Do students in Japan learn how to use mathematics in real-life situations? An analysis of items in the 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA 2003)

Yumi Suzukawa, Hideki Toyoda, Ikko Kawahashi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


It has been said that Japanese students lack the ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real-life situations. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is a test that measures that ability. However, using the test's results to make cross-country comparisons of students' "skills for life" is not possible because of differences among countries in educational level. The purpose of the present study was to examine differences in item difficulty across countries, using multiple group item response theory (IRT), in order to detect any differential item functioning (DIF) in "mathematical literacy." Participants were 99,175 examinees in 13 countries and areas (Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States) who took the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2003 (PISA 2003). Analysis revealed that Japan has a most unusual pattern of item difficulties. Especially, the Japanese participants were not good at solving questions in real-life situation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-217
Number of pages12
JournalJapanese Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Jun



  • Cross-national comparison
  • Differential item functioning (DIF)
  • Multiple group item response theory (IRT)
  • Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Education

Cite this