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Education 08 Sep 2018

What is the PISA report? Five keys to the world’s most influential test

It’s the test with a capital “T” in global education. In each edition, the results of the increasingly influential PISA report become a fundamental guide in educational matters for the participating countries.

The PISA report, the Programme for International Student Assessment, is a truly pivotal benchmark for governments, education centers and families around the world. According to the experts, the test results reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each educational system and serve as a guide for future improvement.

Following are the five keys required to gain an in-depth understanding of the test that is most expected and feared by education systems around the world.

What is it?

The PISA report is an initiative by the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), carried out in collaboration with different advisory commissions and domestic educational organizations. PISA is administered every three years, and each edition focuses on a specific area of knowledge. Most test questions are related to this area of knowledge.

The goal is to evaluate the knowledge of students approaching the end of compulsory education, about 15 years of age. This assessment is designed to offer a large volume of relevant information based on which new educational policies can be designed.

How many students participate?

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country. Results reflect the situation of the country as a whole, but not by region or state. Some countries have administered PISA to larger samples of students, to also assess regional differences. For example, Mexico examined 29,983 students in 2003 and 30,971 in 2006.

What is the test like?

Each edition assesses competencies in reading, mathematics and science. The exams put the spotlight on practical matters. In other words, more than knowledge, what the assessment measures is students’ ability to understand and solve real-life problems.


One of the reasons why the PISA report is so relevant is because it is not just a mere table of results, but offers a comprehensive profile of the competencies of students from participating countries. The profile includes data on the students’ socio-economic context and cultural status. The richness of the information is the reason why the report is so influential, because it offers an excellent guide to look into and analyze each country’s situation, and to improve its educational policies.

Financial Education

Since 2012, and thanks to BBVA’s support, the report also measures financial competency and literacyamong students.

The decision was motivated by the age at which students take the test. They are all approaching the end of their compulsory education, are fifteen years old and are on the brink of starting a new life, whether they decide to go on with their studies or begin working. The assessment gauges whether the students know, understand and have acquired the skills required to manage their financial lives properly.

Many teenagers are already familiar with some financial products, such as bank accounts, but that is not enough. In the future, their finances will become increasingly complex and they will need to be able to keep them under control to meet their vital and professional goals. For this reason, the PISA report singles out financial literacy as an essential skill to successfully transition into college or the job market.

OECD – BBVA Collaboration

Within the general framework of collaboration between both institutions, which includes cooperation in other areas, such as pensions, OECD and BBVA signed in 2010 a collaboration agreement whereby BBVA would provide economic support to the OECD to make this financial literacy test possible.

BBVA’s contribution allowed the OECD to develop the methodology required to conduct, for the first time and at a worldwide level, the financial literacy assessment of students, and to compare the levels of financial education among countries, in order to identify the best practices and most effective national strategies.In 2014, BBVA and the OECD renewed their agreement with the purpose of promoting the assessment of financial literacy in the 2015 PISA Report.

The OECD and other institutions, such as BBVA, coincide in pointing out that the development of financial skills at an early age is a key factor both for individual citizens and society at large. At the Center for Financial Education and Capability you can find all the relevant information about financial education in the world.

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