OECD Factbook 2013: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
branch Education
branch Outcomes
    branch International student assessment

How effective are school systems at providing young people with a solid foundation in the knowledge and skills that will equip them for life and learning beyond school? The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses student knowledge and skills at age 15, i.e. toward the end of compulsory education. The PISA 2009 survey focused on reading, but for the first time, also assessed the ability of students to read, understand and use digital texts.


The PISA survey covers reading, mathematics and science. In the 2009 round of PISA, one hour of testing time was devoted to reading, half an hour was devoted to mathematics and half an hour to science. Each student spent two hours on the assessment items. In 19 countries, students were given additional questions via computer to assess their capacity to read digital texts.

Reading literacy is the capacity to understand, use and reflect on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, develop one's knowledge and potential, and participate in society. Mathematical literacy is the capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, make well-founded judgements, and use mathematics in ways that meet the needs of concerned and reflective citizens. Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena, and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues.

The original PISA scales for reading (major domain in 2000 PISA survey), mathematics (major domain in 2003 PISA survey) and science (major domain in 2006 PISA survey) were set at 500 points for participating OECD countries as approximately two-third of students across OECD countries scored between 400 and 600. In 2009 PISA survey, with a slightly wider range of OECD countries, the average score changed for each domain: 493 points for reading, 496 for mathematics and 501 for science.


Leading experts in countries participating in PISA advise on the scope and nature of the assessments, with final decisions taken by OECD governments. Substantial efforts and resources are devoted to achieving cultural and linguistic breadth and balance in the assessment materials. Stringent quality assurance mechanisms are applied in translation, sampling and data collection.

Over 520 000 15-year-old students in 75 participating countries or economies were assessed in PISA 2009. Because the results are based on probability samples, standard errors (S.E.) are normally shown in the tables.


The graph shows the difference between the OECD average score in reading (493 score points) and the mean scores of individual countries. As it did in PISA 2006, Korea tops all participating OECD countries in reading. The reading scores of the United States, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Portugal are not significantly different from the OECD average. The graph also shows results for mathematics relative to the OECD average (496 score points). While most countries that do well in one subject also do well in the other, some countries show significant differences: Switzerland, for example, has better scores in mathematics than in reading.

The table presents scores by gender. As in PISA 2006, girls do significantly better in reading than boys in all countries, with an average gender gap of 39 score points. Conversely, boys outperform girls in mathematics by an average of 12 score points. On average, there is no gender gap in science performance, although in some countries, there are significant differences. For example, in the United States, boys perform significantly better in science than girls, while in Finland the opposite is true.



Further information
Analytical publications
Statistical publications
Methodological publications
Online databases
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Mean scores by gender in PISA
    Table in Excel

Performance on the reading and mathematics scales in PISA 2009 Figure in Excel
Performance on the reading and mathematics scales
 in PISA 2009

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