PIAAC Design

The Survey consists of two parts:

  • The background questionnaire
  • The direct assesment of cognitive skills (literacy, numeracy and problem solving)

Main Elements of the Survey of Adults Skills (PIAAC)


NOTE: New elements included in the Second Cycle.


Background Questionnaire

  • 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.

For the Second Cycle two additional components have been added: Socio-emotional Skills and Quality of Work Environment. These will aid in furthering our understanding of the respondents and enriching the questionnaire.

The Background Questionnaire (html / PDF) is also available in several languages in the 'documentation' section of Data and Tools.


  • 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.

Read more

  • Socio-emotional Skills


Along with cognitive skills, social and emotional skills are commonly identified as an element of the set of ‘key competencies’ required for success in the labour market and in life more generally and feature prominently in international and national frameworks setting out objectives for skills development, the learning outcomes expected of education and training systems. Since social and emotional skills display elements of continuity and elements of change over time and with age, this module tries to assess the extent to which these type of skills feature in the public and official discourse regarding skills, skills development and the desired learning outcomes of education and training systems.


The 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.



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 hypertext and navigation features, such as scrolling or clicking on links) as well as traditional print-based texts.


Sample items


*      Reading Component


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


*      Numeracy Component (New)

(Content forthcoming)

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

Adaptive Problem Solving

This refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. The assessment explicitly considers individuals’ ability to solve multiple problems in parallel, which requires individuals to manage the order in which a list of problems are approached and to monitor opportunities that arise for solving different problem sets.

◊ Sample items (forthcoming)

Employer Survey


Recent technological, demographic and economic transformations have dramatically changed the demand for skills. The need for routine cognitive skills is declining, while the demand for information-processing skills, interpersonal communication, self-management and the ability to learn is growing.

While the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) provides essential information to analyse the relationship between the measured skills and economic and social outcomes at the individual level, the design of effective policies requires a better assessment of employers’ skill requirements and how these are shaped as well as a deeper understanding of the mechanisms they employ to respond to skills mismatches and gaps. These mechanisms include on-the-job training, variable pay systems, performance appraisal, autonomous teams, job rotation schemes and worker replacement.

This information cannot be collected through a household survey, given that employers are the best suited to identify the skill gaps they face and describe the policies and strategies they put in place to address these skill gaps. Existing employer surveys in several countries confirm that meaningful information on skill gaps can be collected from employers. Therefore the OECD is developing a module of survey items on skills that would be addressed to employers and that includes: a set of core questions on skill gaps; a set of desirable items on training, HR practices, work organisation that would help gain insights from the core on skill gaps, which could be added based on each country’s specific interests; and a set of essential firm characteristics, which are likely to be included already in the employer survey hosting the skills module. In some countries, the module will be added to existing employer surveys, in others it will be developed into a stand-along survey tool.