October 7, 2015


COMPASS is a compilation of placements tests administered by some universities. The purpose of COMPASS is to determine the appropriate academic levels of incoming students in order to place them in the proper classes. COMPASS is a tool used to evaluate which classes would be most suitable for which students in order to maximize everyone’s academic experience. COMPASS is an acronym that stands for Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System.

COMPASS exams are offered in a variety of subject areas, including math, writing, reading, essay writing, and English as a second language. You college may or may not require you to take COMPASS exams in certain subject areas each institution makes its own regulations about the exams it requires. So, some colleges may require incoming students to take the reading COMPASS exam, and others may require incoming students to take the math COMPASS exam. Check with your college to see which tests you will need to take, then you can begin to prepare.
There is no passing or failing score on COMPASS exams. Rather, these exams are used as a tool to assess your current level of aptitude. Your performance on COMPASS exams should be a reflection of your educational experiences thus far, not a result of how well you prepared by memorizing a set of information. However, just because COMPASS is intended to measure skills you developed over a long period of time does not mean that you cannot prepare for the exam in order to do your best. Reviewing math and writing skills that you have acquired over the years is one way to refresh your memory in order to ensure that you get the highest COMPASS scores possible.

After you receive the results of your COMPASS exams, you can plan your schedule for your first semester or quarter of college. Some colleges may use your COMPASS exam results as a means to determine what classes you should take and may rely exclusively on your COMPASS exam results for placement. Other colleges may take a more lenient approach and use your COMPASS exam results instead as a means to inform decisions about your schedule, allowing you more leeway to interpret your class needs based on your COMPASS performance. Regardless of the policies at your college, if you think your COMPASS scores do not adequately reflect your academic capabilities, talk with your college counselor or adviser about your options.

Each college will have its own administrational procedures for administering COMPASS exams. Some will require all incoming students to take certain COMPASS exams during their college orientation. Other schools may require you to complete several COMPASS exams before you arrive on campus. If this is the case, your college can provide you with information on where and when to schedule your COMPASS exams, as well as which exams you need to take.

There is no time limit for COMPASS exams, so you can take as long as you need to complete the test and do not have to worry about pacing yourself. COMPASS exams are administered on a computer, so if you are able, you should become familiar with the software before the day of your exam. Because the test is computerized, you can receive your scores immediately upon completion of each COMPASS exam. Often, your scores will be accompanied with recommendations of which subject areas need improvement in order to help you determine your class schedule.

Depending on your college or university, COMPASS score reports may also list specific class recommendations as well as registration information. Some schools provide charts that help you utilize your score report in order to determine your classes. For example, they may list various ranges of scores next to classes that you are encouraged to take if your scores fall within those ranges. Many colleges will accept COMPASS scores from exams taken elsewhere if the scores are from within the last two years.

Reading and Writing Placement Through COMPASS

The reading and writing skills portions of COMPASS exams are designed to assess your ability to comprehend information and communicate information at a college level. Those who do not score highly on reading and writing sections of COMPASS may require additional coursework through their college in order to improve their skills and succeed in college-level courses.

Reading questions on COMPASS exams are all multiple choice. The COMPASS exam questions are set up in such a way that a reading passage is presented on the left side of your computer screen and questions that correspond with that reading passage are displayed on the right side of your computer screen. That way, you can reference the passage as much as you need to while answering the questions.

There are five subject areas of reading COMPASS questions. These categories are social studies, natural sciences, humanities, practical pieces, and fiction. Humanities pieces could include art, literature, music, or other artistically inclined material. The practical section could include consumer guides or other content designed to communicate basic information. COMPASS reading questions will require you to make inferences, recall content in a text, and comprehend hidden meaning. The difficulty level of reading questions can vary from basic recall of information to making complex analyses of an author’s intentions.

The writing skills COMPASS questions test your ability to correct an essay. You will be tested on objective elements such as correct grammar usage, punctuation, and sentence structure. You will also be tested on more subjective elements such as style, organization, and strategy.

Similar to the format of the reading COMPASS questions, an essay will appear on the left hand side of your computer screen and questions for you to answer will appear on the right hand side of your computer screen. However, you will not automatically be presented with the questions you need to answer. Rather, as you read through the essay, you will have to pick out potential errors yourself. When you come across something in the essay that you think is incorrect, roll the cursor of your mouse over that part of the text. Then a question will appear on the right hand side of the screen. The question will present five possible ways to correct the error you found. The first multiple choice answer will always be the possibility to leave the text as-is.

To make sure that you do not miss any errors in the essay, you may want to slowly roll the cursor of your mouse over the entirety of the text. That way, you will not inadvertently miss a question. Even if part of the text is correct, you will still need to choose the answer that the text does not need to be changed. Since COMPASS exams do not have a time limit, you do not have to worry about looking over the essay multiple times in order to ensure that you found all of the potential errors.

The writing skills COMPASS questions will also include several multiple choice questions relating to writing strategies used in the essay. There will always be two questions of this type, and they will appear after you have completed correcting the errors in the essay. These may include questions about how the author could alter or add to the essay in order to enhance a particular point.

The particular skills assessed on your reading or writing skills COMPASS exams will vary depending on the needs of your college. Pre-packaged COMPASS exams are available, but some colleges choose to customize their own exams in order to test skills particular to classes they offer. So, some colleges’ COMPASS exams might have a higher percentage of punctuation and grammatical questions, whereas other colleges’ COMPASS exams might have more rhetorical questions about language usage. Some colleges may wish to test reading passages in particular subject areas, while others may choose different reading passages for their COMPASS reading exams.

Essay Writing Placement Through COMPASS

While the writing skills COMPASS exam tests your ability to correct and improve an essay that someone else has written, the essay writing placement COMPASS exam gives you the opportunity to showcase your own writing skills by crafting an essay.

You will be provided with a writing prompt. The writing prompts for the essay writing COMPASS placement test revolve around an issue facing a particular community, usually a school setting. It will be your job to take a position on the issue and write a persuasive essay detailing why you believe your position is the best option.

While many other COMPASS placement tests are untimed, many colleges do set a time limit for the essay writing placement exam. Most colleges will give you an hour to complete the exam, but time can vary from institution to institution, so check with your college to confirm how much time you will have to write your COMPASS essay. Your essay will be judged based on five categories. The first category is how well you take a position on the topic. The particular position you take and opinions you express will not affect your score; what you are being evaluated on is how well you determine a clear position to take. The second category is the evidence you use to support your position. Again, you will not be judged on the particular examples you use, but on how well you relate your examples to supporting your position. The third category is your audience. Some writing prompts may be geared towards a specific audience, and your essay should be appropriate for addressing this audience. The fourth category is logic. Be sure the evidence you use in your essay is logical and that your essay is organized in a coherent manner. The final category is your control of language. Make sure you do your best to use correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and punctuation. Many errors can lead to confusion in reading your essay and may cloud your position on the prompt, so take care to avoid careless typos and mistakes.

You may find it helpful to go through the writing process of planning, writing, and then revising your essay. Because you will likely have a limited amount of time, you may not be able to go through the writing process as thoroughly as you may like, but touching on planning and revising at the beginning and end of your essay will help you create a better finished product.

Read the prompt several times and be sure you understand specifically what it is asking. Then make notes on a piece of scratch paper before you begin writing. List the evidence you will use to support your argument and any counter evidence that you may need to defend your position against. After you write these notes, think about how you will best organize them to form a logical essay. Think about what you need to state in your opening paragraph and in your conclusion.

Then, begin to write. Vary your sentence structure to keep your readers engaged. Also be sure to use words that help connect your thoughts such as therefore, however, and other similar connectors. This will help your readers follow your argument. You do not need to adhere to a particular length for your essay. The prompt will suggest writing between three hundred and six hundred words. However, it is better to be concise than to ramble on in order to meet a particular word count.

After you finish writing your essay, read through your writing at least once. This will give you the chance to correct any typos or inadvertent errors as well as an opportunity to tighten up your argument. Read your essay through the eyes of your prospective audience. If you think something needs more clarification, edit that section to be sure it clearly conveys your position.

Math Placement Through COMPASS

Math Placement Through COMPASSOne common use of COMPASS exams is to place incoming college students in a math class that is appropriate for their skill level and knowledge base. COMPASS math placement exams test knowledge of five core mathematics content areas: pre-algebra, algebra, college algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. COMPASS exams are customizable, so the specific content on your math placement exam will be determined by your college or university. Some colleges may decide to use pre-packaged COMPASS exams, while others will mix and match questions or add their own questions. You may need to take a COMPASS exam specific to one of the five areas of mathematical knowledge tested, or you may need to take a COMPASS exam specific to one or two of those areas, it all depends on how your college administers and uses the exam.

All questions on COMPASS math exams are multiple choice. Math COMPASS questions cover three skill levels. The first skill level is basic knowledge, which tests your ability to understand and recall mathematical concepts. The second skill level assesses how you can apply mathematical concepts to different situations. The third level takes the application of mathematical concepts a step further. Questions at the third level of difficulty require that you use mathematical concepts to analyze complex situations and, if necessary, draw your own conclusions, evaluate an idea, or determine for yourself how to apply mathematical concepts to real world scenarios.

Pre-algebra COMPASS test questions cover basic mathematical operations. This includes addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers, decimals, and fractions. You will also need to understand how to use percentages and how to convert ratios into percentages for a COMPASS pre-algebra examination. Statistical concepts are also included in the pre-algebra segment of COMPASS. The statistical component includes questions about finding the mean, median, and mode of a data set. The mean is the average of a set of numbers, the median is the value in the middle of the set of numbers, and the mode is the number that appears the most frequently.

Algebra questions on a COMPASS exam include concepts such as polynomials, linear equations with one or two variables (linear equations with two variables are also referred to as coordinate geometry, since they can be graphed on the XY coordinate plane), rational expressions, and substitutions. College algebra COMPASS questions are slightly more complex, and include concepts such as functions and complex numbers. Functions are equations in a format such as f(x) = 3x + 2. Complex numbers include numbers that are not real, such as the square root of negative one, also referred to as i.

The geometry questions on a COMPASS test cover angles and triangles. You should understand complementary and supplementary angles as well as what parallel lines can tell you about the angles of an intersecting line. Trigonometry questions included on COMPASS tests cover the trigonometric functions sine, cosine, and tangent, as well as their inverses secant, cosecant, and cotangent. You will also need to understand how use right triangles to solve real-world problems.

COMPASS is designed to test your knowledge of mathematical concepts and how to apply them, not your ability to perform basic operations. Therefore, most colleges will allow you to use a calculator on math COMPASS exams, as long as the calculator falls within the guidelines of acceptability. Your calculator must not be a laptop computer or cellular phone, a personal organizer, a model able to perform complex operations such as multiplication of polynomials or graphing functions, or have a QUERTY keyboard. For the comfort of other examinees, calculators that make noise are prohibited, unless they can be silenced. Calculators that need to be plugged into an electrical outlet are also forbidden, as are models that have a paper roll attached. If you do not have your own calculator to use, you can use an online calculator provided with the exam.

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