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Education Malaysia 2020: Which is Better – TIMSS vs PISA?


(The differences between PISA & TIMSS – Table source:

As I was drafting the post on OECD Big Data and reading PISA articles, my son stopped at my working desk and asked me whether I will be evaluating TIMSS as well.

I was not aware of TIMSS before this so when my son mentioned it, it sounded Greek and I knew I needed to dig further for details.

What is TIMSS anyway?

“Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study” (TIMSS) is a large-scale assessment designed to inform educational policy and practice by providing an international perspective on teaching and learning in mathematics and science.

TIMSS conducts comprehensive state-of the-art assessments of mathematics and science for students in Year 4 and Year 8, supported with extensive data about country, school, and classroom learning environments. First conducted in 1995, TIMSS reports every four years on the achievement of Year 4 and Year 8 students.


And the methodologies used are as follows:-

Along with the overall students’ achievement data, TIMSS comprehensive assessments include data on student performance in various mathematics and science domains (algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, etc.) and on performance in the problem solving challenges in each of these contexts.

In addition, TIMSS provides contextual data on crucial curricular, instructional, and resource-related factors that can impact the teaching and learning process.

These data are gathered using student, teacher, school, and curriculum (national) questionnaires filled out by students, teachers, school principals and National Research Coordinators, respectively.

Because TIMSS is administered in four-year cycles, it enables participating counties to use the results between the fourth and eighth grades to track the changes in achievement and certain background factors from an earlier study.

The IEA has developed an application for working with data from TIMSS and other IEA large-scale assessments called the “IEA International Database (IDB) Analyzer”.

This application allows researchers to combine data files and facilitates some types of statistical analysis (such as computing means, percentages, percentiles, correlations, and estimating single level multiple linear regression).

The application takes into account the complex sample structure of the databases when calculating the statistics and their standard errors. It also allows researchers to estimate achievement scores and their standard errors.


There are some differences on the methods used by TIMSS and PISA, for example for Mathematics:-

The PISA mathematics literacy test asks students to apply their mathematical knowledge to solve problems set in various real-world contexts.

To solve the problems students must make use a number of mathematical competencies as well as a broad range of mathematical content knowledge.

TIMSS, on the other hand, continues to measure more traditional classroom content such as an understanding of fractions and decimals and the relationship between them.


So if under PISA, Malaysia stands below the average and stand way below Singapore in the scores, then what about our standing for TIMSS?

Science Score – Malaysia (40), Average score (44), Singapore (64), Thailand (37), USA (50)
Mathematics Score – Malaysia (36), Average score (42), Singapore (74), Thailand (30), USA (48)

Under TIMSS assessment for 2015, it is the same case – Malaysia stands below the average and stand way below Singapore in the scores. However it was reported that based on the 2011 & 2015 assessment, Malaysia have improved from 32nd place in 2011 to 24th place in 2015 for Science and improved from 26th place in 2011 to 22nd place in 2015 for Mathematics.

Khair said among the contributing factors for the increased scores were teachers and principals possessing higher educational qualifications, the positive environment in schools, principals emphasising academic success, teachers’ active involvement in professional development programmes, and high-level thinking skills and assessments.


Have we continued to ensure teachers & principals have the right qualifications?

For 2020, we have gone stream less for Form 4 – does this means we will get more students who are interested in Science but did not get enough credits in PT3 exams? More importantly are we building a society that has high-level thinking?

Frankly speaking, if we are increasing elements of religions into schools, there is a low chance of developing students developing high level & critical thinking. In Science, you need proof and ask questions challenging the results. In Mathematics, you need to be precise and ensure you have used the right Mathematics formulas.

The next assessment will be for 2019 – so will there be continuous improvement for Malaysia in Science and Mathematics?

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