TIMSS was first administered in South Africa in 1995 and subsequently in 1999. In 2002 it was administered both to Grade 8 and 9 learners, and in 2011 to Grade 9 learners. In 2015, TIMSS was administered to Grade 9 learners, and TIMSS Numeracy was conducted with Grade 5 learners. In 2019, Grade 5 and 9 learners completed both the mathematics and science assessments. Together, the assessments provide data to analyse trends in South African education for over two decades.

For TIMSS 2019 in South Africa, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) conducted the study at the Grade 5 level in 291 schools with 11 891 learners across the country. The Grade 9 data collection took place in 519 schools with 20 829 learners. The number of schools in two provinces, Gauteng and the Western Cape, were boosted from 30 to 150, to provide more robust estimates. 

Throughout the TIMSS studies, vast numbers of items have accumulated, and with every cycle certain items are released into the public domain. The remainder, which are used as trend items, are not released. By releasing items into the public domain; countries are able to use these items as exemplars for preparation for the next TIMSS cycle. Considering the large number of items available and the fact that the length of the average TIMSS test is 90 minutes, it is impossible for learners to be tested on all items in the TIMSS repository. For this reason TIMSS uses a matrix sampling approach, meaning that all the TIMSS items are spread across 14 booklets, and a single booklet is administered to learners.

During TIMSS administration a total of four questionnaires are administered in addition to the achievement assessment instruments:

  • The Learner Background Questionnaire is completed by the learner who completed the assessment, and asks about aspects of the learners’ home and school lives: their home environment, school climate for learning, and their perceptions and attitudes towards mathematics and science.
  • The Teacher Questionnaire is administered to the mathematics and science teachers of the learners who write the assessment tests. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on teacher characteristics, as well as classroom contexts for teaching and learning mathematics and science.
  • The School Questionnaire is administered to the principal in all sampled schools. It asks about school characteristics like instructional time, resources and technology, as well as parental involvement.
  • The Curriculum Questionnaire is completed by the National Research Coordinator who is required to complete information pertaining to the curriculum which is followed by South African public schools.

At the Grade 5 level, a further questionnaire is also administered: 

  • The Home Questionnaire (Early Learning Survey) is completed by the parents or guardians of participating Grade 5 learners. The questionnaire asks about learners’  preparations for primary schooling, including preschool attendance and literacy- and numeracy-centered activities in the home; and includes questions about home resources, level of education and employment.

The most recent round of TIMSS was administered in October 2018 to Grade 5 learners and in 2019 to Grade 9 learners.