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Skills Required for the Writing Section of COMPASS


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How Are Your Writing Skills Tested in COMPASS Writing?

Used by many colleges and educational institutions in the United States, the COMPASS is an evaluative and diagnostic test that helps colleges/institutions decide the best possible courses for students. The Writing tests measure the students' writing abilities and skills for college-readiness and accordingly help place them in appropriate level of courses. 

What Is the COMPASS Writing Test?

A computerized, customizable package of untimed tests, the COMPASS is both diagnostic and evaluative in nature. Moreover, there are no pass or fail criteria for this exam. The Writing part of COMPASS testing includes three different tests as follows:

  • Writing Skills placement test
  • Writing Skills diagnostic test
  • Writing Essay test

These tests are administered to freshmen who have already applied to an institution and have been admitted to programs. Some colleges might also want students to take up one or more of these tests before registering. It should also be noted that not all applicants should take up all the tests; the testing is customized as per the needs of and the courses being offered at individual institutions. (http://www.act.org/compass/student/index.html).

Writing Tests - Sections, Question Types, and Test Duration

The Writing Skills placement test aids institutions to determine whether students can handle entry-level college courses with writing loads (for example, a writing course) or will need preparation programs for completing such courses. During the test, students are provided with multiple-choice questions, from the following areas:

  • Usage and Writing Mechanics
    • Basic grammar and usage
    • Punctuation
    • Sentence structureMathematics
  • Rhetorical Skills
    • Organization
    • Strategy
    • Styles

The questions expect students to demonstrate their skills in grammar, rhetoric and usage, and also correct any errors. You can find sample questions at: http://www.act.org/compass/sample/write-s.html

The Writing Skills diagnostic test assesses the examinees' skills and knowledge in eight writing skills domains; accordingly, colleges can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each student, identify any problem areas, and plan for remedial measures, if required.

The Writing Essay test has one single writing task prompt for students to answer in detail. Students are to write a response by taking a stance on the given topic or issue, and substantiate their answers by giving supporting arguments to the position they take. Sample e-Write or Writing Essay prompts are available at the official website (http://www.act.org/compass/sample/essay.html).

It should also be noted that none of these tests are timed. Test takers can take up their own time and complete each test at their leisure, under no pressure. The tests are designed to bring out the best in you in different writing areas, and hence provide you with ample time to think and write your responses.

How are the Writing Tests Important?

As the COMPASS tests help the colleges analyze and understand each student's levels and skills, it is possible for each student to join courses that befit their current skills. Thus, this exam is a measure that can help you change your future. As a diagnostic test also administered, the Writing tests help in foreseeing any issues in your course and then suggest any extra/supporting programs for specific writing areas.

Thus, if you are planning to join a higher education institute in the country, it is important that you learn in advance about the COMPASS, including the Writing tests. Even if you are not interested in taking up a writing program at college, these tests may be critical to you, as they help administrators decide your college-readiness for the program that you are interested in.


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