The English Test of the COMPASS

Section-wise Description of COMPASS English Test

The COMPASS test is an untimed, multiple-choice, computer-adaptive college placement test. This test has five sections namely, Math, Reading, Writing Skills, Writing Essay and English as a Second Language. The last four are the English sections. In order to help us understand these better, the details of the English section are described in this article.

The Reading Test

The test evaluates your abilities in reading comprehension, vocabulary and reader profile. Moreover, it helps to determine if the students have the basic reading skills that are essential to succeed in a standard entry-level college. There are five types of reading comprehension passages that are used for understanding the students’ reading skills in this test and these are:

  • Practical Reading
  • Prose Reading
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Natural Sciences

The Writing Skills Test

In this section, the students are required to identify and correct mistakes in the usage and mechanics of English language which include basic grammar, punctuation and sentence structure and rhetorical skills that include strategy, organization and style in essays. Student's skills in eight content domains are evaluated. These are:

  • Spelling
  • Capitalization
  • Usage
  • Shifts in construction
  • Organization
  • Punctuation
  • Verb formation/agreement
  • Relationships of clauses

The Writing Essay Test

This test is used for identifying the student's writing ability. In this test, the students are required to respond to a question describing their position on the issue given in the prompt. The writing prompt states a problem or an issue and two points of views on that issue are described. The scores are released either in a 2-8 or a 2-12 score scale. Sub-scores in the following areas are also provided:

  • Focus- Clarity and consistency in sticking to the main idea
  • Content- The way the primary idea is developed
  • Organization- The way the content is organized
  • Style- The language chosen to write
  • Conventions- The way the mechanics in grammar, usage, spelling and punctuations are controlled

English as a Second Language Test

This section of the COMPASS exam tests the abilities of non-native English speakers in four different areas. These areas are:

  • Listening- This assesses the student's understanding of the Standard American English. Remember, note-taking is allowed in this sub-section.
  • Reading- The student's referring and reasoning skills in recognizing and manipulating Standard American English are tested here.
  • Grammar/Usage- This area assesses the student's ability in recognizing and manipulating Standard American English in sentence elements and sentence structure and syntax areas.
  • Essay- The areas of development, use of language, organization, mechanics and focus are analyzed and scored in this sub-section.

Significance of the Test

The English section helps the educators understand the ability, skills and knowledge of the students in the above described areas of the English language section. The scores of the test help the educators in advising the students on the courses that are best suited for them.

There is no "passing score" for this test. Therefore, no student passes or fails in it. However, this is an important test because it determines the courses you can take up in college.

Preparation for the Test

Thorough preparation is essential because if a student gets a low score, he/she has to take up courses that will require time and money but will not add to the credits. There is no single book from which one can prepare for the test. However, many online practice tests and books are available that can be used for preparation. It has been proven that the more practice tests you attempt, the higher will be your score. Therefore, practice as many tests as possible.


This is an important test and it becomes simple if the students prepare for it sincerely. Hence, it is best advised that students brush up their basics of the English language before the test.