The PIAAC Background Questionnaire is meant to identify (a) what skills participants regularly use in their job and in their home life, (b) how participants acquire those skills, and (c) how those skills are distributed throughout the population. In order to obtain this information, the background questionnaire asks participants about their education and training; present and past work experience; the skills they use at work; their use of specific literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills at work and at home; personal traits; and background information.
In order to obtain background information from a wide range of respondents in the U.S., the background questionnaire was administered in either English or Spanish depending on the language of the respondent. The PIAAC background questionnaire includes several items used in past IALS and ALL assessments for continuity. In addition, some items are country-specific.
Participating countries are allowed to add up to 5 minutes of country-specific items. The United States added questions focused on education, country of origin, language and ethnicity, training courses, occupation, health, work and earnings. A majority of the U.S. country-specific questions were adopted from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) 2003 background questionnaire. Questions in the U.S. background questionnaire that were adapted from the international version of the questionnaire have "US" at the end of the variable name (e.g., B_Q01aUS) and questions that were country-specific and only administered in the U.S. have "USX" at the end of the variable name (e.g., B_Q01bUSX)
For the prison study, the prison background questionnaire was tailored to address the needs and experiences of incarcerated adults. Specifically, the prison background questionnaire focuses on collecting information about various educational and training activities in prison, such as participation in academic programs and ESL classes, experiences with prison jobs, and involvement in vocational training and nonacademic programs such as employment readiness classes. Questions in the prison background questionnaire that were added or edited to refer to experiences in prison have "P" at the beginning of the variable name (e.g., P_Q170). Several questions were adopted from the household background questionnaire and may use the same variable naming convention as the household items, even if they refer to experiences in prison. A majority of the prison-specific questions were adopted from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) 2004 prison background questionnaire.