Compass Test OverviewThe ACT Compass test is a placement test that many colleges use in their admissions processes. The Compass tests include modules in reading, writing skills, essay writing, math and English as a Second Language (ESL). Colleges use the Compass test for different purposes, including: placement, diagnostics and demographic analysis. For placement purposes, colleges use a student’s scores on their Compass test to place the student in the level of courses that are most appropriate to the skill levels. Colleges also use the tests to identify specific areas that a student may need remedial help. Finally, some colleges use the tests to gain a better understanding of a student’s overall needs.

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Compass Test Format Overview

The ACT Compass test is a computerized test that has no time limits. The Compass tests are broken down into five modules: math, reading, writing, writing essay and English as a Second Language (ESL). Except for the essay, all of the questions on the Compass test are multiple choice.

Compass Math

The Compass Math test is used to evaluate a student’s mathematical abilities in areas such as basic operations, applied math, and analysis. Students are expected to perform sequences of basic math operation, apply math concepts to solve problems, and analyze situations by demonstrating an understanding of the principles and practices of mathematical operations. The Compass math test includes questions in the following five areas:

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra
  • College Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry

Compass Reading

The Compass reading test is intended to evaluate whether a student’s reading comprehension is sufficient for standard entry-level college courses. Students will be presented with reading passages and expected to use their reasoning and referring skills to: locate important details, identify main themes, make comparisons and understand sequences of events. The passages presented will be from the following types:

  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Natural Sciences
  • Practical Reading
  • Prose Fiction

Compass Writing Skills

The Compass Writing test evaluates a student’s skills with respect to written communications. Specifically, the Compass Writing test will present reading passages and require a student to find and correct errors in mechanics and usage in the following areas:

  • Basic grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Sentence structure
  • Organization
  • Strategy
  • Style

Compass Writing Essay Test (e-Write)

The Compass Writing Essay test is intended to provide a direct measure of a student’s writing ability. The essay is often used in combination with the Compass writing skills test to determine the appropriate level of English course that a student should be placed in. Students are presented with a writing prompt that poses an issue or defines a problem. The writing prompt also describes two points of view. The student’s essay is based on their response to a question about their view on the presented issue. The scoring on the essay includes scores in the following areas:

  • Style – use of language that supports and enhances the presentation
  • Content – appropriate development of the topic including supporting examples
  • Focus – presenting a clear and consistent point of view
  • Organization – use of logical and coherent presentation of ideas
  • Conventions – use of appropriate punctuation, spelling, grammar and usage.

Compass English as a Second Language (ESL) Test

The Compass ESL test is an optional test that is intended to evaluate a non-native English speaker’s readiness for entry-level college courses. The Compass ESL test is comprised of four sections:

ESL Listening – measures a student’s listening skills. Students are presented with spoken passages that range from beginning level ESL to higher proficiency levels with heightened speech rates and increased vocabulary and diction.
ESL Reading – students are presented reading passages and expected to demonstrate their referring and reasoning skills. Students may also be asked to interpret charts, tables, photographs and map directions.
ESL Grammar/Usage – measures a student’s comprehension of sentence elements and sentence structure/syntax. Students will be evaluated on their understanding of:

    • Verbs
    • Subjects and objects
    • Modifiers
    • Function words
    • Punctuation
    • Capitalization
    • Word formation
    • Word order
    • Spelling
    • Relationship between clauses

ESL Essay (ESL e-Write) – students’ writing is evaluated in the areas of language usage, focus, organization, theme development and mechanics.

The ACT Compass test is a placement test used by colleges to evaluate an incoming student’s readiness for entry-level college courses. The majority of colleges give the test to already admitted students during their freshman orientation. Some schools, however, use the test as part of their admissions process especially for specific programs (such as Nursing). The Compass test is given via computer and has no time limits. Students are allowed to use calculators that meet the ACT calculator specification. A student’s scores are immediately presented and the score report will provide information on course placement and registration information that is specific to the school that administers the test.

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