COMPASS as an Assessment Tool

How Does COMPASS Test Assess Your Skills?

A customizable battery of different tests, the COMPASS test lets institutions evaluate, diagnose, and place students to courses appropriate to their academic skills and levels. Hence, this assessment is an inevitable and essential process while seeking higher education in the United States; learn more about the test and its importance here.

What is the COMPASS?

The COMPASS is a computerized package of untimed tests that evaluates applicants’ skills and knowledge levels, and accordingly enables the colleges select the appropriate courses for each student. The test package also helps colleges diagnose the strong and weak areas of students, suggest any extra courses for strengthening any weaker areas, and thus, plan for eliminating any kinds of interferences in their learning processes.

There is no pass or fail criteria in this test. The test score reports are available after test completion only, and generally include placement information, too. While many institutions administer the test to students who have already enrolled, some also insist that the applicants must take up the test before enrolling.

For more information on the assessment, refer to the official website:

How Does the COMPASS Test Assess Students’ Skills and Academic Levels?

The COMPASS test is designed to include different essential areas of testing at college level to fulfill its intended purpose of aiding in course selection and suggesting extra course works for improvements. Also, there are placement and diagnostic tests in each area to cater to the different requirements. Different subject areas included in the assessment are:

  • The Writing test (placement and diagnostic)
  • The Writing Essay test
  • The Reading test (both placement and diagnostic)
  • The Mathematics test (placement and diagnostic)
  • The English as a Second Language (ESL) test

It should also be noted that the COMPASS is customizable as per the needs of the organization conducting the test. That is, not everyone taking the assessment may have to take all the tests.

Topics covered in each of the tests, and the questions included are carefully chosen to aid in the purpose of the assessment process. Sample questions for all the tests are available online at You may also find downloadable questions here.

Content areas included in each of the placement and diagnostic tests are as below:

  • While the Reading placement test tries to evaluate the examinees’ reading ability levels required for successfully completing college courses, the Reading diagnostic test checks the need for development reading courses to improve the existing skills. Comprehension passages from different areas like Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, prose fiction, and practical reading, are included in the placement test with multiple-choice questions. The diagnostic test includes questions based on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and reader profile sections.
  • The Writing Skills placement test helps in deciding whether students can handle entry-level courses with considerable writing loads, or will need preparation courses to reach the required level. During the test, students have to answer multiple-choice questions to correct errors, and demonstrate their skills in grammar and usage, punctuation, sentence structure, content organization and style of writing, strategy, etc. The Writing Skills diagnostic test evaluates the skills in eight writing domains to diagnose the level and type of courses required for updating the skills and levels.
  • The Mathematics placement test includes multiple-choice questions that require expertise in basic skills and arithmetic operations, application of skills, and analysis and understanding of concepts. The diagnostic test, at the same time, includes 15 more tests from pre-algebra and algebra.
  • The Essay Writing Test includes one single writing task question or prompt. Examinees are supposed to write a detailed response by taking a stance, and giving supporting arguments to the position they take up.
  • The ESL Test includes multiple-choice questions to test the students’ skills in listening, reading, grammar and usage. This test is for ESL students to evaluate their English language skills for day-to-day as well as academic purposes.

Yet another important point about the assessment is that all the tests included are untimed. Examinees are encouraged to complete the tests in no hurry, and at their own pace, under least pressure; this helps ensure that the true potentials and ability levels of each candidate are reflected accurately and objectively in the assessment. It is advised that candidates may even guess their answers, as each answered questions is adding more clarity to the evaluation purpose, and also because negative marking is not included.

Why is the COMPASS Important?

As the test helps the college understand their students better, it is possible for students to get placed in the best course that suits their academic skills and levels. Thus, this assessment test can make far-reaching effects in the life of each student seeking higher education. The tests also help plan for probable difficulties in the course works and take on remedial measures, based on the diagnostic assessment of weaker areas. If planning for higher studies in the US, it is therefore, important that students learn more about the COMPASS test and accordingly be ready for it.

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