Surviving IB: HL Economics


What do you feel about HL Economics?

All things (except family and friends) truly come from economics! Flip open today’s newspapers (the serious bits beyond the sports section) for a glimpse of the treasure trove of economic intricacies that shape the world and country we live in today. Dive in, and you never know what you’ll find – development economics (poverty), for example, has engaged me on an emotional level, and inspired me to reach out to the needy (yes, we’re all in that half of the world that doesn’t need to worry about their next meal) as a future profession.

I’m grateful to now know econs as the most dynamic subject there is. In the real world, there’s never really a right answer, and I’ve read a book that introduced the concept of “clinical economics” – how similar “symptoms” (e.g. unemployment, poverty) stem from different “diseases” and warrant different “treatments” (economic policies). Context is key, and constantly changes with time. With economic training, you’ll view current affairs with unique, normative judgments.


Most vital survival tips to studying Economics

Immerse. While studying theoretical concepts, bear in mind their relevance to the real world. An understanding of Singapore’s health care/education system, for example, isn’t only necessary for Paper 1 essays (be that guy that makes a running compilation of real life examples to share before exams) but is also great for dinner-table talk. Likewise, skimming through the newspapers (just the headlines are enough, don’t worry) will acquaint you well with the Paper 2 essays which are similar (and often simpler) press excerpts.

Study by question. IB exam questions are limited in variety. For Paper 1, craft essay outlines to filter the need-to-know from the help-you-to-understand textbook content. For Paper 2, target the full mark (you can do it!) by similarly making a running compilation of Question 1s (definitions) and Question 2s/3s (4-mark short answers). For Paper 3, track the mistakes you make (one list per Unit), and these mistakes will hopefully stop recurring.

Practise the diagrams. Infusing your worded explanations with labelled diagrams need some getting used to. Don’t be lazy, try it as much as you can alongside your outlines!

Divide and conquer. The syllabus’ breath is daunting, but split units up into bite-sized chapters. Concepts becomes more digestible, and you get a healthy confidence boost!


Most vital survival tips to taking Economics exams

Eyes on the clock. Time isn’t on your side – I sat next to a really gifted friend who never finished her econs exams (till the actual IB, phew). Time-pressure practise helps mental confidence, but watch the clock in case a gnarly question sucks up unusually more time. Only with economical time management will you have time to showcase your economic knowledge! 🙂

Be pliable. Some unconventional questions in the recent years have shocked many. Keep calm, and be flexible! Have faith in your revision, and tweak what’s already in your head a little for a unique, great essay.

Plan before writing. Diagrams are hard to cancel, and time hardly affords you a U-turn during exams (it’s happened to me before, it felt horrible). With proper pre-exam prep, planning can take under a minute, but can save you ten.


Most vital survival tips to Economics IAs

It’s your analysis, not the journalist’s. Veer clear of articles that are overly analytical. Instead, find concise articles (750 words) that present short n’ sweet facts, with perspectives from various stakeholders (e.g government, taxpayer, steel workers). That should give you sufficient material and space to craft your own argument.

Practise “clinical economics” (see introduction). IAs are steeped in real-world context, which should influence your final “diagnosis” heavily. For instance, evaluating health care subsidies requires knowledge of the severity of the issue (e.g. Japan’s ageing population = severe) and the government’s fiscal position (it’s hard to spend when you’re in debt).

Stick to the article and the article alone. If the article discusses a policy, analyse its pros, cons, and implications on various stakeholders. Don’t stretch your argument too thin by contemplating alternate policies. Don’t be overly speculative in your arguments too.


One thing to look out for

Don’t forget to label your diagrams! Haha, it’s the most painful way to lose marks…


If I could turn back time…

I’d have brought more real-world scenarios to class for discussion. Wherever applicable (if the article related to the topic in class), real-world scenarios are a fantastic opportunity to ask away, speak up, and take a stand.


In short…

Economics is theoretical, but it’s real. Look beyond the tiny triangles or arrows you draw in economic diagrams to what they truly represent – the millions going hungry, unemployed steel workers, or kids finding work in the black market. Getting it right in the real world is crucial, and the potential displacements are equally severe. That’s the sobering reality and beauty of studying a social science.


Kevin Ong was from the graduating batch of 2016. Kevin is known for his role as President of the Student Council, as well as his brilliance in the water. A 45-pointer and a Dean’s Lister in Economics in his spare time, you can be sure the aforementioned time-saving tips are ~economical~!

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