With a special focus on mathematics, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tested the maths, reading and science knowledge of some 510,000 15-year-olds in 2012 and released their findings on Tuesday.
The triennial study, coordinated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), saw the Chinese city of Shanghai came out on top for mathematics, reading and science. In math, students in Shanghai were nearly three years ahead in schooling above the OECD average.
East Asian countries rounded out the top spots with Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Korea, Macao and Japan winning high marks in all three categories.
The OECD's head of education Andreas Schleicher told the Reuters news agency that the recipe for East Asia's success is setting high standards for all schools and giving them the means to achieve them.
"They basically succeed in attracting the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms, they get really great principals in the tough schools," Schleicher said.
Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the Netherlands also made it into the top 10 best performing education systems.
The test is based on a 1,000-point scale with an international average of 494. Improving its ranking from the 2009 testing, Germany came in 16th with a mean score of 514, scoring above average in each category.
Peru came in last place with an average score of 368.
The test is highly influential among education officials worldwide, with the 65 countries participating representing more than 80 percent of the global economy.
Students in the United States trailed in maths and were average for reading and science placing 36th overall.
Since testing started in 2000, US scores on the PISA haven't changed much.
Vietnam, which had its students participate for the first time in 2012, had a higher average score in math and science than the US.
hc/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)