Detailed Review of the COMPASS

What questions types are expected in COMPASS

The COMPASS test is a college placement test that is used by educators to put students in appropriate courses. It is a computer adaptive test, which means that if you were to answer a question correctly, you will receive a more difficult question next. If you fail to answer that question correctly, you will receive an easier question next. Thus, it will adjust to the skill level of the test taker.

This examination has the following areas or sections:

  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Writing Skills
  • Writing Essay (e-Write)

It is important to note that this test is an untimed test, and therefore there is no time pressure to answer questions. This is a marked departure from other competitive exams because it is only a test to identify the areas that a student must improve on after his admission, and not a test that decides the admission itself.

Students are tested in four areas and the questions in each section are different than those in the other sections. Here is the description of the question types in each section:

  1. Mathematics:

    The math section is included to test the student in areas of basic skills, application and analysis. Consequently, the questions are based on the grasp of students on performing sequential operations, applying them in different settings and understanding of mathematical operations. Use of calculator is allowed and it is also provided on the computer screen in case you forget to bring one. To perform well in this section, it is important that a sincere effort is made in practicing questions covering all topics.

  2. Reading:

    The Reading section of the COMPASS consists of two categories, which are referring and reasoning. The referring kind of questions will be based on information specified in the passage, while the reasoning kind of questions will be based on the information that can be derived from the passage. A smarter way to handle this section is to first skim the passage, look at the questions, and then read through the passage in a more detailed manner.

  3. Writing Skills:

    This section consists of correcting passage(s) and not writing them. The motive is to assess the skills of a student in

    • Punctuation
    • Grammar
    • Sentence structure
    • Organization
    • Strategy
    • Style

    The questions are based on identifying and correcting incorrect sentences in a passage. Native speakers of English often ignore this section, but the best way to perform in this section is to solve some practice tests available online and then trying to look for keywords and phrases which are often confusing and incorrect.

  4. Writing Essay:

    The Writing Essay section requires you to write an essay based on an issue with two points of view. You are expected to take one position and write about it. It assesses the following:

    • Style
    • Organization
    • Content
    • Focus
    • Convention

    This section can best be handled by improving your vocabulary using flash cards and making use of difficult words as often as possible.

Apart from these four sections mentioned above, the parent body of the COMPASS also offer an ESL test for non-native English speakers. This is a separate test and is an approved ATB test. It consists of questions comprising of Listening, Reading, Grammar and Essay. A more detailed and thorough understanding of all the sections can be derived from the official site at:

The site also provides sample questions in a free downloadable pdf format. There are books available on Amazon, dedicated to this exam but keep in mind that choosing a good publisher is vital, since most questions on mathematics sections are objective and incorrect answer keys can become time wasters.

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