A huge majority of students fail Econs in JC exams. In most schools, the failure rates for Econs is at least 50% during prelims. Yet the silver lining with Econs is that it’s the subject where a good 20-30% of students who score U during the prelims will go on to score an A in the A-levels. The reason is simple: the school papers are tough and well beyond the marking standards of the A-levels. Even with less than 2 months to the actual exams and you staring at that U grade for your prelims, don’t fret too much. Instead, focus your time and energy on these 3 actionable tips that would help you attain that A in the A-levels.
Plan your time
One of the most common complaints given by students is that there is simply too much content to study for the A-levels. So let’s break this down a little. Typically, Paper 1 covers all topics in the syllabus. Paper 2 requires 3 out of 6 questions to be chosen, with a mandate that at least one macro and one micro question are attempted.
In most cases for Paper 2, one question primarily covers one topic in the syllabus. Students can therefore place their focus on topics that would definitely come out and much ignore the rest. For instance, every year a market failure question would be set in the micro segment together with other varying topics. This implies that you could channel your time and effort into planning for this particular topic while ignoring other micro topic questions like demand and supply. For macros, most years would see 2 easy questions and a ‘tougher’ one. If students have thoroughly studied their macro content regarding various macro problems and policies, focusing and attempting these 2 easier questions should not be an issue. To achieve minimum input and maximum output, a solid strategy would be to choose that market failure question and the 2 easier macro questions. This approach is practised by more than 50% of students taking the A-levels Econs each year and is a tested strategy to getting an A. It also allows students to save a huge portion of their time to prepare micro topics related to the case study; itself an easy feat since most of the concept details and facts can be obtained from the source itself. For those struggling to keep up with the amount of revision content, this collective approach to focusing on specific topics is a good way to achieve maximum productivity while removing unnecessary frills.
Beyond planning revision time, students should also plan well their time in the exams. For example, most students are familiar with having too little time to tackle their final essay question in Paper 2. In Paper 1, it is more straightforward since one case would approximately take up 1 hour and 7 minutes. For Paper 2, each essay should work out to about 45 mins. Assuming you take 5 minutes to plan, you would be left with 40 mins to finish that essay. Furthermore, some essays are split into part (a) and part (b), so you need to be prudent on how much time to allocate each section according to the marks demarcated. The art of time management is much easier said than done. To perfect it, spend effort in disciplined practice and always attempt full practice papers under exam conditions. The latter of which trains you to write effectively under simulated time constraint and stress conditions.
Read Model Essays
For every subject, there is always an activity which yields a higher return on invested time than other comparative undertakings. Your goal is to figure out what that activity is for each subject. In the case of Economics, that activity is reading answer keys or model essays.
Very often, students stuck with a dismal grade from their school exams have little idea why they are receiving such grades. They look at markers’ comments on their scripts but have fuzzy ideas on what went wrong for the most part. Some end up jumping to wrong conclusions or continue the erroneous writings. Yet, the only way to improve is to look at model essays given out by examiners and to discern what exactly went wrong with their essay pieces. There is a reason why model essays are in such high demand in the industry and even traded at a premium. Learning from model essays yields the highest return since students can actionably emulate after the writer’s points of argument. Students exposed to a wider variety of evaluation points would begin to distill what exactly is a question’s particular evaluation point. As students also soon discover, the top grades are often given to essays with relevant examples and a deep knowledge of context. This is especially so in policy questions where students are required to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and those able to cite relevant recent examples would gain a one up over their peers. Model essays tend to contain such relevant examples and evaluation points which students can use to add insightfulness to their own essays. These essays are akin to concise summaries and evaluations of updated economic policies that students would often find in newspapers and magazines today. By reading such essays synthesizing relevant content to the H2 syllabus, students can bypass the tedious work of reading numerous articles and trying to distill the important content themselves.
Do essay outlines
As mentioned earlier, doing full practice papers can help students plan and allocate their time during the final exam. But once you’ve mastered the art of time management, stop there. Instead of doing full practice papers, focus your efforts on doing more essay outlines. Doing outlines help you develop a surer grasp on common questions and what the questions are looking for. It exposes you to various question types and helps you confidently approach them using the appropriate guiding words they employ. By being exposed to more question variations, students are able to tailor knowledge they already have to fit scope of the questions. For example, if a question asks about market failure in the education industry, not everything that is learnt under market failure would be relevant; only those relevant to the education industry.
In planning outlines, each essay question should be limited to 5-10 minutes and students should write out different arguments they would utilise to tackle the question. This ensures the essay’s direction correct and is the first step to getting an A in the exam. It also saves time in case the outline for the essay was already wrong and prevents you from wasting more than 2 hours if you had decided to write out the essay in full. To know if the outline is correct, students should consult with a teacher or check the model essays to see if the direction of arguments are similar. By doing more essay outlines, students would be better able to spot what answers the question is looking for, especially when some questions are intentionally misleading and structured to mislead readers into writing an essay not relevant to the question. Remember, an essay totally ‘off-point’ is a definite failure. And being adept in planning outlines is key to avoiding that.
Economics is a subject that is vastly different from the sciences or mathematics. For those subjects, students can simply prepare for the exam by doing practice papers. Yet for Econs, doing practice papers alone would at best hone examination skills. To get an A, students have to constantly sharpen and refine their content knowledge utilized in the exam.
Furthermore, it is at this juncture where students should be honest about their various strengths and weaknesses. If you are not able to spot the main issues in questions, focus on practising more outlines. If you’re more inclined with spotting the issues but not adept with writing insightful points, then focus on reading more model essays to emulate their arguments and evaluations. Everyone’s study plan is unique, and should be tailor-made to your particular strength and weakness.
To get an A for Economics is not an utopian pipe-dream. It’s attainable and empirically proven with the significant number of As coming out of SEAB each year. Now’s the period where the wheat are sieved from the chaff. And the separation is in the preparation.
Isaiah ZhaoIsaiah is an education technology writer, currently serving as the head of content at Yodaa. In his free time, he researches on online marketing and education tips.
If you got an A or B for your prelims, you shouldn’t be too far off from an A at the A Levels. Your only likely problem is that you might possibly become complacent and choose to sideline this subject completely to focus on other subjects – that may end up causing you to do worse off at the A Levels.
C or D – you have a problem in 1 of the 4 areas listed below
E – Probably 2 areas
S or U – probably 3 areas or all of it
- Time Management
- Essay Writing Skills
- CSQ Application
- Content Mastery
I’ll try to provide some quick, simple tips for each of the 4 areas to help you with your revision.
Many don’t quite realise this – but the number 1 killer at the examinations is time management.
I always tell my students this – it doesn’t matter how much you know, and it doesn’t matter how much you write.
It matters, within the 45 minutes timeframe given – are you able to provide an in-depth, on-point essay of sufficient length?
For CSQ, have you trained yourself to answer the CSQ in an extremely disciplined manner – exact amount of time to read the extracts, read the questions, and for each question, allocating the right amount of time to answer each question depends on the number of marks.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. If you can’t deliver within the time limit, you can’t score.
You want to score 15 to 18 marks on average for the 3 essays you have to write, not score 20 marks for 2 essays and leave 1 blank. Take note!
PS: Also, DO NOT compromise handwriting for speed.
How do we get time management right?
Practice makes perfect. Time yourself, doing each essay. Only rest when you are finally able to get it done within 45 min timeframe. Likewise for CSQ. Keep to 1 hour for each CSQ if possible while not stretching beyond 1 hr 5 mins.
Essay Writing Skills
Skill No.1: Understanding the Question Requirements
1 common mistake by students – they don’t plan. They don’t read deeply into the question enough. They don’t tear the question apart and make sure that they have accounted for every single requirement of the question. They just love to get the rough idea of ‘which topic’ the question belongs to and then just vomit everything they know about the topic and expect to score. That’s tough luck. You have to make sure that every point that you write – is helpful towards answering the question!
Many students ask – how do I even know what are the requirements of the question?
- define key words, explain key concepts required by the question
- make use of your rulers, highlighters, to break down the phrasing of the question and understand how each word plays a part in your understanding of the requirements
- ask yourself – what exactly does the examiner want to test me with this question. (read the question once more)
- plan your answers around the question requirements – and make sure each paragraph you write directly goes back towards answering the question.
One good way to start –
- Go grab past year prelim questions with answers from the school bookshop
- Attempt outlines for essay questions
- Check your outlines against the suggested answers provided by the schools
- Read the answers, see what you are missing out in your own outline
- After reading the answers, go back to look at the question again, and see specifically what does the answer attempt to address – how can we reverse engineer the question requirements from the answers.
Skill No.2: Basic Elements of an Essay
Do a quick-check on the following questions
- Do you bother to write a proper introduction, with the key definitions defined, key concepts explained, provide a summary of the key points that you will be writing in the body and provide a stand/answer to the question?
- Do you write ridiculously long paragraphs? Do you consciously take the effort to do paragraphing – whereby each paragraph has ONE key point, well explained and elaborated and serves to link back to the essay question and is satisfying an essay requirement?
- For each point that you are writing, did you incorporate the 4Es –
- Explain (provide an in depth explanation about the point you are trying to bring across)
- Elaborate (provide an Economics framework / link the point to Economics theory and try to address the question)
- Examples (self explanatory, provide examples relating to context of the question)
- Evaluate (an opinion, but substantiated with theory & data)
*Important Note for H1 Students: The worst idea you can have is to ignore your essay segment. You think that essay segment occupies less marks as compared to the CSQ segment, so you can kind of ignore it – You are thinking very dangerously. Understand this, you have only ONE essay to do, if you don’t do well in this essay, there is no 2nd or 3rd essay unlike the H2 students to help you average out the marks. So essay is equally important!
For CSQs, there are not that many quick-fixes to improving your score. You have to actually do them, to improve.
If you are failing your CSQs, I’d recommend that you plough through at least 20-30 CSQs from now till the A Level exams.
Generally, there are 3 types of CSQ questions
- Trends (1m – 4m)
- Linking data to economic theory (2m – 8m)
- ‘Policies’ and ‘solutions’ (6m – 10m)
If you are failing your CSQs – don’t start doing CSQs first, read through past year / this year prelim papers with school answers provided.
Look at the way the question is phrased, and look at how the school answers the question, and try to understand why the answer is phrased in a particular way to answer the question. In other words, try to understand how to formulate answers for CSQs first.
Go through at least 10 – 20 CSQs, reading the CSQ, the questions, and understand the answers and why they are answered in that certain way.
And of course, after that, start practising! To see a significant improvement in your CSQ grades, you need to try no less than 20-30 CSQs.
with less than 5 weeks to your A Levels, there is no time to be reading your lecture notes. You should try to tackle the above 3 areas. While you are studying or practising for your essays and CSQs, you should have your lecture notes immediately by your side for reference.
When you practice your essays, and CSQs, you are already actually doing content mastery at the same time.
Refer to my previous post here
Also, don’t be afraid to Google for data to substantiate your answers during your revision. Extra figures and evidence helps!
Remember, don’t be demoralised or affected by your prelim results. Your prelim results provide you a platform for you to figure out your weaknesses and gives you the tools to work on them. So, go work on them!
Meanwhile, come book consultation appointments with me. I’ll be releasing information about consultation sessions available with me soon.
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by eugene toh