Read an Excerpt
Welcome to Doug French’s Verbal Prep for the COMPASS Exam, the definitive prep book for all things verbal on the COMPASS college placement test. This book is set up to introduce you to the types of questions on the verbal portions of the COMPASS test, increase your appreciation of English grammar, help you improve your reading comprehension skills, and review the best techniques for writing a good essay. It will also teach you a few tried-and-true techniques that are always helpful on any test that includes answer choices, as this one does.
First, let’s start with the basics. Like what the COMPASS actually is.
WHAT IS THE COMPASS TEST?
The COMPASS test has been developed to help you assess your ability to work math problems, understand English grammar, and comprehend short reading passages. It’s meant to help your college analyze your academic strengths and weaknesses and place you accurately in the courses that will be the best fit for you. You’ll get your score report as soon as you complete the test, at which point you’ll be able to use the results to start customizing your course load.
If you’re due to take the COMPASS, your college will most likely administer the test after you arrive for orientation as an incoming freshman. In some cases, though, you might have to take a COMPASS test before you are cleared to take a particular course.
Unlike most of the other standardized tests you might encounter, there are two very important aspects of the COMPASS that you’ll probably really like.
• You don’t have to worry about getting a “passing score,” because the COMPASS doesn’t give you one. It’s only meant as an assessment, which means you cannot “pass” or “fail” it. You merely want to represent your academic skills as accurately as possible.
• You don’t have to worry about time pressure, because the COMPASS doesn’t have a time limit. This test is more concerned with determining what you know, not how fast you can tell people about it.
Basically, this test is a lot less stressful than most other standardized tests. And that’s a good thing, because when you take it you can concentrate on the one question sitting on your computer screen without having to worry about how much time you have left to finish all of them.
And yes, we did say “computer screen,” because the COMPASS is a computer-adaptive test, sometimes referred to as a CAT.
What is a computer-adaptive test?
The COMPASS is a computer-based exam, so you won’t have to bother with paper test booklets and bubble sheets. Instead, the test “adapts” to the level of ability it perceives, based on the questions you’ve already answered.
When a section begins, the first question you’ll see will be of “medium” difficulty. If you get it right, the next question you’ll see will be a little “harder”; if you get it wrong, the next question will be a little “easier.” And please note that those words are in quotes for a reason: The COMPASS might have an idea of what make a question easy or difficult, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perception of difficulty is the same as yours. Everyone is different, and what you think is easy might strike someone else as really hard. Or vice versa.
The bottom line? It’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to worry about whether a question is easy or difficult, or anywhere in between. Just concentrate on the question you see on the screen, do your best with it, and move on.
Adjusting to the CAT
A good thing about paper-and-pencil exams is that you can work on whatever problem you want to within a given section. If you’re not sure how to answer the first question, for example, you can skip it and go to the next one.
On the CAT, however, this isn’t an option. The computer gives you a question, and you have to answer it before moving on. You can’t scroll ahead to look at the next answer, and you can’t go back to check anything you’ve already answered. You also can’t cross off answers on your test booklet (we’ll talk more about that later), and you have to use separate scratch paper (which is more of an issue on math problems than for verbal ones).
The test format
The multiple-choice questions on the verbal portion of the COMPASS are grouped into two categories: reading skills and writing skills. You will also have to write an essay in response to a question that the test will provide. If the description of these questions seems a little vague right now, don’t worry. You’ll see plenty of examples of each in this book. You can also find out more information about the test on the COMPASS’s website: http://www.act.org/ COMPASS.
How to use this book
This book devotes a chapter each to Reading Skills, Writing Skills, and Essay Writing. Each chapter lists some basic concepts that the COMPASS tests and offers several drills to help you improve your skill set. In chapter 1, for example, as part of the Writing Skills instruction, there is a section on each of the grammar issues that the COMPASS routinely tests, as well as references to the grammar and idiom glossaries, which appear at the end of the book. In chapter 2, on Reading Skills, we’ll offer you some techniques for processing written information more quickly and efficiently.
At the end of the book are two 50-question practice tests, each with an annotated answer key. As you work on these questions, as well as the others interspersed throughout the chapters, look for patterns in the questions you answer correctly and those that you keep getting wrong. This will help you pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses and guide you to the areas in which you need the most practice. And throughout the book, we will endeavor to take advantage of the COMPASS’s most glaring vulnerability: the answer choices.
POE shall set you free
Since every question you’ll see on the COMPASS will have five answer choices, one of the most useful skills you’ll develop as you study is the ability to determine why an answer choice is wrong. And that’s where the Process Of Elimination (POE) comes in. The COMPASS’s writers have a very specific task: to write a question and supply an answer to that question. That’s the easy part. The hard part is writing the wrong answers—the “decoys”—that can seem attractive enough to choose.
Now that we’ve covered some basic elements, let’s get to it. Keep practicing, stay focused, and good luck!