Q: What is PISA?

A: PISA is the Programme for International Student Assessment. It is run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and is taken by 15-year-old pupils.

Q: What does PISA assess?

A: PISA assesses pupils’ skills in reading and maths and their scientific understanding. The questions are designed around real-life situations and how well pupils can apply the knowledge and skills that they have learned at school. The real-life situations that have been used in the past include using currency exchange rates, working out the time difference between countries, understanding mobile phones and interpreting information about genetically modified plants.

Pupils in some countries, including Scotland, will also answer questions assessing their global competence. This considers how pupils are able to interact with people from different cultures and work in a globalised world.

Q: What is PISA used for?

A: The PISA assessment is designed to be used in any country. This means comparisons can be made across countries in order to compare the performance of education systems. It also allows comparisons to be made within countries over time. When the results from PISA 2018 are available, the UK will be able to compare its performance with over 80 other countries as well as comparing it with the results from 2015 and earlier rounds of the study.

Q: Who takes part in PISA?

A: The PISA assessments are designed for 15-year-old pupils. This age group was chosen because, across the world, pupils of this age are approaching the time when they can decide to leave education and get a job.

Q: How are schools and pupils chosen to participate in PISA 2018?

A: From a list of all the schools in the UK, international researchers use a computer program to choose a representative group of schools to take part in the study. And then, within those schools, a random selection is made from pupils who are in the right age group. This means any 15-year-old could be chosen to take part.

Q: What do participating schools need to do?

A: NFER will support schools throughout their participation to ensure that PISA is a rewarding experience for teachers and pupils. We will arrange a convenient date for the PISA study. Schools will need to book computer rooms for the pupils, carry out a test on their computers to check that the study will run in their school, and complete a school questionnaire. The team at NFER and the NFER PISA administrator will work closely with the school to ensure that the study runs smoothly.

In addition, a number of teachers in participating schools in Scotland will be asked to complete an online questionnaire collecting information about their backgrounds and experiences.

Q: Why is it important for schools to take part?

A: In order for the results to be meaningful, it is important that the schools that take part are representative of the country as a whole. That is why we are very keen that invited schools agree to take part. There are strict requirements about the numbers of schools that participate in the study, and if these requirements are not met, the data that is collected cannot be considered good enough to appear in the international report.

Q: Is my school’s data confidential?

A: The information collected will be provided in de-identified form to the international study organisers and will be shared with the Department for Education in England, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland for international comparison and research purposes.

The final data will be available on the OECD website and all schools and pupils will be anonymised. Additionally, the education departments in each country may in turn share their own national data with other organisations for the purposes of international comparison and research. DfE and any organisation granted access to the data for the purposes of international comparison and research will not publish, share, or otherwise disclose information which identifies, or makes it possible to identify any individual or school participating in the study.

Click to view the PISA 2018 privacy policy here.

Q: Why is it important for pupils to take part?

A: Pupils are selected randomly. This means all pupils have an equal chance of being picked. The random selection means the pupils chosen will be representative of all UK pupils. If an invited pupil does not take part, he or she cannot be replaced by another pupil. There are strict requirements about the number of pupils who take part in the study, and if these requirements are not met, the data collected cannot be considered good enough to appear in the international report. Therefore, we strongly encourage all invited pupils to attend the PISA assessment session and give the assessment their best shot.

Q: Do pupils need to revise?

A: Pupils do not need to prepare for PISA.

Q: Are there practice papers with questions that pupils can try out?

A: There are no practice papers but there are sample questions available from earlier rounds of PISA. These give a good idea about the sorts of questions that appear in the assessments. Some questions are in the format used in the computer-based assessment that will be used for PISA 2018.

Q: What happens on the day of the PISA assessment in my school?

A: On the day of the PISA assessment, test administrators (like an invigilator) will lead the sessions in schools. When pupils arrive at the room where the study takes place, they will be asked to turn off mobile phones, have a pencil or pen ready, and sit at a computer. The test administrator will then read some instructions and answer any questions. Pupils log into the PISA study, read the on-screen introduction and then start answering the reading, maths and science questions. Afterwards, pupils complete a questionnaire about their learning and what they think about school.

Q: Who marks the tests?

A: For multiple choice questions, the computer-based assessment system can automatically mark answers. Questions for which pupils have to type in an answer will be marked by staff at NFER. All markers will be trained according to strict international rules to make sure each country marks their pupils' responses in the same way.

Q: What languages will the assessments and questionnaires be available in?

A: Assessments and questionnaires for pupils in the UK will be in English. Materials are available in Welsh for pupils in Wales.

Q: How can the same assessment be taken in different languages?

A: There are strict procedures for the translation of texts and materials used in PISA. Any changes that are made by countries to the assessment materials have to be verified by the international researchers to ensure that the same topic is studied in the same way, using questions worded in the same way.

Q: What if a pupil does not want to answer a particular question?

Pupils are encouraged to do their best when answering the assessment questions so that they can show their true ability. For the questions in the questionnaire, pupils are encouraged to be honest (answers are provided in confidence). However, pupils do not have to answer any questions that they do not want to. (See this example of a PISA questionnaire to see the sorts of questions that might be asked.)

Q: How long will it take?

A: For pupils, the study comprises a two hour assessment, in which they answer multiple choice and open-ended questions on reading, science and mathematics (and global competence in Scotland), and up to 45 minutes to complete a questionnaire about themselves and their school.

Read the report Read the article