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COMPASS Test Study Guide

Updated on March 20, 2011

What Is The COMPASS Test?

The COMPASS Test is a collection of math and English skill assessment tests administered to incoming college freshmen. The results of the test are used by college administrators to place students into math and English classes of a suitable difficulty.

COMPASS offers placement tests for reading, writing, math, and ESL. Sometimes a combination of the tests are taken all at once.

The COMPASS Math Test

The COMPASS Math Placement Test focuses on five core subjects:

  1. Numerical Skills/Pre-Algebra
  2. Algebra
  3. College Algebra
  4. Geometry
  5. Trigonometry

The test is administered via computer, and generates one multiple choice question at a time. The testing software is programmed to produce new questions based on the test-taker's performance on previous questions. Question difficulty gradually increases until the questions are above the ability of the test-taker, at which point the testing software terminates the exam and produces a score report.

COMPASS English Tests

The COMPASS English Tests include reading, writing skills and essay tests. In many cases only the reading and writing tests are required.

The reading test consists of reading different passages, then answering multiple choice questions about the passages. The test focuses on a student's vocabulary and reading comprehension.

The writing skills test is a multiple choice exam that tests students' abilities to locate and correct errors in passages. The test focuses on grammar and composition.

The essay test requires the student to write a short essay arguing for a position on a given issue. Like the other tests, this test is graded automatically by a computer. The essay is graded on the following areas:

  1. Focus
  2. Content
  3. Organization
  4. Style
  5. Conventions


The COMPASS English as a Second Language (ESL) tests are designed to assess the listening, reading, and writing skills of students whose native language is not English.

There are four ESL tests:

  1. ESL Listening
  2. ESL Reading
  3. ESL Grammar
  4. ESL Essay

Why You Should Study For The COMPASS Test

Studying for the COMPASS Test will lead to a better performance and more class options. By obtaining a better score you'll likely be able to skip one or more basic math and English classes, and get a head start towards your degree.

The math and English topics covered on the COMPASS Test are no more advanced than what you should have been exposed to in high school. Merely reviewing these topics before taking the test can make a big difference.

Depending on your background you may only need to take the English or math portion of the test, so prepare for whichever is applicable.


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