COMPASS Test – How to Prepare

How to Prepare for the COMPASS Test

The ACT is the required initial test used to place students who attend a South Dakota university into their English and mathematics courses. A student can be placed in classes via the ACT subject sub-scores or via the ACT COMPASS test, which is administered at all South Dakota universities, including the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

The COMPASS test is administered on a computer and takes approximately thirty to forty minutes for each section (math, writing and reading). Students who need to take the COMPASS test should register for a COMPASS Day on campus. If the student is unable to attend a COMPASS Day, the COMPASS test may be taken at any of the summer orientation sessions, or by appointment at the School of Mines, or by appointment at many other colleges across the country. For more information, contact the Registrar and Academic Services office by phone at (605) 394-2400 or via e-mail at

COMPASS results are designed to assist the institution in placing students into appropriate courses, or, if necessary, into developmental or preparatory courses.

The three COMPASS scores produce up to seven possible placement measures (one each in writing skills and reading and up to five in mathematics):

Reading Placement Measure

Writing Skills Placement Measure
(Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills)

Students are prepared for the COMPASS if they: 

  • have recently reviewed the subjects to be tested
  • are unhurried and clam
  • are familiar with and comfortable taking tests
  • have slept well the night before the test

The math portion of the test does not require a calculator, but you may bring your own (except TI or HP 89 and TI or HP 92). If you do not bring a calculator, one is embedded in the test program.

The math test is a continuum of tests, beginning with pre-algebra and going through algebra, college algebra, trigonometry to pre-calculus. If it has been a couple of years since you took algebra, or if you are rusty in trigonometry, a review of these subjects can help you perform better on the test.

The COMPASS test is not timed, so students have an unlimited amount of time to take each section. The test is intended to adjust the level of difficulty based on student performance and ability. Testing time may be rather brief or it might run for an extended amount of time, depending on preparation and knowledge.

The ACT/COMPASS website has sample questions to view sample test items. Additional information regarding the COMPASS test is also available on the website for placement and diagnostic purposes.

What happens if I don’t think the results of the COMPASS are an accurate reflection of my abilities?

You can challenge your COMPASS score by retaking the test. There is an administrative cost of $17.00 to retake the test. If you score poorer than anticipated on the math section of the COMPASS, it may be that it has been a couple of years since you’ve had algebra or because you need a ‘brush-up’ in trigonometry. Either way, before you retake the test, it is best to spend time reviewing material for each section you are required to take.