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ACT Compass®/ESL


ACT Compass/ESL (English as a Second Language) placement tests are designed to help postsecondary institutions quickly and accurately assess incoming ESL students’ English language ability levels and place them into appropriate ESL courses.

Tests are available for four subject areas:

  • Listening to assess ability to understand Standard American English
  • Reading to assess ability to recognize and manipulate Standard American English in two major categories: referring and reasoning
  • Grammar/Usage to assess ability to recognize and manipulate Standard American English in two main areas: sentence elements and sentence structure and syntax
  • ESL Essay (ESL e-Write) to provide analytic scores in the areas of development, language use, organization, focus, and mechanics

These tests may be used separately or in combination to provide a profile of a student’s language abilities.

Intended Users

New college students for whom English is a second language and the advising/ placement personnel assisting these students

Volume/Number of Users

Annually, more than 200,000 ACT Compass/ESL tests are taken at more than 1,000 postsecondary institutions.

Additional Facts

Benefits include:

  • Place ESL students accurately and quickly
  • Provide ESL students better advising and support services
  • Analyze results and evaluate ESL program performance

In some cases, ACT Compass/ESL scores indicate skill deficiencies that require further investigation right away. These students can take the ACT Compass/ESL diagnostic assessments which help educators and students zero in on specific skills that need more work. A student with a low general reading score, for example, might then take the reading diagnostic test to recognize a weakness in inferring the meanings of words. Then the report can direct the student to specific resources on campus to build that skill.