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Scientific Literacy in PISA

Scientific literacy involves the use of key scientific concepts in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world. It also involves being able to recognize scientific questions, use evidence, draw scientific conclusions and communicate these conclusions. Scientific concepts relevant to the students' world both now and in the near future will be used.

PISA assesses scientific literacy in three dimensions:

  • First, scientific concepts, which are needed to understand certain phenomena of the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. While the concepts in OECD/PISA are the familiar ones relating to physics, chemistry, biological sciences and earth and space sciences, they need to be applied to real-life scientific problems rather than just recalled. The main content of the assessment is selected from within three broad areas of application: science in life and health; science of the earth and the environment and science in technology.

  • Second, scientific processes, which are centered on the ability to acquire, interpret and act upon evidence. Five such processes that are present in OECD/PISA relate to:
    • the recognition of scientific questions
    • the identification of evidence
    • the drawing of conclusions
    • the communication of these conclusions
    • the demonstration of understanding of scientific concepts

All but the last of these do not require a pre-set body of science knowledge. Yet since no scientific process can be "content-free", the PISA science questions will always require understanding of key scientific concepts.

  • Third, scientific situations, selected mainly from people's everyday lives rather than from the practice of science in a school classroom or laboratory, or the work of professional scientists. As with mathematics, science figures in people's lives in contexts ranging from personal or private situations to wider public, sometimes global issues.


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