How to Structure an Economics IA
This post will go through what you should write in your Economics IA, with step-by-step instructions and with word counts for each section. What you need to know before you write:
- Avoid writing anything that isn’t going to earn you marks. You’re going to need all the words you can get for your analysis and evaluation. Avoid quotes from the article and introductions longer than 2 sentences.
- Stick with one section of the course (micro, macro, international, or development). Don’t start off in micro (apple prices rise, supply and demand, elasticity) and then evaluate the potential macro effects (this could hurt economic growth). Even if this is true, the IA is about going deep into one part of the course, rather than showing the linkages between different parts.
- Less is (often) more. Because of the very constraining word count (750 words) you’ll want to focus on really developing just one or two (two at the most) diagrams in your IA. And only evaluate one potential solution (the one in the article or one of your choice if (and only if) there isn’t one in your article. Some of you, I know, are wondering, “What if the article mentions two solutions? Like price ceilings AND subsidies?” Answer: the International Bacheloreate Organization says you can highlight the section of the article you’re going to focus on, so just highlight one solution (and not the other) and you’re good to go. Bibliographies are not obligatory, but they’re nice. And if you include them, they won’t count against you for the word count.
Now you’re ready. Here’s the Method:
1 Key words (150 Words)
Don’t waste words with a lengthy introduction (or quotations). Instead right away start explaining the case using at least 4 course words (and then use more later). You may want to define some of these words, but we’re definitely not looking for a list of definitions. Actually definitions are not specifically required in this new syllabus.
The rubric only asks for terms to be "used appropriately." So you can get away without definitions if you are using terms in ways that show you definitely know what they mean. If you do define some words (which is still advisable) , do so only after you've used them in a sentence. Also, make sure to always use the economic terms rather than the common terms for things throughout your IA. So instead of writing “money” write “consumption” or “expenditure” or “spending.” This will help to convince the reader you are familiar with the subject.
2 Draw the Diagram (0 Words)
The diagram (and it's titles, etc) do not count in your word count. You need to diagram the problem explained in the article. And also diagram your solution. Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be shown on one diagram. Sometimes not. Of course don’t include a diagram (or any theory at all) that doesn’t help you to explain the case. Include in your diagram as much information as you can. It will need to:
-Use a full title such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”
-Label all of your lines
-Mark all of your intersections with a letter, so you can refer to them later in your article
-Shade in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand),
-Indicate the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. If not, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.
Show as much as you can in your diagrams. A clear picture can help you tell a lot.
Obviously you will want to fully label your X and Y axis. Let’s look at a simple supply and demand curve for apples:
3 Fully explain your diagram (200 words)
A big mistake students make is that they will identify the key concepts that explain the case, but they don’t explain how those concepts work. They skip steps in their explanation. It’s human nature to do that. We all do that all the time. We assume the reader is understanding what we’re saying. In this case you can’t do that. You need to force yourself to explain things step by step. Let’s look at an example. I have a students’ (practice) commentary in front of me that reads:
“Supply shifts inward because there was a draught. This leads to a higher price and a lower quantity demanded”
Maybe you’re thinking this isn’t too bad. However, this student has skipped a few steps. He doesn’t make it understandable to a reader who doesn’t know the theory. If you have to be an expert to understand what you’re talking about you aren’t doing it right. You can’t think of your reader as an expert. My student here could have written something like:
“The leftward shift of the supply curve means that, for any given price, less is supplied. This creates excess demand at the original equilibrium price, which puts upward pressure on price. Producers receive the signal to increase their prices and they do.”
Writing like this (step-by-step) isn’t easy. Luckily in this case you get to edit your own writing as many times as you want before you hand it in.
4 Develop Your Explanation (100 words)
Analysis is about explaining how the theory relates to the case. You have already done a lot of that by FULLY explaining your diagram. But now I want you to take it a step further. Go deeper in your explanation. For example, explain how what is happening in the article is not exactly what the theory said would happen (i.e because of the external factors that exist).
Explain to us to what extent the theory you have used explain what’s actually going on in the article? And show the linkages between different aspects of theory. Basically you're trying to take it to the next level. But you aren't evaluating. You're just making sure that you have fully explained the theory and how the theory relates to the case.
5 Evaluate a solution (300 words)
Every article is about a problem. For example, apples are too expensive after the drought. In your commentary you’re expected to evaluate ONE possible solution. If one is mentioned in the case it must be that one that you evaluate. You can suggest one and evaluate that only if a solution isn't already mentioned in the article. You want to choose the most appropriate (most likely) solution here, rather than one that is obviously not going to work at all.
To evaluate you'll need to use at least 3 different (CLASPP) approaches. (The CLASPP approach to Economics evaluation is explained here). Try to include "assumptions" of the theory if you can, to show the limits of the theory and that it doesn't always work out in real life. In the final of the 3 posts on Mastering the Economics IA we will take a detailed look at the 2013 rubric and use a checklist to make sure you really do get full marks.
A big thanks to Thanks to John Gangi (at United Nations International School in Hanoi and author of EconRules.com) and Kaisar Dopaishi (DP Economics workshop leader and Principal of Singapore International School, India) for their helpful feedback.
It’s important to use your time efficiently on economics exams. In the new (2013) syllabus, you only get 45 minutes per essay. And that’s not much time to do everything you need to do. It’s easy to waste time (i.e with introductions or descriptive writing) that earn you no marks at all. If you use this structure you’ll be sure to earn all of the possible marks for each of your IB Economics essays.
Some students will be able to write more than others, because they write more quickly. This structure was written with an average-writing-speed student in mind.
Part A (18 minutes)
Part A1: Definition and real life example
Definition: Define a key word in the question
Definition: Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or a related key word
Definition: Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or a related key word
Real life example: Briefly explain a real life example. Two sentences maximum; you’ll keep link back to this later in the essay.
Part A2: Draw and explain a diagram
Draw the diagram which will best help you to answer the question. Draw it accurately and fully labelled (I.e. “Price of Ice Cream, Quantity of Ice Cream, D1, S1, E1.”) and with a title on top.
Tell us what the diagram shows, in general.
Explain a specific insight of the diagram (i.e. “As the diagram shows, the warmer weather results in a greater demand for ice cream. At Price P1, the quantity demanded increases from Q1 to Q2.”)
Develop that insight further. Use points on the diagram to explain WHY greater demand for ice cream is causing the price of ice cream to increase. (i.e. “The rightward shift of the demand curve means that for any given price, more is demanded. And this puts an upward pressure on price. Producers get a signal from the market that there is excess demand, so they see that they can increase their prices and they do.”) This is often where the high marks are hidden for Part A questions –making sense of the theory for The Reader. (I always say think of “The Reader” as a simple guy who doesn’t understand any economics yet. He doesn’t understand the theory yet and doesn’t know any of your key words. If you can make this stuff make sense to such a person in the time allowed you’re a rock star).
Link your example to the diagram.
Part B (27 minutes)
In part B you are always being asked to evaluate –even if the word evaluate isn’t used. We have the CLASPP model, which lists a variety of types of evaluation. However, it’s useful to try to carefully structure your answer to do this well. To do this, we’re borrowing an approach you’ll learn in Theory of Knowledge. We’re going to treat the Part B question as a knowledge issue.
If you aren’t sure about this approach, you can read this. In general we’re basically trying to argue both sides of a case (i.e. how it’s good for stakeholders and then how it’s bad for them) and do this in a few different ways (i.e. the theory says X, but the theory depends on ceteris paribus, which doesn’t normally hold true). In this way (basically debating with ourselves) we can explore the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and make an informed conclusion.
Intro (Definitions, diagrams and case link)
It is okay to write things like, “As the diagram in Part A shows, … or “Demand, as defined in Part A, …” However, sometimes you’ll need to include additional definitions and diagrams to help you explain your evaluative points in Part B. You’ll have to make a judgment call on this.
Definitions. Define words that require definition. At least one.
Diagram. Draw a diagram if you’re going to need it for your explanation. This will be required about 50% of the time. Basically, if there is a diagram that relates closely to the question and it’s not already in your Part A answer, you’ll have to include it here.
If you do include a diagram do it like this:
Explain the diagram. What does it show in general.
Explain a specific insight of the diagram (i.e. “As the diagram shows, the increase in the price of vaccines has little effect on the quantity demanded.”)
Develop that insight further using points on the diagram (i.e. “The large increase in price from P1 to P2, results in only a slight decrease in demand from Q1 to Q2″).
Link the example to diagram and the question. “Therefore a tax on vaccines will result in decreased demand and is therefore hurts some stakeholders.”
Mention a real life example that relates to the question. It might be the same one you used in Part A. And provide one detail about it (i.e. “China’s grain output rose 5.4 percent 2008.”)
Body 1 (Case link, claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim: Link your case back to the theory. “As the diagram above (or in Part A) shows, this increase in supply would likely have resulted in a decrease in the market clearing price.” So you are answering the question of the case using course theory and also using your example.
Counterclaim: Criticize the theory. You could say, “However, this depends on everything else remaining constant (ceteris paribus), which only occurs in theory.” Point out that it depends on ceteris paribus, which almost never occurs. Or point out that it’s purely theoretical; it cannot be tested. Or perhaps there is something else unrealistic about the theory. Challenging theory like this is tough, but there are a lot of marks for you if you can do it well.
Miniconclusion: Link back to the question (answer the question). “So we can see that, it is likely that, in most cases, and an increase in supply will be followed by a decrease in the equilibrium price.”
Body 2 (Claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim: Explain something else the theory shows. Look to CLASPP for various ways to do this. We’ve already used “assumptions” (which is a very powerful one you should always try to include), so I’ll use stakeholders for this example. “Given that the market clearing price of vaccines will fall, a key advantage of the policy is that more consumers will be willing and able to consume them.”
Counterclaim: Criticize this claim
Mini-conclusion: Link back to the question (answer the question).
Body 3 (Claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim. (i.e. advantages)
Counterclaim (i.e. disadvantages)
Mini-conclusion. Answer the question (i.e. “Therefore the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in most cases”)
Draw together the insights of the different mini-conclusions you have made in your body paragraphs and come to a measured, qualified conclusion. Make sure you also answer the question here. It’s easy to , but also try to say something original. Show that you understand that policy decisions are complicated. For example, implementing theories has unintended consequences (i.e. hurting some stakeholders).
Thanks to Niamh Bowman for her great ideas and help with this structure. Niamh is an IB and MYP Economics and IB Theory of Knowledge teacher at the Overseas Family School in Singapore.
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