Breakdown of COMPASS

Question Types Covered in COMPASS Test

Used by many colleges or other higher education institutes in the country today, the ACT COMPASS test is an evaluation tool that helps colleges decide the best possible course for each applicant. An untimed, customizable battery of different subject tests, the COMPASS lets institutions evaluate students’ academic skills and levels. Hence, for those seeking higher education in the country, it is essential to look at the test content.

What Is the COMPASS Test?

The COMPASS is a computerized and untimed test comprising of different customizable subject tests. Moreover, there are no pass or fail criteria in this test; it is rather evaluative and diagnostic in purpose, helping colleges analyze and understand the academic abilities and skill levels of students, understand any weaker and stronger areas, and accordingly place them in classes that are appropriate to their skill levels.

While some colleges require that the COMPASS test be administered to freshmen who have already enrolled to courses, some others might also require applicants to take up a COMPASS test before enrolling (

What Is On the COMPASS Test?

To answer questions about the test sections, let us first take a look at the different subject tests included in COMPASS. They are:

  • The Reading test
  • The Writing test
  • The Mathematics test
  • The Writing Essay test
  • The English as a Second Language (ESL) test

However, the COMPASS being a customizable test battery, the tests included in each administration can be decided by the institution conducting the test. That is, not all test takers take the same COMPASS tests.

Now, coming back to the query about test content, let us see what is included in each of these tests:

  • The Reading test is of two different types- placement test and diagnostic test. The Reading placement test includes comprehension passages from different areas like Natural Science; Humanities, Prose Fiction, Practical Reading, and Social Sciences. Multiple-choice questions based on the passages are what a candidate needs to answer on this test. The test includes questions that cover vocabulary, comprehension and reader profile sections.

  • The Writing Skills placement test is a great aid in determining whether test takers can handle entry-level college courses that require extensive writing loads, or will need developmental writing programs. In this test, there are multiple choice questions that require students to demonstrate their skills in language usage, punctuation, basic grammar, sentence structure, organization and style. In addition, the Writing Skills diagnostic test, on the other hand, includes multiple choice questions covering eight writing skill domains.

  • The Mathematics placement test also includes multiple-choice questions that check the test takers in basic arithmetic operations and skills, their ability to apply basic skills under various situations, and in their analytical power and conceptual understanding areas. Pre-algebra or numerical ability, Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry, and Geometry are the areas that are included in this COMPASS test. Now to check what is included in Mathematics diagnostic, there are 15 tests included, seven in pre-Algebra and eight in Algebra.

  • The Writing Essay test is the only COMPASS test that does not contain multiple-option questions. It includes only one writing task prompt, for which the test takers are expected to provide a detailed response. Moreover, each test taker is expected to a particular view point on the given issue and substantiate the answer by giving supporting arguments to the position taken up.

  • The ESL Test includes reading, listening, and grammar and usage questions for foreign students to evaluate their English language skills as required for day-to-day and academic lives.

To understand more on what is on the COMPASS test, visit You may also download PDF, sample questions here.

We should also understand that the COMPASS is an untimed test. It is encouraged that test takers take necessary steps and time to answer each question, and clear any doubts and have instructions understood properly, and then arrive at their answers. That is, each one of you can take the test at your own pace. You may even guess your answers, as there is no negative scoring involved.

How is the COMPASS Test Important?

As a test that helps the college understand your levels and skills, and accordingly help place you in courses that befit your current skill levels, the COMPASS is a critical test for any college aspirant. The test also helps colleges decide the required developmental programs for students based on the diagnostic view of the test results. Thus, it can be said that the sections of this test are decided after much deliberation, so as to help in the purpose of placement and admission.

Having a better idea of this exam, is thus, critically important if you are seeking higher education in the country. You can also see that the test content varies based on the course you are taking up and also on the institute you are enrolling. Apart from learning about the test from various sources, therefore, it is also vital that you learn the institute-specific stuff on COMPASS testing, much in advance.

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