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Explained: What is PISA test and why is it significant?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study done to produce comparable data on education policy and outcomes across countries. What is the aim of the test and how has India performed so far?

Written by Chahat Rana |
Updated: December 4, 2019 7:36:42 pm
express explained, pisa test, chandigarh government schools, Programme for International Student Assessment test, oecd, explained news, indian express The test is set by educational experts from across the world. (Express Photo/File)

As students of Chandigarh’s government schools buckle up to represent India in the Programme for International Student Assessment test in 2021, the Indian Express explains all about the assessment and its significance.

What is PISA?

Initiated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study done to produce comparable data on education policy and outcomes across countries. The study, which began in the year 2000, conducts a test evaluating 15-year-olds in member and non-member countries to assess the quality and inclusivity of school systems in these countries. The PISA test is held every three years and the next test will be held in 2021, in which students from government schools in Chandigarh will represent India.

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Who sets the test?

The test is set by educational experts from across the world. Until now, experts from more than eighty countries have contributed towards framing the test questions, mostly from countries that have already participated in the test.

What does the test entail?

Unlike conventional tests and exams, the PISA test does not assess students on their memory, but attempts to evaluate whether students can apply the knowledge they have gained through primary and secondary education. Apart from subjects like math, reading comprehension and science; since 2015 the test also includes an optional section on innovative subjects such as collaborative problem-solving and financial literacy. Further, it evaluates whether students can solve mathematical problems or explain phenomena through scientific thinking or interpretation of text. The test is taken in the language of instruction that the students are familiar with.

Who gives the test?

There is no hard and fast rule on who can apply to take the test and who cannot. Countries usually volunteer to take the test. In case, making all 15-year-olds in the country take the test is not feasible, regions are identified within the country where the test can be conducted. Within the region, individual schools are chosen which are approved by the PISA governing board and evaluated using stringent criteria. These schools represent the country’s education system.

What is the aim of the test?

The aim of the test is not to rank the countries which volunteer to participate in the evaluation, but to give a comprehensive analysis of how education systems are working in terms of preparing its students for higher education and subsequent employment. After collecting results from across the world, experts translate these results into data points which are evaluated to score the countries.

If a country scores well, it suggests that not only does it has an effective education system but an inclusive one, in which students from privileged and underprivileged backgrounds perform equally well. Further, the test evaluates whether the education system in these countries teach students adequate social and community skills, which will enable the students to excel holistically as a member of the workforce. OECD also hopes that the test will allow countries to learn from each other about effective education policies and improve their own systems, using others as examples.

How has India performed in the PISA test?


India has participated in the PISA test only once before, in 2009. In this round of PISA, where students from Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu sat for the test, India ranked 72nd out of 73 countries, outranking only Kyrgistan. Since then, India has strayed away from the test until now, for students from Chandigarh will be sitting for the test in 2021. Approximately 1.75 lakh students from government schools in Chandigarh, along with 600 Navodaya Vidyalayas and 3,000 Kendra Vidyalayas will take the three-hour long PISA test in 2021.

How is Chandigarh preparing for the upcoming test?

The preparations for the test have reportedly already begun, since a team of PISA officials will conduct a trial test in the participating schools in 2020. Officials from the NCERT learnt that students had performed poorly particularly in the Mathematics segment of the test, the last time Indian students participated in the PISA evaluation.

As a result, the UT administration announced in April 2019 that it will be adding more Math topics in the syllabi of class 6th, 7th and 8th students. Since PISA does not have a set syllabus, it is difficult to be fully prepared for the test, but sample questions have also been released by the administration for the students to practice and individually prepare themselves as well.


BL Sharma, the former Education Secretary of the UT Administration, who retired Friday, believes there is yet a lot to be done to prepare the students for PISA. “Our education is immersed in rote learning and memorisation. PISA requires experiential learning and out of the box thinking, so our educators and students need to work really hard to prove themselves now,” said Sharma.

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First published on: 03-12-2019 at 08:56:17 am
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