COMPASS Placement Assessment

COMPASS is a computerized test that assesses skills in math, reading and writing. It determines which course levels in those subjects students should start with for college success.

Back to Top Why is COMPASS important?

Don't underestimate the importance of the COMPASS Placement

  • Placing lower than your ability can mean additional semesters in math, writing, or reading courses that may not count toward your degree.
  • Your math scores will determine the specific level of college courses you must take to be successful.
  • Preparation for COMPASS can save you time and money by placing you in the highest level course for your abilities.

Back to Top Can I retake the assessment?

Yes, if:

  • You have taken the assessment only once before. You can retake it only once.
  • You haven't started in classes in the subject you want to have reassessed.

Back to Top How long will it take?

  • COMPASS is not timed. Most students spend about two hours taking it.
  • There are three parts—Reading, Writing and Math. You can take each part separately if you wish.

Back to Top Where do I go to take COMPASS?

You will go to a Testing Center at one of the three campuses, or you can schedule an appointment to take it at Scott Air Force Base or the East St. Louis Community College Center. See the Testing Center page for details.

Back to Top What is COMPASS like?

  • Untimed
  • Administered on a computer
  • Multiple choice
  • Adaptive: Your answer to each question determines the next question and affects your placement.
  • You cannot go back and change answers. You cannot skip questions.
  • Three parts: Reading, Writing Skills and Math

Back to Top General COMPASS Tips

  • Spend at least a week to study and review.
  • Get lots of rest the night before and take COMPASS at the time of day when you're at your best.
  • Take your time. Don't worry about how quickly other people seem to be finishing.
  • You can’t skip questions, and every answer affects your placement. So give every question your best.
  • If you get stuck on a question, try checking each and every answer to see if it fits.
  • If you must guess, increase your chance of answering correctly by eliminating incorrect answers.
  • Relax. If you've studied and do your best, COMPASS will place you in the course levels where you'll be most successful.

Back to Top Prepare for the Math Portion

Tips for math preparation

  • Spend at least a week to study and review.
  • Take your time. Don't worry about how quickly other people seem to be finishing.
  • A calculator and scratch paper are provided. Use them.
  • Write down each question and work it out on paper. Do not try to do it in your head.
  • If you must guess, increase your chance answering correctly by eliminating incorrect answers.
  • Relax. If you've studied and do your best, COMPASS will place you in the course levels where you'll be most successful.

Practice before taking COMPASS

InterAct Math: Practice based on your previous class or current COMPASS placement. Use this table to choose the appropriate book.

InterAct Math book choice
Previous classCOMPASS placementBook to choose
Pre-AlgebraMath 93 (Level 10)Martin-Gay: Basic College Mathematics with Early Integers, 2e
OR Universal Course: Algebra Readiness
Basic Algebra, Algebra IMath 94 (Level 20)Bittinger: Introductory Algebra, 11e
Intermediate Algebra, Algebra IIMath 97 (Level 30)Lial: Intermediate Algebra, 11e
College AlgebraMath 112 (Level 40)Blitzer: College Algebra: An Early Functions Approach, 3e
Trigonometry, PrecalculusMath 114 (Level 50)Lial: Trigonometry, 10e
OR Algebra Review for Calculus

Still have concerns?

Contact Mathematics Department Chair Keven Hansen at or 618-235-2700, ext. 5611.

Back to Top Prepare for the Writing Portion

The COMPASS assessment for writing largely focuses on editing skills. Much of the assessment involves choosing the most correct version of a given sentence or passage.

Brush up on your weakest editing skills

Before you take COMPASS, review the writing errors you make most frequently, so you will know how to recognize and fix them.

Try to HEAR the sentences in your head

Sometimes, listening to how a sentence sounds will help you decide whether the sentence is correct or incorrect.

More resources from the Success Center

Visit the Success Center study resources page and use the links for Eng 91, Eng 101 and Eng 102.

Back to Top Prepare for the Reading Portion

The reading portion of COMPASS presents passages of text followed by a series of questions to test your understanding of the text.

You cannot go back to a passage once all questions for that passage have been answered. The following strategies can help.

Spot reading

Scan the passage. Look at the sub-headings to see what the sub-topics are. If there are no sub-headings, you can look at the introduction to get a sense of the author's purpose. You can also check the conclusion which may be a summary of main ideas. In a passage of several paragraphs, you can look at the opening sentences of each paragraph. Ultimately, you will need to read the entire passage with care.

Signal words/phrases

Transitions-whether they are words, phrases or sentences-at the beginning and end of each paragraph can be telling. So can words within the paragraph such as however or on the other hand, which show a contrast or switch in direction. The words therefore, so, or consequently show results or relationships; the words likewise and also show additional support for a point.

Background knowledge

Pause to think about what you already may know about this topic. If you know something about the topic, you may read with greater purpose.

Read questions first

Sometimes it's helpful to read the questions first, then the passage, so you know what to look for as you read.

Visual cues

Use visual elements to plan and predict. For example, bold-faced words and bulleted lists can help you determine the most important elements of the text. The author wanted to emphasize or highlight those ideas, so they must be important.


Read the passage two or three times. Good readers return to challenging passages to squeeze out more meaning each time. 

Context clues

Rereading the passage may allow you to figure out the approximate meaning of words that are unfamiliar. Sometimes a word's meaning becomes clearer when you consider the ideas being discussed and the supporting examples or details found in the sentence or nearby sentences.

Video guidance

Compass Reading Preparation - This video from another educational institution explains how to use the process of elimination and how to answer the main idea question.