4 ways to do well at A Level Economics

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Economics is a very popular subject at A Level but being good at it involves much more than just knowing the syllabus.  Here are my top tips for students wanting to excel at A level.  Overall the key is to challenge and explore the subject yourself.  This will make it come alive and give you confidence to tackle even the most unfamiliar of topics.

Apply the theories to things happening around you

Economics is a body of theory about  the forces governing production and consumption.  But it is not something that can be understood or appreciated merely by being read about it in a textbook.  The purpose of it is to help us understand and predict how the real world actually behaves.  So give it a go!  Look at what’s happening in the world around you and see if you can use economics to make sense of it.  This could be at a  very local level e.g.  Why are so many pubs in my area closing?  Is that due to changes in demand or supply?  Or why are private school fees increasing so much?!  Or it could be at a more ‘macro’ level e.g. Why is inflation still above target in the UK?  Which theory of inflation can best explain that?  If they can’t explain it well what might explain it better?  This is how you start to think like an economist.  It also makes the subject come alive – you start to gain confidence in using economics, not just in knowing about it.  Once you can use economics then you will lose your fear of the questions that examiners can throw at you at A2 level.

Challenge the theories and consider the assumptions 

When you are first being taught economics, there is so much new to learn that teachers have to simplify the theories a great deal.  For instance you may have been taught at AS level that inflation could be caused by an increase in firm’s costs.  But asking yourself the question:  “would any increase in costs always lead to an increase in inflation?” might prompt you to think that it wouldn’t if firms were facing very strong competition.  And that might then lead you to realise that it depends on an assumption about the market power of firms.  This opens up a much richer and more subtle understanding of the assumptions behind economic theories which also makes it much easier for you to ‘evaluate’ arguments and ideas.  So challenge the theories you are taught, test what assumptions they are based on and ask whether you think those assumptions are likely to be true.  By doing so you will develop a critical approach to economics that will stand you in good stead in the exams.

Start to make connections between the separate modules

In order to make the teaching of economics easier and more systematic, the topic has been separated into different units (typically micro and macro) which are then taught separately.  At AS level you are unlikely to see much link between say, elasticity and aggregate supply.   But as you progress into A2 increasingly you should find yourself making links between the different modules.  For instance you might notice that AS curve has a different slope / elasticity at different points.  You might ask why this is and what that means for the impact of different policies.  Or you might be learning about how firms decide how much to produce and wonder how that relates to interest rates.  Economics should work as an integrated subject so pursue these thoughts and try and make those connections.  Once you see how it connects you will build confidence in tackling unusual and synoptic questions.

Fill in the gaps yourself

As your knowledge of economics increases you may start to see some gaps in the syllabus – topics you feel you should know about but which haven’t yet been taught.  An obvious one to me is that you are unlikely to learn much about financial markets at A level (stock markets, bonds, speculation and so on).  Well once you spot a gap you should take the initiative to find out about it yourself.  Why not research it on the internet?  Or ask your teacher or tutor about it?   Another gap might be how government works:  how are government policies actually determined?  What is the role of political parties?  This might prompt you to find out more about politics.

When you see a gap, don’t ignore it, explore it!

Overall making a success of A Level economics involves making the subject your own – what you learn in school is the starting point for your own personal investigation of the issues that fascinate you.