In addition to the following questions about PIRLS, more FAQs about international assessments are available at: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/faqs.asp.
The assessment instruments include 4th-grade-level stories and informational texts collected from several different countries. Students are asked to engage in a full repertoire of reading skills and strategies, including retrieving and focusing on specific ideas, making simple and more complex inferences, and examining and evaluating text features. The passages are followed by open-ended and multiple-choice format questions about the text.
The 2011 assessment consisted of 12 booklets and one reader (presented in a magazine-type format with the questions in a separate booklet). The assessment is given in two 40-minute parts with a 5- to 10-minute break in between. Each of the booklets contained two parts—one block of literary experience items and one block of informational items—and each block occurred twice across the 13 total booklets. Using different booklets allows PIRLS to report results from more assessment items than can fit in one booklet, without making the assessment longer. To provide good coverage of each skill domain, the test items developed require about 6 hours of testing time. However, testing time is limited to 80 minutes per student by clustering items in blocks and randomly rotating the blocks of items throughout the student test booklets. As a consequence, no student receives all items (there was a total of 135 items on the 2011 assessment), but each item is answered by a representative sample of students.
A total of 10 reading passages—two from PIRLS 2001 and 2006, four from 2006 only, and four new passages—were included in the assessment booklets used in all participating education systems. The use of common passages in the 2001 and 2011 assessments allows the analysis of changes in reading literacy over the 10-year period between administrations for countries that participated in both cycles. The passages, as well as all other study materials, were translated into the primary language or languages of instruction in each education system.
Background questionnaires are administered to collect information about students' home and school experiences in learning to read. A student questionnaire addresses students' attitudes towards reading and their reading habits. In addition, questionnaires are given to students' teachers and school principals to gather information about students' school experiences in developing reading literacy. In countries other than the United States, a parent questionnaire is also administered.
The student questionnaire is given after the second part of the assessment, taking about 30 minutes to complete. In all, PIRLS takes 1˝ to 2 hours of each student's time, including the assessment and background questionnaire.