To re-sit or not to re-sit?

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Around this time many AS students, having not quite got the grades they wanted, are considering whether to re-sit some of their modules in order to improve their overall results.  But beware!  This decision is much more complex than it first appears.

Very often students who don’t get what they need immediately apply to re-sit with little or no thought about the consequences.  Students often think:  “Well I didn’t get the grade I need so I have to re-sit and by re-sitting I am almost bound to achieve better grades next time.”  Another common thought is:  “Well I don’t lose anything by re-sitting the exam.  Either I get a better grade which is good, or I just keep my old grade.  So I may aswell re-sit.”

Obviously it’s true that if you re-sit and if you get a better grade and if your other grades don’t suffer then it’s worth re-sitting.  But these are a lot of ifs!

In fact my experience is that this way of thinking leads students to re-sit too many modules and in fact end up doing worse than they might have done if they had not re-sat any!

There are a few problems with re-sitting modules.  The first is obvious but somehow not sufficiently appreciated:  working towards a re-sit is extra work that has to be done on top of new modules.  So, say for instance you are doing Mathematics AS and C2 didn’t go well.  You decide to re-sit this.  That means you will have to work and prepare for that on top of the work required for your A-Level modules e.g. C3 C4 and S1.  And those are hard!

Effectively by choosing to re-sit you are making your A-Level year even harder than it would have been.  The knock-on effect is often that those second-year modules go worse than expected.  And then you have to consider whether to re-sit those and…you get the picture!  Re-sitting can often end up leading you to take three or even four years to complete your A-Levels rather than the normal two.

Second, typically but not always there is much less support from your school available for you to re-sit than there was the first time round.  Frequently I have seen students choose to re-sit only to find that they have to work on it alone.  This is not conducive to improving your grade!

Third, why would you do better just because you re-sit?  Too often people assume that just because you try something more than once that you will do better.  But that makes no sense.  If I can’t drive no matter how many times I take my test I am not going to pass.  So the idea that just by ‘turning up to the exam’ you will do better is an illusion.  You have to work better, harder or differently in order to expect to improve your grade.   And that’s not easy.  So if you need to re-sit ask yourself why you didn’t get the grade you wanted in the first place?  And what will you do differently if you do re-sit?  If you can’t answer these questions then you should be wary of re-sitting.

This is not to say that people should never re-sit a module – of course not.  It can be a good option if  you can manage the extra workload on top of new work, and you have the support in place – in school or with a tutor like myself –  to prepare better.  But if you are likely to struggle with your existing workload and the support for re-sits is minimal then you might be better off not re-sitting and just applying yourself more rigorously to your new modules.


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.


2012 Outlook

Here we go.  Time to nail my colours to the mast and guess forecast what this year has in store.  I’ve noticed two major temptations when doing this:  a)  to predict something ‘interesting’ or unexpected because it’s fun and the converse b) to assume everything remains basically the same.  The truth is inevitably the messy place in between.  This time I have 10 predictions, 7 economic and 3 political.  My outlook is that overall the UK economy will weaken further making it harder to cut the budget deficit and requiring yet more stimulus bt the Bank of England.  In politics, I predict a worsening of the position of Labour relative to the Conservatives. We shall see!

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Review of 2011

Having looked back over my posts over the last year I didn’t manage to post as often as I intended but I am pretty happy with what I wrote.  I guess I’m going to try and stick to ‘quality over quantity’ this year if I can although once again I will try and post more regularly.  

It’s that time of year again when I look back at the predictions I made last year and see how I did.  Overall it’s a decent record. On the economy I got 4/6.  On politics I got 4/6 too. Although maybe I am too generous with my half marks?!  So what should I learn?  I got the big picture right –  a weakening economy, and a government still supported to carry out painful reforms because they are accepted as necessary.  

What I didn’t sufficiently appreciate that this year would be when many of the spending cuts started to be felt and when inflation would undermine consumer confidence, leading to much lower growth than expected. Once again UK inflation proved to be higher and stay higher longer than most people, including I, expected.  I probably also underestimated the ability of the government to set the agenda and the relative incompetence of the Labour party as an opposition.

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Merkozy plan is completely wrong-headed

All eyes are on the eurozone summit this week and the proposals by France and Germany to create a new ‘fiscal union’ to stabilise the euro and prevent a future crisis. The details of this plan are still sketchy but the key elements seem to be: the enforcement of new rules intended to prevent countries from running excessive budget deficits (more than 3% of GDP) which will be backed up automatic sanctions, together with a guarantee that private investors will not be asked to take losses on their loans in the future. Importantly it does not include the creation of eurobonds or a commitment that the ECB will buy up the bonds of troubled nations such as Italy and Spain. So far the financial markets seem to have been impressed, with Italian bond yields falling sharply yesterday. Setting aside the very real doubts about whether the scheme will get the agreement of the 17 euro states (or 27 EU ones), let us imagine that it does come into effect. What would this mean? And would it prevent a recurrence of the current problems? The answer has to be that it would probably be a disaster.

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Eurozone crisis is as much political as economic

You can’t turn on the television or radio at the moment without endless news coverage of the problems in the Eurozone – the 17 countries that use the Euro as their currency. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have all been forced to seek bailouts due to their massive government debts while Italy and Spain remain perilously close to triggering a massive financial collapse of the entire Eurozone.

Their bond yields – the cost of government borrowing – are now nearing levels that would force them to seek help from the EU or IMF to meet their spending commitments. These fears and the potential for massive losses in European banks are very likely to push the Eurozone back into recession. There are many proposals for how to prevent calamity from the modest proposal of more fiscal union to the outlandish idea of the American Federal Reserve buying massive amounts of Eurozone government bonds. But why exactly has it gone so wrong? Was it flawed from the start? Or is it the result of errors by European politicians? The truth is that the euro might have worked if it had been backed by the right political institutions from the start. But their absence now means that it seems quite likely to suffer a disorderly collapse.
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Globalisation without global governance is a disaster

The global economy is in big trouble again. Unemployment remains too high and growth too low across the Western world while emerging economies such as China and Brazil show signs of over-heating. Meanwhile the Eurozone stumbles from one market crisis to another due to its inability to deal with the insolvency of Greece. A common thread through all these problems is that they require a global or regional response from governments and monetary authorities – but that such a response is currently impossible to coordinate. This in turn is due to the weakness of the existing institutions of global governance such as the IMF, United Nations, and G20. If globalisation is not to be reversed or end in disaster it is vital that these institutions be strengthened so that they can manage economic policy on a regional or global basis.

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What is the impact of the Arab Spring?

As I write it seems likely that the Libyan rebels are about to finally oust Gaddafi and take control of the country. This would mean that Libya would join Egypt and Tunisia in ousting their dictator and introducing a new form of popular government. Across North Africa and the Middle East dictatorial regimes have either been toppled or been forced into making major political and economic concessions. This must be the largest period of mass political protest since the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Those events ushered in a new era, leading some to argue that the spread of democracy and globalisation were inevitable. So what will the Arab Spring mean for global politics and economics?

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Letter from Spain

I just got back from a holiday on the lovely island of Menorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands. While I was there I couldn’t help noticing a few things which showed up some of the main problems facing that country. With the eurozone crisis rapidly spreading from Greece to Italy and Spain, these issues could come to a head sooner than I thought.

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