Problem solving differs from mathematics, reading, and science in that it is not a traditional school subject. Problem-solving tests assess the degree to which students can solve problems in contexts that are not confined to one discipline (such as reading, math, or science) and draw on students’ knowledge from a variety of sources. Problem solving is a more advanced skill that may be indicative of preparation for advanced degrees and ultimately a country’s innovative capacity.
Students with high-level problem-solving skills are described as not only being able to analyze a situation and make decisions but also being capable of managing multiple conditions simultaneously. They can think about the underlying relationships in a problem, solve it systematically, check their work, and communicate the results.1
PISA is an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15 year olds, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It assesses whether students approaching the end of compulsory education have acquired the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. In 2003, PISA tested for problem-solving skills.
1 OECD. Problem Solving for Tomorrow’s World: First Measures of Cross-Curricular Competencies from PISA 2003 (Paris: OECD, 2004), p. 3