reasoning questions assess the student's ability to think critically, make inferences and understand more complex, abstract content in the passage. For example, a reasoning question might read, 'What is the most reasonable conclusion as to why Bob believes blue-eyed dogs bring good luck?' This information won't be explicitly stated in the passage. The student must draw a conclusion from facts given in the material.

Note that the reading passages and questions are adaptive. This means they progress in difficulty as the student answers correctly. Correct answers on the easier, or introductory, questions are worth fewer points than correct answers on more difficult questions. The test ends when Compass collects enough data to determine the student's current reading skills and suggest a corresponding placement level.

The placement test is scored on a scale from zero to 100. Many colleges require remedial reading placement or extra academic support for students scoring 70 or below.

Reading Diagnostics Test

The second part of the reading section is the diagnostics tests. This portion is used to pinpoint a student's specific reading deficiencies so that those areas can be properly addressed. Some colleges allow certain students to forego this portion if they perform well on the placement portion. For example, many colleges require the diagnostic tests only from those students who score below a 90 on the placement test.

Like the placement test, the diagnostics tests are multiple-choice, use reading passages, and are adaptive. Three separate components comprise the diagnostics tests:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Vocabulary in context
  • Reader profile

Let's take a quick look at each of these components:

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