COMPASS® Test Breakdown

This test is designed to determine the skill level of students in the following areas:

  • Reading (includes questions that cover a variety of topics, such as humanities, prose fiction, social sciences, natural sciences, and practical reading)
  • Writing (tests a student’s knowledge of basic grammar, usage, punctuation, and sentence structure, along with his or her ability to improve the organization, style, and content of a given passage)
  • Math (measures numerical skills and knowledge of pre-algebra, algebra, college-level algebra, geometry, and trigonometry concepts)
  • ESL (determines the student’s ability to understand both spoken and written English)
    Each of the areas listed above is assessed with a different test. A student may be asked to take one, two, three, or all of the exams, depending on the college or university’s requirements. The questions on the COMPASS test are multiple choice, and the number of questions each student must answer varies depending on his or her skill level.


The COMPASS test score is based on the percentage of questions the student answers correctly. This percentage is weighted based on how many questions the student answers at each difficulty level.
The COMPASS test is usually given at the colleges and universities that require them. Sometimes, however, students will need to find a remote testing location. Students should check with each school or institution to determine its specific registration procedures and fees for taking the exam. Review a COMPASS test study guide or study using COMPASS test flashcards so that you strengthen any areas that might be more difficult for you on the test.

Most schools give the COMPASS during freshman orientation to students who have already been admitted. Some colleges and universities require students to take one or more COMPASS tests before enrolling in a specific course of study. Students should check with their advisor, counselor, or Office of Student Services to see which, if any, of the COMPASS exams they will be required to take.