Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

Main Elements of the Survey


The Direct Assessment

Module on Skills Use

Background Questionnaire (also available in French / Spanish / Chilean)


Direct Assessment

‌The direct-assessment component of the survey evaluates the skills of adults in three  fundamental domains. These are considered to constitute “key” information processing skills in the sense that they provide a foundation for the development of other, higher-order cognitive skills and are prerequisites for gaining access to and understanding of specific domains of knowledge. In addition, these skills are necessary in a broad range of contexts, from education through work to everyday life. The competencies assessed are:


-  Literacy

-  Reading components

-  Numeracy

-  Problem solving in technology-rich environments







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Literacy is the ability to understand and use information from written texts in a variety of contexts to achieve goals and develop knowledge and potential. This is a core requirement for developing higher-order skills and for positive economic and social outcomes. Previous studies have shown reading literacy to be closely linked to positive outcomes at work, to social participation, and to lifelong learning.

Unlike previous assessments of literacy, the survey evaluates adults’ ability to read digital texts (e.g. texts containing hyper-text and navigation features, such as scrolling or clicking on links) as well as traditional print-based texts.

Sample items

Reading components

To provide more detailed information about adults with poor literacy skills, the literacy assessment in this survey is complemented by a test of “reading component” skills. These are the basic set of decoding skills that enable individuals to extract meaning from written texts: knowledge of vocabulary, ability to process meaning at the level of the sentence, and fluency in reading passages of text.

Sample items


Numeracy is the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas. It is an essential skill in an age when individuals encounter an increasing amount and wide range of quantitative and mathematical information in their daily lives. Numeracy is a skill parallel to reading literacy, and it is important to assess how these competencies interact, since they are distributed differently across subgroups of the population.

 ◊ Sample items

Problem solving in technology-rich environments

This refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. It is not a measurement of “computer literacy”, but rather of the cognitive skills required in the information age – an age in which the accessibility of boundless information has made it essential for people to be able to decide what information they need, to evaluate it critically, and to use it to solve problems. In this survey, higher-order skills are identified along with basic proficiency.

Sample items

» Summary of assessment domains


Module on Skills Use

The Survey of Adult Skills uses an innovative “job-requirements approach” to ask adults who are employed about a number of generic skills they use in the workplace. The survey asks adults how intensively and how frequently they use these skills at work.

 Information is also collected about four broad categories of generic work skills:cognitive skills, interaction and social skills, physical skills, and learning skills.

  • Cognitive skills encompass reading, writing, mathematics and the use of information and communication technologies.
  • Interaction and social skills cover collaboration and co-operation, planning work and use of time for oneself and others, communication and negotiation, and customer contact (e.g. selling products and services and advising).
  • Physical skills involve the use of gross and fine motor skills.
  • Learning skills cover activities such as instructing others, learning (formally or informally), and keeping up-to-date with developments in one’s professional field. In addition all respondents are asked about the frequency and intensity of their reading and numeracy related activities as well as their use of ICTs at home and in the community.


Background Questionnaire

The PIAAC background questionnaire includes a range of information regarding the factors which influence the development and maintenance of skills such as education, social background, engagement with literacy and numeracy and ICTs, languages, as well as information on outcomes which may be related to skills. Information is collected on the current activity of respondents, employment status and income. In terms of non-economic outcomes, PIAAC includes questions on health status, volunteering, political efficacy and social trust.

◊ Background Questionnaire in English (html / PDF); also available in different languages   

Background Questionnaire complementary information

Background Questionnaire conceptual framework



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