Problem solving

In PISA2003, problem solving was included as a supplementary domain. This focus was added to the survey because a number of OECD countries were concerned that students’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy may not reflect their overall capability to solve problems.

To address this, and evaluate students’ cross-curricular competencies in solving problems, students were confronted with complex real-life situations and asked to solve a problem in that setting. To carry out such tasks, students systematically needed to combine several concepts and cognitive processes, which could not be linked to a single cognitive domain.

PISA defines problem solving as ‘an individual’s capacity to use cognitive processes to confront and resolve real, cross-disciplinary situations where the solution path is not immediately obvious and where the content areas or curricular areas that might be applicable are not within a single subject area of mathematics, science or reading.’ 

  • PISA distinguishes between three different types of problem solving processes: decision making, system analysis and design and trouble shouting.
  • Like the scales of proficiency in other PISA domains, the PISA problem solving scale is divided in three consecutive proficiency levels.



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