The Compass Test: What You Need to Know

The COMPASS test is actually a series of computerized tests which were written by ACT, Inc. It is administered by a number of colleges and universities and is used to determine course placement. Find out everything you need to know about the COMPASS test here.

What Is the COMPASS Exam?

The COMPASS is a computerized test used by many different schools to evaluate skills and place students in appropriate college courses. Unlike many other standardized tests, COMPASS tests are not timed. There are several different tests offered in the COMPASS series:

  • Reading - The multiple choice reading placement test evaluates reading skills with five types of reading comprehension questions (practical reading, humanities, prose fiction, social sciences and natural sciences.)
  • Writing - The multiple choice writing skills placement test evaluates knowledge of punctuation, capitalization, spelling, verb formation/agreement, usage, clauses, shifts in construction and organization.
  • Mathematics - The multiple choice math placement test evaluates basic skills in five subject areas (pre-algebra, algebra, college algebra, trigonometry and geometry).
  • Writing Essay - The writing essay test evaluates essay writing skills with one writing prompt.
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) - The ESL test evaluates a non-native English speaker's skills in four areas (listening, reading, grammar/usage and essay writing.)

When Should I Take the COMPASS Test?

Most colleges and universities offer COMPASS tests to students during an orientation period (typically between August and November). October is usually a big month for COMPASS tests.

Many students who are enrolling in freshman courses have to take at least a part of the COMPASS test. Some schools will allow students to skip certain COMPASS tests, such as reading, writing and math, if they score well on the ACT.

How Can I Prepare for the COMPASS Test?

COMPASS test scores are important because they will determine your placement in the first classes you take. If you do well on COMPASS tests, you might be able to skip over preparatory courses that will review information you're already familiar with.

You can prepare for COMPASS tests by completing's COMPASS preparation courses. These courses have been designed to help you study for these specific exams and include self-assessment quizzes and exams. The courses available are:

How Will the COMPASS Test be Scored?

The COMPASS test does not use a pass/fail system. However, there are some schools that require you to score above a certain number if you wish to skip preparatory classes.

COMPASS test scores are typically made available to you immediately following the test. Score reports almost always include information about the courses you have been placed in or are allowed to enroll in. If you didn't score well on the tests, you may be able to retest depending on your school's policy.

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