The paper evaluates the work of the International Adult Literacy Survey as reported in OECD 1997. It assesses its contribution to understanding literacy in terms of the perspective of the New Literacy Studies. It outlines this perspective as a basis for a critique that is mostly concerned with the validity of the test. Three criticisms of the survey are made: that it provides only a partial picture of literacy; that culture is treated as bias; and that the test items do not represent the real-life items as claimed. Finally, the paper concludes with an overall evaluation of what the IALS achieves in terms of its own aims.