Paine College uses the COMPASS test, prepared by ACT, as the math placement exam.

What is the test like?

  • The questions may cover basic skills and move to more advanced questions that require students to apply math to given situations and to analyze math scenarios in areas ranging from basic numerical skills (using integers, fractions, decimals, exponents, square roots, scientific notation, ratios and proportions, percentages, and averages) through pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and beyond (including substituting values in an algebraic equation, setting up equations, factoring polynomials, solving equations, using exponents and radicals, using rational expressions, solving equations with two variables, and more).
  • The computer will proceed through the different levels in response to the student’s performance on the previous questions. This means that if the student has many correct answers the skills will advance, but if a student seems to be having difficulty the questions will adjust to his or her ability level.
  • Students will be able to use the online calculator during the test. There will be a button on the screen to access it. Students will not be able to use their own calculators, cell phones, or other calculating devices during the test.
  • Students will be able to use scrap paper, which will be provided by the proctor. Students should bring a pencil or pen, however, because one will not be provided.

When will students find out the results?

When the student meets with his or her advisor to confirm course selection, the advisor will share the results of this testing. These results will help the student and the advisor determine the best math course placement. Students whose scores on this test show that there is some weakness in math will be advised to seek additional help and support, including but not limited to specialized tutoring and placement in specific courses that will help the student develop those math skills.

How can students prepare for the math placement test?

  • Students should spend some time reviewing their math skills before taking the placement test in order to refresh their skills. This review can include going over problems from previous classes, working out problems in a math review book, or looking for problems on the Internet. Many math websites are available. One that we find to be helpful is:
  • To see some sample exercises similar to those found on the COMPASS math test, click on the following links:,
  • Students should also become familiar with using the online calculator (available in Windows) so that they can use it comfortably if needed during the testing.

What do students need to know about the testing session?

The COMPASS math test is untimed, so students will be able to work at their own speed. This means that students should be prepared to take as much time as they need to complete the test. It will be impossible to tell them exactly when they will be finished. As a general guide, students should plan to spend about an hour per test, although the actual time may vary from student to student.