COMPASS is an untimed, computerized test used by the Seattle Colleges to evaluate your skills and place you into appropriate courses. Reading, writing, math, writing essay, and English as a Second Language (ESL) tests are offered. Your score report will inform you what math and English courses you should take so you can register.
Preparing for the COMPASS will help ensure the most accurate test results and the best placement for YOU.
A placement test is not like most traditional tests because there is no way to "pass" or "fail." A placement test is used to find a student's strengths and weaknesses, and to help determine where a student is ready to begin their coursework in math and English.
Some programs at the Seattle Colleges have specific placement test score requirements. (For instance, many programs require readiness for English 101.) You should check these requirements carefully. If you don't meet the program requirements, you will be placed in classes to help build your skills.
Most new students to the Seattle Colleges must take COMPASS to determine the math and English course where they will begin.
In some cases, if you have taken math and/or English classes at another college/university,the classes you took may make it possible to not have to take all or part of the COMPASS. You will need to provide a transcript for review.
Also, if you have recent COMPASS test scores from one of the other Seattle Colleges or another community college, and transfer them to your college, you may be able to use those test scores instead of taking the test again. Check with your college about guidelines for transferring test scores.
These are only general guidelines, so you should check with your college and program requirements.
For information on submitting a transcript for evaluation:
Most new students need to take both English and math COMPASS tests, although there may be exceptions. Check with your college or program. You should be especially careful if you are submitting transcripts. (see previous section). It is your responsibility to find out which COMPASS tests you need.
Do I need an English Test?
Even if you are not planning to take an English class, be aware that many classes have an English placement test requirement. This includes not just humanities classes, like history and sociology, but science and math classes as well.
Choosing a COMPASS English Test
There are two types of COMPASS tests for English, but you will need to take only one. If English is your native language, you will take the Standard COMPASS English Test. This test examines your skills in Standard American English and has two parts: Writing Skills and Reading Skills.
If English is not your native language (you read and write English but you speak another language at home, or most of the time) you may take the COMPASS English Second Language Test (ESL). The ESL COMPASS has three parts: Listening Skills, Grammar/Usage Skills, and Reading Skills. Tests used for placement into ESL classes vary by college. Check with the advising staff at your college for information on placement testing for English as a Second language courses.
Campus Advising Services
Do I need a math test?
If you plan to take a math or science course, you will need to take the COMPASS math test. You may also be surprised to find that many other kinds of classes have math placement requirements. For this reason, the math test is strongly recommended. You'll be at a disadvantage later if you need a specific class, such as business, and have not taken the COMPASS math test.
If you take both math and English (the combined COMPASS English/math test) in one test session, you pay the $19 fee only once. If you come back later to take English or math, you will pay the $19 fee twice --- once for each test.
Native English speakers and ESL learners take the same COMPASS math test.
At any of the Seattle Colleges, you must complete an application before taking the COMPASS test.
You can complete an application online at the school website or on campus at the admissions/registration office. After completing your application you will receive a student ID number; you may then pay the $19 test fee. When checking in for the COMPASS, you must present the test fee receipt and your photo ID.<
For information on how to locate the admissions/registration office at the college of your choice, click on one of the college tabs to the left.
You can also apply online at the Washington State Community and Technical Colleges Web Admissions Center.
COMPASS is one of many placement tests available for colleges to use. Every college is free to choose their own placement test, but COMPASS is widely used around the country and internationally. All three of the colleges in the Seattle College District use COMPASS as their placement test.
COMPASS Tests are:
This is an important question. Generally, all three colleges recommend taking COMPASS at least two months before the start of the quarter you want to begin. Classes fill up quickly, and this will give you the best chance to register for the classes you need.
However, each student's circumstances may be slightly different. Programs can have different deadlines for taking COMPASS, and may want you to take the test earlier. If you are still in high school, you may not be ready to test because you are still in classes that could affect your COMPASS scores.
You should check with a counselor or advisor at the college you want to attend to make sure you are meeting all program deadlines. If you are still in high school, it may be best to talk to your counselor to find out if you are ready for COMPASS.
Campus Advising Services
Since COMPASS has no time limit, you will be working at your own pace as the computer adapts to your answers. Everyone is different, but the average time is usually two to three hours if you are taking tests for both English and math.
The COMPASS Test fee is $19 at all three colleges in the Seattle College District. The fee must be paid before testing. The procedure for payment is different at each college (see "Do I need to apply for admission first" above). Each college's cashier will accept all standard forms of payment: cash, check, credit / debit, and money order.
Note: If you take both math and English (the combined COMPASS English/math test) in one test session, you pay the $19 fee only once. If you come back later to take the English or math test, you will pay the $19 fee again (once for each test).
It isn't unusual for new students to be anxious when they take the COMPASS test, especially if it has been some time since they last attended school. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that can help manage test anxiety, not only for COMPASS but in the classroom.
The Disability Services office at each college can provide academic accommodations for students with a documented, permanent or temporary physical, mental or sensory disability. Since COMPASS is untimed, there is no need to request a time extension, but other accommodations are available. If you think you may need further accommodations, either for COMPASS or your future classes, please contact the Disability Services Office at the college where you plan to attend:
COMPASS results are usually available immediately after you finish. The testing staff will give you a personal copy of your scores, free of charge, to take with you. You will receive a score from 0 to 99 for each section of the COMPASS test you have taken. The staff can explain scores briefly before directing you to your next step. It is recommended that you make an appointment with an advisor.
Most of the colleges charge a fee for extra score copies, so don't lose them! Duplicate copies of mailed test scores are $3.00 each. You may make photocopies of your score report, if you wish.
Campus Advising Services:
Yes, each college has a retest policy, but they are slightly different and usually involve a waiting period. If you are not satisfied with your scores, check with the testing staff and they can explain their retest policy. If you retake a COMPASS test, you will pay the full fee again.
In some instances, it may be possible to appeal test placements. This means that you do not feel your placement is accurate, and want to prove your ability in another way. This must be done soon after taking COMPASS. There may be a formal process to follow, plus an additional fee. These policies are different at each college, so you should ask the testing staff for details.
Yes. Test scores are usually valid for at least one year. If test scores are too old, they can't be used for registration and you may need to take the test again. Every college has different policies, so be sure to check with the testing staff.
COMPASS testing is available at all three of the Seattle Colleges in the Testing and Student Assessment Services Offices. The test is given on a walk-in basis during scheduled drop-in hours. These schedules are different at each location so be sure to check when COMPASS is available. Even if the Testing Office is open, it may not be giving COMPASS that day.
COMPASS testing is walk-in only, you can not make an appointment. This means first-come, first-served. You may have to wait if the Testing Office at your college is especially busy, so it's best to come early.
For campus details, see the individual campus links in the left navigation bar. For quick reference, see below:
Come well-rested and have a healthy meal or snack before testing. If you become hungry or need a break, the testing staff can pause your test, but this can interfere with your concentration. You should try to be alert and focused. Food, beverages, candy, or snacks are not allowed in the testing rooms.
Cell phones must be turned off. Some centers may require you to turn them in until the test is over.
You will be given scratch paper and pencils to use, but the scratch paper will be collected as you leave.
Calculators: A standard scientific Microsoft calculator is available on-screen during the math test. At Seattle Central College you may bring your own non-graphing calculator. At South Seattle College no personal calculators are allowed, but you may request use of a hand-held TS-3-X11S calculator. At North Seattle College no personal calculators are allowed.
Travel light: reference books or materials are not allowed and your desk must be clear of everything except pencils, scratch paper, and a calculator, if permitted at your testing location.
If you have problems with your computer during the test, let the testing staff know so they can help you. Do not try to fix it yourself.
Take your time and do your best work. You shouldn't be hurrying or distracted. Don't worry if one section seems longer or shorter. Everyone is different and the goal is to work carefully so you get the placement that is right for you.
Plan to finish in one session. But if you are unable to finish your test, it can be saved so that you can return another day. You may leave after completing Math or a section of English (such as, Reading Comprehension or Writing Skills). You won't pay again to finish the test, and you will resume where you left off. Scores aren't available until the entire test is finished, so plan to return to complete as soon as you can. Be sure to check with the testing staff about the deadline for finishing your test so you won't have to start over, or have a waiting period before you can test again.
When the test is over, the word "STOP" will appear in large white letters on the screen.
Turn in your pencils and scratch paper as you leave.
You'll get your scores immediately. There will be a score from 0 to 99 for each section you've completed.
Testing staff can briefly explain the scores and then direct you to your next step. They may ask about your plans (which quarter you plan to start, or if you plan to register immediately), so they can help you more effectively.
If you aren't satisfied with your performance, or believe that your placements aren't accurate, check with the testing staff about review materials or classes, retake policies or the possibility of an appeal. (See "Can I retake the test" section.)