PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international survey conducted on the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) initiative which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. Students from randomly selected schools take tests in functional reading, mathematics and science.

PISA tests are held once every three years. Each year of assessment focuses on one of these subjects, with the other two assessed but to a lesser extent. There have been five PISA surveys:

  • PISA 2000 – reading
  • PISA 2003 – mathematics
  • PISA 2006 – natural sciences (Estonia participated)
  • PISA 2009 – reading (Estonia participated)
  • PISA 2012 – mathematics (Estonia participated)
  • PISA 2015 - natural sciences (Estonia participated)

A regularly conducted survey provides an opportunity to identify education trends worldwide.

Estonia has been participating in PISA surveys since 2006. Taking part in international surveys provides us with information about the functioning and results of our educational system compared to other countries. Regular participation helps us identify trends in educational outcomes as well as in background systems, which in turn allows us to propose necessary changes and improvement actions.

In most countries compulsory education ends after the child has turned 15 and the student proceeds to make personal choices regarding his/her path for further education. The sample of the survey includes students aged between15 years and 3 months to 16 years and 2 months.

The following is surveyed in PISA:

  • How well-prepared young people are to face the challenges ahead
  • Are the students capable of analysing, finding causes and presenting their own ideas
  • How capable students are in applying their skills and knowledge in real life situations

The main goal of PISA tests is to assess students’ competences which enable them to be actively engaged in life after leaving school. PISA measures students’ capacity to apply their skills and knowledge in real-life personal, social and global contexts. The term “literacy” is used to emphasise the students’ application of their knowledge in everyday life. For example, the functional reading test assesses students’ ability to obtain and assess information, read diagrams, find associations in a text, interpret, draw conclusions, etc.

Students fill in test booklets containing questions about the main subject of assessment and other two subjects. These skills are assessed by using problem-solving tasks, which usually contain a text, diagram, table or graph, with the questions constructed so tasks that students have to undertake are as close as possible to those they might come across in the real world. The students have two hours to complete the test.

After completing the test, students fill in a questionnaire about their attitudes towards the subject, e.g. science or reading, and their background. Heads of school also complete a short questionnaire about the number of employees, attitudes of teachers, independence of the school and its teachers, resources, practices, policies, etc.

The sample is designed to be representative of the total student population – the proportion of boys and girls, urban and rural schools, schools with different languages of instruction, etc. Countries are given concrete guidelines about which schools and students can be excluded from the sample. The proportion of students that the sample must cover is also determined.

In order to ensure the accuracy of an international survey, it is very important that every participating country strictly adheres to sampling requirements. The participation rate must be at least 80% of the students and 85% of the schools selected into the sample. Rules allowed countries to exclude up to 5% of the target population. It is very important that countries follow the procedural rules; only this ensures the comparability of the results.

The numbers of schools and students participating in the PISA test

In 2006, more than 400,000 students from 57 countries participated in the survey. Estonia’s sample included 4,865 students from 169 schools.

In 2009, 65 countries and economic regions took part and the number of participating students was about 470,000. Estonia’s sample: 4,727 students from 175 schools (2,297 girls and 2,430 boys; 3,841 from Estonian-medium schools and 886 from Russian-medium schools). 138 schools included in the sample were Estonian-medium schools, 31 Russian-medium schools and 6 were schools with several languages of instruction.

In 2012, about 510,000 students from 65 countries and economic regions participated in the test. Estonia’s sample: the total sample included 5,867 students from 206 schools of which 1,088 students only took the financial literacy test. The main part of the test was taken by 4,779 students: 2,409 girls and 2,370 boys, of them 3,784 Estonian-medium schools 995 from Russian-medium schools. 166 schools were Estonian-medium schools, 37 Russian-medium schools and 3 with two different languages of instruction.

In 2015, more than half a million students from 72 countries and economic regions participated in the test. Estonia's sample: the total sample included 5587 students from 206 schools of which 2788 were girls and 2799 were boys. 78% of participants did the test in Estonian, while 22% in Russian.

Students on a simplified study programme do not take part in the test.

Comparison of the results of the PISA tests in Estonia


The graph shows the changes in all literacies in Estonian students average PISA test results of 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015. According to the test results the knowledge and skills of Estonian students have improved significantly.

PISA 2015

The test's main domain of assessment was nature sciences (biology, geography, physics and chemistry). This time students were asked which job they would like to do at age 30. New and innovative field of assessment was problem solving with team. The results of that assessment will be published in autumn 2017. In April 2017 students' well-being report was published (see below).

More than half a million students from 72 countries participated in the test. From Estonia, 5587 students participated in the test, that is more than half of students at age 15.

206 schools participated in the test. 78% of students did the test in Estonian, while 22% in Russian. 


  • PISA 2015 shows that Estonia's basic school students rank among the best in the world while being at the absolute top in Europe. Results are the same as in 2006. In the field of nature sciences, Estonia's youth ties with Finnish peers on the first and second place.
  • PISA 2015 demonstrates that the results of students from Estonia's Russian-basic schools has improved in mathematics and functional reading. At the same time, the difference between Estonian- and Russian-basic schools is big (estimated to one school year).
  • PISA 2015 shows that great amount of effort has been done in Estonian-basic school, because the majority of students are able to solve low and medium level difficulty assignments well. Students who have been preforming not enough good have received additional help to achieve results. Estonia has the least amount of students with low level of skills among European countries, as well when compared to the rest of the world.
  • Estonia has very little educational stratification compared with other countries – our educational system is homogenous and egalitarian.

PISA 2015 students' well-being

The PISA 2015 test also surveyed students about other studying-related aspects such as schoolwork-related anxiety, sense of belonging, motivation, exposure to bullying, physical activity and future plans.

The study, conducted by OECD, compares students from better socio-economic background to students from less better socio-economic background, city schools to rurals school and also students in Estonian-schools to Russian-schools.

In 2015, 72 countries participated in the survey. Half of the students at age 15 participated in the survey.

  • Estonia is among those few countries where PISA test results are among top in the world and satisfaction with life above average. The average of satisfaction with life among OECD countries is 7.3 points out of 10. Estonia's average is 7,5.
  • 90,1% of respondents are satisfied with their life, while 74% of those are very satisfied or satisfied with their life. 16,7% are about moderately satisified with their life. Estonia's students are above-average satisfied with their life compared to OECD's average.
  • Estonia's students' schoolwork-related anxiety is one of the lowest, that shows how students are not very anxious about bad grades, tests or difficult tasks.
  • The satisfaction between Estonian-schools and Russian-schools nor city schools and rural schools is not different. 



Last updated: 8 September 2017