Programme for the International
Assessment of Adult Competencies

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Prof. Dr. Beatrice Rammstedt

Survey Design and Methodology

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PIAAC – an international survey of adult competencies

PIAAC is an international comparative survey initiated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that aims at assessing key adult competencies. In Germany, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research contracted GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences with the national project management (February 2009 to June 2014). In addition, GESIS is also a member of the international PIAAC consortium and is responsible for the validation as well as the translation and adaptation of the background questionnaire.

PIAAC: An Overview

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) was initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and is steered by the PIAAC Board of Participating Countries. Twenty-four countries, including Germany, participated in the first round of PIAAC. The first round started in 2008 and results were published in 2012. In Germany, PIAAC was implemented by GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with support from the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS). GESIS was also part of the international consortium commissioned by the OECD to design and monitor the implementation of PIAAC. As a part of this consortium, GESIS was involved in the development of the PIAAC background questionnaire and was also responsible for its validation and translation.
The OECD intends to repeat PIAAC at regular ten-year intervals. The first published round, PIAAC 2012, marked the starting point of this multi-cycle program. Further cycles will enable future changes in adult skills to be monitored and analyzed. As mentioned above, twenty-four countries participated in Round I of the first cycle of PIAAC. A second round, which started in 2012, includes nine additional countries. In 2016, the OECD initiated a third round of the first cycle of PIAAC with six additional countries [].
In PIAAC at least 5,000 randomly selected respondents between the ages of 16 and 65 were interviewed and assessed in each participating country. In Germany, approximately 5,400 interviews were conducted using a two-stage register-based sampling technique. The survey was carried out as a personal interview (background questionnaire) with a subsequent skills assessment (see  Zabal et al., 2014).


The PIAAC interview consists of two central elements: the measurement of key competencies (duration of the cognitive assessment approximately 60 minutes) and the background questionnaire (duration approximately 45 minutes). The following competency domains are assessed in the first cycle of PIAAC: literacy (including reading components), numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments.

PIAAC was the first international large-scale assessment of adults to conduct the cognitive assessment computer-based. However, for respondents who were not familiar enough with computers, there was a paper-based option. In addition, a CAPI background questionnaire was administered to obtain key individual data. This included demographic characteristics such as the age or gender of the respondent, and the educational background or employment history. In addition, the background questionnaire also collected information such as the respondents’ skills, personality, and attitudes.

All PIAAC instruments were tested in a field trial. The questions and assessment items for the main study were selected and modified based on the field trial results.

Compared to the previous international large-scale assessments of adult skills, some of the above-mentioned elements of PIAAC were especially innovative.

Structure of Project


PIAAC is an initiative of the OECD. The decision-making committee for PIAAC is the Board of Participating Countries (BPC), in which the funders of the participating countries are represented. An international consortium led by Educational Testing Service (ETS) is responsible for the international project implementation. This consortium is supported and advised by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). In addition, there is an expert group for each domain measured in PIAAC. The design of PIAAC was developed by the international consortium and was implemented in 33 participating countries. Germany was represented in the BPC by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS).

Further Information:


GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences was commissioned by the BMBF and the BMAS to carry out the national project implementation in Germany. At GESIS, a team of seven researchers led by Prof. Dr. Beatrice Rammstedt worked on the PIAAC project.


The PIAAC National Project Management for the first round of the first cycle of PIAAC began in February 2009. For the rest of the year, work focused mainly on the translation, adaptation, and verification of the survey material. At the end of 2009, an initial test of the survey platform was conducted. In 2010 a field test was carried out in all countries participating in PIAAC round I and this experience as well as the field test results were used to prepare the main survey. The main survey of round I took place from August 2011 till March 2012. First results were published in 2013.

Nine further OECD and partner countries participated in PIAAC round II. Data collection for round II took place in 2014/2015 and first results were published in 2016.

Timetable round I - available in German (1.3 MB)


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You are welcome to visit the PIAAC Research Data Centre (RDC PIAAC) for detailed information, publications, access to the current PIAAC data and available analysis tools.