There has been lots of comment on the significance of the scores or the rankings. Personally I doubt one can read much from them that we don't already know. But many people can't resist league tables (so important to the enjoyment of sport). However, as a tutor I was more curious about the questions that comprise the Tests. Would I be able myself to get a good score?

An article on the BBC website ('Take-away Pisa for busy people') provides a portal to a sample Maths test - six questions of ascending complexity.

Should you wish to try it for yourself go to www.oecd.org/pisa/test/ Don't read on beyond this point - some of the answers are given away below in my discussion!

I was relieved to find I was not stuck for correct answers - so then my interest turned to the structuring of the test items. Six questions, six levels - what makes one question slightly harder than another?

What follows is my analysis of the sample:

__Level 1__involved reading a fact off a bar graph. The danger here would be in misreading or not following the question: the difficulty, pinpointing the fact. Although this was Level 1, I am not sure it was for me the easiest question of the Test.

__Level 2__involved recognition of an equality - that 4 km in 10 min = 2 km in 5 min. This was the first in a series of speed, distance, time items. There was less information presented in this question than in the first, which might make it an easier proposition for some.

__Level 3__involved reading from a table. This one struck me as being about equal in difficulty to the Level 1 item, unless for the requirement in it to understand the system decimal places - to read correctly values on the right-hand side of the point.

__Level 4__involved multipliers. Four quantities in a worded problem about people passing through a revolving door had to be lined up and multiplied to get a grand total (2 x 3 x 4 x 30). I would describe this as a test of simple systematic extension.

The

__Level 5__question returned to speed, distance and time again, and the first of two

*compound*calculations in the Test - in other words, calculations had to be combined to obtain the answer. An outward time at slower speed and a return time at a faster speed had each first to be worked out in order to find the total time the excursion would take - and hence at what hour of the morning it should start.

The

__Level 6__question would probably have equated with a GCSE Grade C problem. Data was given to work out a cyclist's average speed. I analyzed it as a

*complex compound*type of problem. Like the Level 5 item It required preliminary calculations (therefore compound); the preliminary calculations were slightly less straightforward than in the Level 5 question (therefore complex).

GCSE Maths above Grade C, I have long realised, crucially depends on the ability to manage series of steps.

*This has to be done, then this has to be done, and finally this has to be done, so that we can then do this to get the answer*. If sentences of this nature, applicable to the Level 5 or Level 6 items, defeat or dismay a Year 10 student, then it is sensible to set aims lower and concentrate on calculating and reckoning correctly - and not on complex/compound problem-solving.