Details About the COMPASS

What skills does the COMPASS test examine?

The test determines the preparedness of a student to take up a college-level course. It is a computer adaptive test. That means every question you answer correctly directs the computer to go higher in difficulty. It is also an untimed test. So you can spend any amount of time on any question in any section. This is because the test is to determine the knowledge level of the candidate post admission, so that appropriate courses can be assigned to him.

What follows is a brief introduction to the skills tested in the exam, the question types and the importance of pacing the exam well.

  1. Introduction:

    The test is usually administered in colleges to determine how proficient a student is to take advanced level courses administered in colleges. While there is no pass or fail criteria in the test, it is only for the student to know which courses he should opt for to make the maximum of his studies.

  2. Skills:

    The COMPASS exam tests for reading, writing and mathematics skills.

    Reading skills: There are five kinds of reading comprehension pages that are included in the Reading skills section. Some of them are based on humanities and practical reading. Samples for these can be found on the official site. One great site that provides good reading practice exam is

    Mathematic Skills: The Math section tests basic skills, application and analysis. The questions are usually based on Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. A link for brushing up your basic algebra skills is given below:

    Writing Skills: The Writing skills section tests for proficiency in areas such as punctuation and grammar. While there is no actual essay writing involved in the Writing Skills test, the test is performed by method of asking to find and correct essays displayed on the screen. The Writing Essay test, on the other hand, tests ability to write essays based on a given scenario. A great link that provides practice exam is

  3. Time duration:

    Since it is an untimed test, the duration you spend on a question will not jeopardize your overall score. However it is important not to spend too much time on a question, because doing so will only cause anxiety.

  4. Importance of preparation:

    While there is no passing and failing score in the exam, preparation is important to brush up basic skills. There are many sites available on the internet that will let you brush up your basic skills in grammar and mathematics for free.

  5. Results and Scoring:

    The exam is a Computer Adaptive Test, and therefore the results and scores are available instantaneously.

  6. General Tips :

    Like any other exam, the best way to take the test is to stay calm, composed and hydrated. Understanding the directions and intelligently guessing answers by eliminating wrong answer choices is helpful to score right the first time. An important point to note is that there is no negative marking or penalty for wrong answers, so you must guess even if you do not know the right answers. For writing essay, a good tip is to plan your essay in points on a scratch paper (ask one if you are not provided with it) and then after you have all your thoughts organised, begin writing, and conclude by reviewing what you have written. The essay should be crisp and easy to follow, with a structured introduction, main body and conclusion if possible.

  7. Retesting:

    While scores do not increase drastically with each retake attempt, it is advisable to retest if you missed most questions because of 'not remembering' rather than a lack of skill. The retest can carry a cost, but there is no harm in retesting if you think the exam does not reflect your actual ability.

In conclusion, the test is only an indicator of courses that a college student must take to make better use of his college studies. If you forget to brush up on your basics, the test score will not reflect your true potential, and consequently, you might be required to take up courses that are elementary. It is therefore beneficial that you prepare well in advance for the test.