PIAAC - OECD Adult Skills Survey


The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a major new international survey of adult skills. 24 countries, including Ireland, took part in the survey. Ireland had the third highest response rate of participating countries at 72% with almost 6,000 adults (5,983) between the ages of 16 and 65 responding to the survey.


What does PIAAC assess?

PIAAC was developed in the context of changes in the demand for skills particularly in knowledge based societies.  The skills that are assessed in PIAAC are literacy, numeracy reading component measures and problem solving in technology rich environments.  Technological change, particularly the increasing use of ICT together with changes in the structure of employment away from manual labour towards jobs involving the use of IT requires a different set of skills than before.  Understanding these skills and the ways they are developed and maintained is information for policy makers.


How was PIAAC delivered?

In Ireland the survey was carried out by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).  They interviewed almost 6,000 adults aged between 16-65 years in their homes assessing their literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills.  PIAAC is a computer based assessment; however those who were unable to use a computer could take a pencil and paper assessment instead. 


What do the results from PIAAC in Ireland tell us?


  • 18% of Irish adults are at or below Level 1 on the literacy scale.
  • Ireland ranks 17th out of the 24 partici-pating countries.
  • There is no statistical difference between the score of males and females on the literacy scale.
  • In Ireland adults between the ages 25 – 34 have the highest literacy score while adults aged 55 – 65 years have the lowest score.

Reading components

PIAAC uses 3 basic reading tests to examine reading ability of those with the weakest literacy skills. These are: word meaning; sentence processing; and passage comprehension.

Irish adults who were assessed at being below Level 1 answered on average correctly:

  • 95% of word meaning
  • 84% of the sentence processing
  • 91% of passage comprehension tasks

This compares to adults at Levels 4 and 5 who answered 99%, 97% and 99% correctly.

This suggests that many adults at the lower end of the scale have basic literacy skills.


  • Just over 25% of Irish adults score at or below Level 1 for numeracy compared to a 20% average across participating countries. This score ranks Ireland 19th out of the 24 participating countries.
  • Males score higher than females by 12 points.
  • Adults aged 25 – 34 have the highest score for numeracy while adults aged 55 – 65 have the lowest score. This mirrors a trend across participating countries which show a decline in numeracy proficiency for older age groups.
  • 30% of those aged 16 – 24 are at Level 1 compared to 18% for those aged 25 – 34 and 36% of those aged 55 – 65.

Problem solving in technology rich environments

Problem solving in technology-rich environments was also tested in PIAAC. This is the first time that this assessment has been attempted for an adult population. The results show that:

  • 10% of Irish adults said they had no computer experience, 5% failed the assessment and 17% opted not to take a computer-based assessment.
  • 42% of Irish adults score at or below Level 1 on the problem solving scale, the same as the study average. Males score higher than females.
  • 25% of Irish adults are at Levels 2 and 3 compared to 34% on average internationally.

The OECD has cautioned that the levels in PS-TRE are affected by the percentage of respondents who opted out of the computer-based assessment therefore the problem solving scores are not representative of the full population of computer users across countries. Instead the OECD uses the percentage of adults within each level as a more robust measure.

More information on PIAAC

Irish Report

OECD Website