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Information for Students

What is PISA's main focus? Is PISA difficult? Does it impact students' grades? PISA is an important international study that has been conducted since 2000. Every 3 years, students participate in PISA, and the results are released in international and national reports. Often, newspapers report on the results, and policymakers, researchers, educators, and the public get a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. education system.

PISA may be a little different from some assessments students have seen before because it focuses on the application of skills and knowledge and presents students with real-life problems. It is designed with some easier questions and some more difficult ones, so that researchers can learn about the range of students' skills. It is very important for students to try their best at the assessment so researchers can get an accurate picture of what students know and can do. Reports of the findings from PISA will not identify participating districts, schools, students, or individual staff. Individual responses will be aggregated with those from other participants to produce summary statistics and reports. A student's performance in PISA will not impact his or her academic grades.

How are students selected to participate? In PISA, each country is represented by a small sample of schools and students selected to reflect its population and educational contexts and provide valid estimates of student achievement. The selection method ensures that the U.S. participants will be representative of the whole United States, not just particular types of schools or students. First, schools are randomly selected from a list of all schools in the country that have 15-year-old students. Then, in each school, students are randomly selected from a list of all 15-year-old students in the school. Participants in other countries are selected in just the same way to make sure each country is fairly represented and no country has an advantage because of the types of schools or students selected. In the United States, 240 schools have been randomly selected to take part in PISA 2012. In each school, 50 students will be randomly selected to participate.

What does participating in PISA involve for students? All students selected for PISA will take a pencil-and-paper assessment that lasts about 2 hours and complete a brief questionnaire (total time including instructions will be about 3 and a quarter hours). Some students will also take a 40-minute computer-based assessment (total time including instructions, about an hour and a quarter). Both of these will occur during the normal school day. In the paper-and-pencil assessment, students will answer questions in mathematics, reading, science, or financial literacy, or a combination of these subjects. Students who take the computer-based assessment will answer questions in reading, mathematics, or problem solving, or a combination of these subjects.

How will my participation benefit others, and how will it benefit students? Participating in PISA can be considered a national service. The PISA results are an important source of information because they tell us how U.S. students are doing compared to students around the world and where we might improve our education system. Participating students also receive Certificate of Volunteer Service for 4 hours. Plus, students who have participated in prior PISA assessments have found the experience challenging and enjoyable!

What if I have additional questions? Examples of PISA questions can be found here. Examples of reports from earlier cycles of PISA can be found here. For other information or questions, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here, or you can use the “Contact Us" button at the top of the page. In addition, if you have specific questions about PISA in your school, you may call PISA staff at 1-888-638-2597 or send an email to

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education