May 25, 2020
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Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Sample questions from the PISA test—which students in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh couldn’t crack—and the Quality Education Study in the metros

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Reading Literacy
Read the following article and answer the questions below:
Do our teeth become cleaner and cleaner the longer and harder we brush? British researchers say no. They have actually tried out many different alternatives, and ended up with the perfect way to brush your teeth. A two-minute brush, without brushing too hard, gives the best result. If you brush hard, you harm your tooth enamel and your gums without loosening food remnants or plaque.

Bente Hanse, an expert on tooth brushing, says that it is a good idea to hold the toothbrush the way you hold a pen. “Start in one corner and brush your way along the whole row,” she says. “Don’t forget your tongue either! It can actually contain loads of bacteria that may cause bad breath.”

Question: What do the British researchers recommend based on the article?

  1. That you brush your teeth as often as possible.
  2. That you do not try to brush your tongue.
  3. That you do not brush your teeth too hard.
  4. That you brush your tongue more often than your teeth.

Answer: C, That you do not brush your teeth too hard, but only 45% 15-yr-old students from Himachal Pradesh and 44% from Tamil Nadu answered correctly


Question: What is the main idea of this text?

  1. Singhania was in danger during his balloon trip.
  2. Singhania set a new world record.
  3. Singhania travelled over both sea and land.
  4. Singhania’s balloon was enormous.

Answer: B. Singhania set a new world record.

Question: Vijaypat Singhania used technologies found in two other types of transport. Which types of transport?

Answer: Refers to BOTH airplanes AND spacecraft (in either order). [can include both answers on one line]

  • 1. Aircraft
  • 2. Spacecraft
  • 1. Airplanes
  • 2. space ships
  • 1. Air travel
  • 2. space travel
  • 1. Planes
  • 2. space rockets
  • 1. jets
  • 2. rockets

Partial Credit: Refers to EITHER airplanes OR spacecraft.

  • spacecraft
  • space travel
  • space rockets
  • rockets
  • Aircraft
  • Airplanes
  • Air travel
  • jets

Question: What is the purpose of including a drawing of a jumbo jet in this text?
Question: Refers explicitly or implicitly to the height of the balloon OR to the record. May refer to comparison between the jumbo jet and the balloon.

  • To show how high the balloon went.
  • To emphasise the fact that the balloon went really, really high.
  • To show how impressive his record really was – he went higher than jumbo jets!
  • As a point of reference regarding height.
  • To show how impressive his record really was. [minimal]

Question: Why does the drawing show two balloons?

  1. To compare the size of Singhania’s balloon before and after it was inflated.
  2. To compare the size of Singhania’s balloon with that of other hot air balloons.
  3. To show that Singhania’s balloon looks small from the ground.
  4. To show that Singhania’s balloon almost collided with another balloon.

Answer: B. To compare the size of Singhania’s balloon with that of other hot air balloons.


“Blood Donation Notice” is from a French website.

Question: What is the main purpose of the text “Blood Donation Notice”?

  1. To encourage people to donate blood.
  2. To describe the risks of donating blood.
  3. To explain where you can go to donate blood.
  4. To prove that many people regularly donate blood.

Answer: Full Credit: A. To encourage people to donate blood.

Question: An eighteen-year-old woman who has given her blood twice in the last twelve months wants to give blood again. According to “Blood Donation Notice”, on what condition will she be allowed to give blood again?

Answer: Full Credit

  • Identifies that enough time must have elapsed since her last donation.
  • Depends whether it has been 8 weeks since her last donation or not.
  • She can if it has been long enough, otherwise she can’t.

Question: The text says: “The instruments for taking the blood are sterile and single-use … ” Why does the text include this information?

  1. To reassure you that blood donation is safe.
  2. To emphasise that blood donation is essential.
  3. To explain the uses of your blood.
  4. To give details of the tests and checks.

Answer: Full Credit: A. To reassure you that blood donation is safe.


Use the fable “The Miser and his Gold” to answer the questions that follow.

Question: Read the sentences below and number them according to the sequence of events in the text.

  1. The miser decided to turn all his money into a lump of gold.
  2. A man stole the miser’s gold.
  3. The miser dug a hole and hid his treasure in it.
  4. The miser’s neighbour told him to replace the gold with a stone.

Answer: Full Credit: All four correct: 1, 3, 2, 4 in that order.

Question: How did the miser get a lump of gold?

Answer: States that he sold everything he had. May paraphrase or quote directly from the text.

  • He sold all he had.
  • He sold all his stuff.
  • He bought it. [implicit connection to selling everything he had]

Recognises that the message of the story depends on the gold being replaced by something useless or worthless.

  • It needed to be replaced by something worthless to make the point.
  • The stone is important in the story, because the whole point is he might as well have buried a stone for all the good the gold did him.
  • If you replaced it with something better than a stone, it would miss the point because the thing buried needs to be something really useless.
  • A stone is useless, but for the miser, so was the gold!
  • Something better would be something he could use – he didn’t use the gold, that’s what the guy was pointing out.
  • Because stones can be found anywhere. The gold and the stone are the same to the miser. [“can be found anywhere” implies that the stone is of no special value]

Question: What is the main message of this story?

  1. Do not store up wealth that can be stolen.
  2. Trusting in other people is a mistake.
  3. Failing to use what you have is the same as not having it.
  4. Do not grieve over things that cannot be changed.

Answer C. Failing to use what you have is the same as not having it.

Math Literacy

Question: Afzal has made a square on his computer screen. He now tilts it. Which of these statements is true?

  1. The square changes into some other shape and its side lengths also change.
  2. The square changes into some other shape but its side lengths don‘t change.
  3. The figure remains a square, but its side lengths change.
  4. The figure remains a square, and there is no change in its side lengths.

Answer: D, but nearly 40-50% of students from Classes 4-8 think a shape changes if its orientation changes, even though its properties don’t change.


Question: In 1998, the average height of both young males and young females in the Netherlands is represented in this graph. According to this graph, on average, during which period in their life are females taller than males of the same age?

Answer: Girls are taller than boys when they are 11 and 12 years old. In Tamil Nadu, 85% students fall below baseline Maths literacy levels, while in Himachal Pradesh, 88% lack the same.


Circle either “Yes” or “No” for each design to indicate whether the garden bed can be made with 32 metres of timber.

Question: Garden bed design Using this design, can the garden bed be made with 32 metres of timber?

  • Design A Yes / No
  • Design B Yes / No
  • Design C Yes / No
  • Design D Yes / No

Answer: Full Credit: Yes, No, Yes, Yes, in that order.

Exchange Rate

Question: Mei-Ling from Singapore was preparing to go to South Africa for 3 months as an exchange student. She needed to change some Singapore dollars (SGD) into South African rand (ZAR). Mei-Ling found out that the exchange rate between Singapore dollars and South African rand was:
1 SGD = 4.2 ZAR. Mei-Ling changed 3000 Singapore dollars into South African rand at this exchange rate. How much money in South African rand did Mei-Ling get?

Answer: 12 600 ZAR (unit not required).

Question: During these 3 months the exchange rate had changed from 4.2 to 4.0 ZAR per SGD.
Was it in Mei-Ling’s favour that the exchange rate now was 4.0 ZAR instead of 4.2 ZAR, when she changed her South African rand back to Singapore dollars? Give an explanation to support your answer.

Answer: ‘Yes’, with adequate explanation.


Question: Which statement about the weight of BOX 2 is true?

  1. It is equal to 1kg
  2. It is more than 1kg
  3. It is less than 1kg
  4. It is equal to 500 g

Answer: B


Question: The length of this pencil is about:

  1. 4 cm
  2. 5 cm
  3. 6 cm
  4. 7 cm

Answer: B

Scientific Literacy

Q. Regular but moderate physical exercise is good for our health. What happens when muscles are exercised?

  1. Muscles get an increased flow of blood. Yes/No.
  2. Fats are formed in the muscles. Yes/ No.

Answer: Yes and No in that order. Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh students ranked among the last three countries in scientific literacy.


Read the texts and answer the questions that follow.

The grenhouse efect: fact or fiction?

Living things need energy to survive. The energy that sustains life on the Earth comes from the Sun, which radiates energy into space because it is so hot. A tiny proportion of this energy reaches the Earth.

The Earth’s atmosphere acts like a protective blanket over the surface of our
planet, preventing the variations in temperature that would exist in an airless world. Most of the radiated energy coming from the Sun passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth absorbs some of this energy, and some is reflected back from the Earth’s surface. Part of this reflected energy is absorbed by the atmosphere. As a result of this the average temperature above the Earth’s surface is higher than it would be if there were no atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere has the same effect as a greenhouse, hence the term greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect is said to have become more pronounced during the twentieth century.

It is a fact that the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere has increased. In newspapers and periodicals the increased carbon dioxide emission is often stated as the main source of the temperature rise in the twentieth century.

A student named André becomes interested in the possible relationship between the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and the carbon dioxide emission on the Earth.

In a library he comes across the following two graphs.

André concludes from these two graphs that it is certain that the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is due to the increase in the carbon dioxide emission.

Another student, Jeanne, disagrees with André’s conclusion. She compares the two graphs and says that some parts of the graphs do not support his conclusion.

Question: Give an example of a part of the graphs that does not support André’s conclusion. Explain your answer.

Answer: Refers to one particular part of the graphs in which the curves are not both descending or both climbing and gives the corresponding explanation.

  • In 1900–1910 (about) CO2 was increasing, whilst the temperature was going down.
  • In 1980–1983 carbon dioxide went down and the temperature rose.
  • The temperature in the 1800’s is much the same but the first graph keeps climbing.
  • Between 1950 and 1980 the temperature didn’t increase but the CO2 did.
  • From 1940 until 1975 the temperature stays about the same but the carbon dioxide emission shows a sharp rise.
  • In 1940 the temperature is a lot higher than in 1920 and they have similar carbon dioxide emissions.

Partial Credit:

Mentions a correct period, without any explanation.

  • 1930–1933.
  • before 1910.

Mentions only one particular year (not a period of time), with an acceptable explanation.

  • In 1980 the emissions were down but the temperature still rose. Gives an example that doesn’t support André’s conclusion but makes a mistake in mentioning the period. [Note: There should be evidence of this mistake – e.g. an area clearly illustrating a correct answer is marked on the graph and then a mistake made in transferring this information to the text.]
  • Between 1950 and 1960 the temperature decreased and the carbon dioxide emission increased. Refers to differences between the two curves, without mentioning a specific period.
  • At some places the temperature rises even if the emission decreases.
  • Earlier there was little emission but nevertheless high temperature.
  • When there is a steady increase in graph 1, there isn’t an increase in graph 2, it stays constant. [Note: It stays constant “overall”.]
  • Because at the start the temperature is still high where the carbon dioxide was very low.
    Refers to an irregularity in one of the graphs.
  • It is about 1910 when the temperature had dropped and went on for a certain period of time.
  • In the second graph there is a decrease in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere just before 1910. Indicates difference in the graphs, but explanation is poor.
  • In the 1940’s the heat was very high but the carbon dioxide very low. [Note: The explanation is very poor, but the difference that is indicated is clear.]

Question: André persists in his conclusion that the average temperature rise of the Earth’s atmosphere is caused by the increase in the carbon dioxide emission. But Jeanne thinks that his conclusion is premature. She says: “Before accepting this conclusion you must be sure that other factors that could influence the greenhouse effect are constant”.

Name one of the factors that Jeanne means.

Answer: Gives a factor referring to the energy/radiation coming from the Sun.

  • The sun heating and maybe the earth changing position.
  • Energy reflected back from Earth. [Assuming that by “Earth” the student means “the ground”.] Gives a factor referring to a natural component or a potential pollutant:
  • Water vapour in the air.
  • Clouds.
  • The things such as volcanic eruptions.
  • Atmospheric pollution (gas, fuel).
  • The amount of exhaust gas.
  • CFC’s.
  • The number of cars.
  • Ozone (as a component of air).


Read the text and answer the questions that follow.

A team of British scientists is developing “intelligent” clothes that will give disabled children the power of “speech”. Children wearing waistcoats made of a unique electrotextile, linked to a speech synthesiser, will be able to make themselves understood simply by tapping on the touch-sensitive material.

The material is made up of normal cloth and an ingenious mesh of carbonimpregnated fibres that can conduct electricity. When pressure is applied to the fabric, the pattern of signals that passes through the conducting fibres is altered and a computer chip can work out where the cloth has been touched. It then can trigger whatever electronic device is attached to it, which could be no bigger than two boxes of matches.

“The smart bit is in how we weave the fabric and how we send signals through it – and we can weave it into existing fabric designs so you cannot see it’s in there,” says one of the scientists.

Without being damaged, the material can be washed, wrapped around objects or scrunched up. The scientist also claims it can be mass-produced cheaply.

Source: Steve Farrer, `Interactive fabric promises a material gift of the garb’, The Australian, 10 August 1998.

Question: Can these claims made in the article be tested through scientific investigation in the laboratory? Circle either “Yes” or “No” for each.

Can the claim be tested through scientific investigation in the laboratory?

The material can be:

  • washed without being damaged. Yes / No
  • wrapped around objects without being damaged. Yes / No
  • scrunched up without being damaged. Yes / No
  • mass-produced cheaply. Yes / No

Answer: Yes, Yes, Yes, No, in that order.


Mary Montagu

Read the following newspaper article and answer the questions that follow

The history of vaccination

Mary Montagu was a beautiful woman. She survived an attack of smallpox in 1715 but she was left covered with scars. While living in Turkey in 1717, she observed a method called inoculation that was commonly used there. This treatment involved scratching a weak type of smallpox virus into the skin of healthy young people who then became sick, but in most cases only with a mild form of the disease.

Mary Montagu was so convinced of the safety of these inoculations that she allowed her son and daughter to be inoculated.

In 1796, Edward Jenner used inoculations of a related disease, cowpox, to produce antibodies against smallpox. Compared with the inoculation of smallpox, this treatment had less side effects and the treated person could not infect others. The treatment became known as vaccination.

Question: What kinds of diseases can people be vaccinated against?

  1. Inherited diseases like haemophilia.
  2. Diseases that are caused by viruses, like polio.
  3. Diseases from the malfunctioning of the body, like diabetes.
  4. Any sort of disease that has no cure.

Answer: B. Diseases that are caused by viruses, like polio.

Question: If animals or humans become sick with an infectious bacterial disease and then recover, the type of bacteria that caused the disease does not usually make them sick again. What is the reason for this?

  1. The body has killed all bacteria that may cause the same kind of disease.
  2. The body has made antibodies that kill this type of bacteria before they multiply.
  3. The red blood cells kill all bacteria that may cause the same kind of disease.
  4. The red blood cells capture and get rid of this type of bacteria from the body.

Answer: B. The body has made antibodies that kill this type of bacteria before they multiply.

Question: Give one reason why it is recommended that young children and old people, in particular, should be vaccinated against influenza (flu).

Answer: Responses referring to young and/or old people having weaker immune systems than other people, or similar.

  • These people have less resistance to getting sick.
  • The young and old can’t fight off disease as easily as others.
  • They are more likely to catch the flu.
  • If they get the flu the effects are worse in these people.
  • Because organisms of young children and older people are weaker.
  • Old people get sick more easily.


Genetically Modified Crops

GM Corn Should Be Banned

Wildlife conservation groups are demanding that a new genetically modified (GM) corn be banned.

This GM corn is designed to be unaffected by a powerful new herbicide that kills conventional corn plants. This new herbicide will kill most of the weeds that grow in cornfields.

The conservationists say that because these weeds are feed for small animals, especially insects, the use of the new herbicide with the GM corn will be bad for the environment. Supporters of the use of the GM corn say that a scientific study has shown that this will not happen.

Here are details of the scientific study mentioned in the above article:

  • Corn was planted in 200 fields across the country.
  • Each field was divided into two. The genetically modified (GM) corn treated with the powerful new herbicide was grown in one half, and the conventional corn treated with a conventional herbicide was grown in the other half.
  • The number of insects found in the GM corn, treated with the new herbicide, was about the same as the number of insects in the conventional corn, treated with the conventional herbicide.

Question: Corn was planted in 200 fields across the country. Why did the scientists use more than one site?

  1. So that many farmers could try the new GM corn.
  2. To see how much GM corn they could grow.
  3. To cover as much land as possible with the GM crop.
  4. To include various growth conditions for corn.

Answer: To include various growth conditions for corn.

Gender Sensitivity

Q. Amrita is a 10-year-old girl. Her mother works as a maid and her father is a farm labourer. Amrita has two sisters and one brother. Her parents say that she doesn’t need to go to school because she will marry and leave the family when she becomes an adult. What do you think about this?

  1. A) All girls must go to school, even if the family is poor.
  2. B) It's better if she stays at home and takes care of the younger children.
  3. C) If they are poor and they can send only one child to school, they should send the boy.
  4. D) Girls don't help their parents after they are married, so they don't need to go to school.

Answer. About 40-43% of students in classes 4, 6 and 8 felt that education for a girl child is less
important than for the boy.


Social Sentivity

Q. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). A person can live a relatively normal life for many years if they are diagnosed with HIV, but they are said to have AIDS when they develop an HIV related illness. Which of the following statements about HIV do you agree with?

  1. We should avoid going near HIV positive people because we might catch it by being near them.
  2. HIV positive people are capable of participating in everyday life like people with any other disease.
  3. HIV positive people should not be allowed to use public facilities like toilets and water pumps.
  4. People with AIDS are solely to blame for catching the disease.

Answer: -D: Answer Options, E: Not Attempted, F: Invalid Entries


Social Studies

The political party leader of your state says the following things about people from another state:

  • They are taking away the jobs that rightfully belong to the people of your state.
  • They are influenced by Western culture and will spoil the traditions of your state.

What is your response?

  1. Anyone can live freely wherever they want in my state.
  2. They can live in my state but they should not be given jobs.
  3. Anyone can live in my state but they must follow the traditions of my state.
  4. It is better they stay in their own state because otherwise there will be fights in my state.

Only a few of these questions appeared in print

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