HL Economics

Introduction a.k.a. My Rant Zone

**You can skip this whole chunk if you want because it’s just me being angst then feeling triumphant, so in other words it’s a bit of a waste of your time (but felt great for me).

HL Economics – the bane of my IB existence. Everyone was all, “Econs is just about memory work.” And I’d think, “Okay. But even so, that’s five hundred pages of content to memorise.” And it’s true; you do have a solid 19 (technically, 18) chapters to learn, with factors and subfactors and subsubfactors, plus a whole glossary of terms you need to be able to properly define. I studied throughout the two years, yet prior to the actual IB papers I was consistently getting low-5s to low-6s (promos, prelims, class mocks, etc.). What helped me jump to 7s for all the components for the IB was how wholehearted and legitimate an effort I put into my study time for Econs: actual memorisation, proper organisation of factors and arguments, and familiarity with graphs and stats. There’s no easy way around it. Full-on swallowing of Tragakes and content immersion. It gets intense, but if you’re determined, then yo, do what you gotta do.

This one’s for those who aren’t naturally blessed at Econs, but who refuse to let that setback stop ’em (which, by the way, should be everyone – conquer the challenges; don’t let them conquer you).

Internal Assessment (IA)

The Econs Department does a good job guiding you throughout the IA process, so there’s not much to say about this, honestly. But pro-tips, anyway:

  • To find articles, key in relevant phrases or terms into Google News, instead of just regular Google. You can’t use articles older than a year, so using Tools on Google to narrow your search results to the “past year” may be a good idea. Be sure to save your article as a PDF document because you’ll need to attach it to your commentary upon submission to the IB.

Econs 01

Econs 02

  • Include definitions of Economics terms present in your article in the introductory paragraph of your commentary.
  • Make sure you have at least two clear, correct and well-labeled graphs in each commentary. Don’t forget to caption them too (in 10 words or less).
  • Always incorporate evidence from the article (statistics, quotes, etc.) into your commentary and graphs, whenever possible.

Econs 03

  • Body paragraphs should explain the graph in the context of the article’s problem or the policy and its effects. This basically very typically includes discussing the impacts on stakeholders (consumers, businesses, workers, etc.) and / or the market outcomes. Tragakes is your best friend, here especially. Refer to her thoroughly. Understand and paraphrase.
  • In your conclusion, take a stand or at least establish a relatively clear position. For instance, say your article is on something as tricky as stagflation; you can conclude with the stance that a contractionary monetary policy should be implemented, and back this up with the main benefits of this policy [in the short run], while also acknowledging its limitations, then continue by mentioning how supply-side policies should also be implemented for its benefits [in the long run]. Your body should’ve already mentioned and elaborated on the benefits and limitations you’re stating in your conclusion, so keep your reiteration of these key points very brief.
  • To draw graphs, most use either Microsoft Word or Google Drawings (found on Google Drive). Remember to save an editable version of your graph as you might be asked to edit them.

Organisation of Notes / General Study Tips

One thing about Econs that I sort of struggled with was how you can get general questions and specific questions. I created a bullet point and colour-coding system so that I’d be able to know the scope I’d be using to answer a particular essay question.

Here’s how I’d structure my notes with the bullet point and colour-coding system:

No bullet point, tier #1: Factor

  • Bullet point, tier #2: Subfactor
    • Bullet point, tier #3: Subsubfactor
      • Bullet point, tier #4: Subsubsubfactor

*the bullet point tiers are based on how indented they are, i.e. distance away from the left side of the page / margin

Regardless of which bullet point tier they’re in, I’d put definitions of key terms in red, statistics / case studies / examples in green, the elaboration / explanation (which I’d align in the same tier as the bullet point it was elaborating on) in regular black, and key information I really needed to highlight in purple, with a star-shaped bullet point replacing the usual one. (Obviously, create your own system of organisation that works for you; this is just what I did, in case you need ideas or whatever.)

Draw your diagrams out and make sure you’re able to do so without reference because you’re gonna need to do that for your papers! Try to understand the diagram so you save on having to simply memorise it. Plus, that way, if you make a mistake, your understanding will be able to guide you to correct that error. But yeah, test yourself by drawing and labelling diagrams wholly, then checking to see if you got it right. No shortcuts here, sorry.

Paper 1

Memorisation Tips and Tackling the Essay

  • Your introduction should include the definitions of key terms relevant to your essay. Also make sure you include at least two diagrams. Just like what you do in your IAs.
  • I used acronyms and mnemonics to remember factors (and subfactors and subsubfactors, etc.).

Using Mrs Ng’s “I Love Cats” mnemonic to remember the three market-based supply-side policies helped a great deal: Incentive-related policies, Labour market reforms, and encouraging Competition.

  • To then elaborate on these factors, you really just have to understand the concept / logic behind each (which is the point of education). Essentially, the main memory work is not in the elaboration, but in ensuring that you’re hitting all the main points in your arguments – that your argument is solid, and that you haven’t left out a single crucial point.
  • You also always need to give concrete, specific examples in each essay. Note that your example should be one that is fairly recent. Examiners don’t look too kindly on examples taken from the Great Depression.

Let’s say you’re talking about how a limitation of GDP as an indicator of the standards of living in a country is that it make no distinction about the composition of a country’s output.

A weak example: Country A may have a lower GDP than Country B, but the standard of living in Country A may still be better than that of Country B, because Country A may be producing higher levels of merit goods than Country B.

A strong example: The US has ranked highly in its GDP tally but at one point over 25% of the federal budget was spent on military goods (cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2013 totalled to almost $10 trillion) which, unlike merit goods, have little impact on the standard of living in a country.

  • For your conclusion (which is more necessary in the part b) segment of your essay question), wrap your essay up very concisely and neatly by taking a stand. Just like your IA conclusion. Please see above.

Skipping Chapters?

There’s always a calculated risk we sometimes need to take when we’re desperate, and in the case of Econs, it tends to revolve around studying either Chapters 2 – 5 or Chapters 6 – 7. That means having to learn either supply and demand, elasticities, government intervention and market failure or theory of the firm (production, costs, revenues, profit, goals of the firm and market structures). I definitely advise studying everything but if you’re really, really, really desperate, I’d say that it’s more advisable to study for former than the latter for Paper 1, because while the best-case scenario is there being one question from each of the two Micro sections, in the off-chance that both questions end up being from the same Micro section, from past paper analysis the section is typically the Chapter 2 – 5 one.

But again – spotting is not advisable. The IB is crazy unpredictable. And so is the school.

Paper 2

Organisation of Notes

  • For International and Developmental Econs, I pretty much just used the same system I’d used for Micro and Macro.
  • The good news is that because Paper 2 is article-based, you don’t need to memorise stats or other forms of evidence to substantiate your points; you root that out from the article you’re given.

Tackling the Essay

  • You need to know definitions for this one or you’ll be losing an easy 4 marks out of 20. See? This is why the glossary at the back of Tragakes is so crucial.
  • Yeah, diagrams are very, very advisable, if not already made necessary by the question, for parts b) and c) especially.
  • A lot of the above advice under Paper 1 applies here, for part d), but the good news is, your elaborations don’t have to be as crazy in-depth for Paper 2. For the 8-mark essay, it’s more important to have a good range of points with decent elaboration / explanation than a small number of super in-depth ones.
  • For part d), quote information from the article. Do not just regurgitate theory you memorised from Tragakes. Apply it to the context of your article. This is how you get marks! Quote the stats given, talk about how the oil spill your article discusses has killed marine life and thus reduced supply of a primary commodity, etc. Don’t just speak generally! The article is your guide; use the information it provides to draw out economic theory and discuss the article from an Economics standpoint, making sure you are also answering the part d) essay question.
  • Make sure you present both sides of the argument. You need a thesis that supports the question’s stand, then an antithesis that goes against it.
  • In your conclusion, like in the IA, take a stand while acknowledging the limits of the stand, but ultimately re-establish your stand in spite of the limits anyway.
  • This paper is a lot easier in terms of the essay because it really is less tedious and gives more leg space for error. Cover as many points as you can, with more concise explanations (really, there’s no need for insane detail, because there’re so many other points you’ll need to bring to light).

Paper 3

Organisation of Notes

  • Do yourself a favour and create a Paper 3 cheat sheet or something. This should comprise definitions (yeah, you need those for, like, all papers), formulas and how to calculate stuff (like marginal income tax, etc.).
  • Remember that you need only do 2 out of 3 of the questions in this paper. Don’t be stupid and do all 3. Spend the time checking your calculations instead.


This article is written by Luigi*, who seriously struggled with Econs throughout the two years but managed a comfortable 7 for the IB.


[Last updated: 1 May 2017]

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