The commentaries and final examinations for IB economics require you to really only do 3 things – define, analyse with the help of diagrams, and evaluate. As well, the new HL paper 3 asks students to perform some quantitative tasks but these seem to be fairly straightforward. At the bottom of this page you will find some model answers to IB and IB-style questions.
Definitions are required for both papers one and two and in your commentaries. In paper 1, usually the ‘a’ part of the essay question will require you to define terms. The data response questions in paper 2 also require definitions in part ‘a’.
Definitions are straightforward to learn, but they must be learned. The tricky thing about definitions in economics is that while the words are often familiar to us their economic definitions are usually somewhat different (and usually more precise) than their everyday meaning. For instance, while we all know what ‘scarcity’ means in everyday language, in economics the definition (the situation where wants exceed resources) is quite different. Even more befuddling, sometimes a term in economics has different meanings depending on the section being studied. For instance, the term ‘quota’ is used both when looking at supply-management schemes designed to keep the prices of commodities like milk and eggs stable and when studying protectionist measures designed to keep out imports.
To learn the correct definitions, it is important to have a good source. Some books are better than others, but with my own students I used the definitions from the markschemes for past IB papers. If you ask your teacher to look on the Online Curriculum Centre operated for IB teachers, they should be able to find a glossary made up of definitions taken from past papers.
Analysis with the aid of diagrams is a core skill in economics and is at the heart of paper 2 and your commentaries. To succeed, you first need to understand and be able to reproduce accurately the diagrams from the course. Again, there is no short-cut here – you will need to practice drawing the diagrams and you should do so while telling yourself why each line appears as it does.
Once you know the diagrams, though, it is a fairly easy thing to do well on the ‘b’ and ‘c’ parts of the data response questions in paper 2. First, you need to explain, in words, precisely what is going on in the situation that is being analyzed. Be sure to explain pretty fully – for instance, if the situation is one where demand rose, it is always a good idea to go on to explain why that was the case in a way that shows that you understand why the event would lead to an increase in demand. Next, having explained the situation, show the situation using a diagram. Be sure to fully label the diagrams and show the different equilibrium price and quantity points with dotted lines to the axes. Lastly, explain the diagram, making sure to make specific reference to the points and lines that you have drawn. To sum up, you need to explain, then show, and then explain what you have shown.
Evaluation is the last big skill that is required in both papers one and two and in your commentaries. Generally, part ‘b’ of the essay questions in paper 1 is an evaluation question, as are the ‘d’ parts of the data response questions in paper 2. Evaluation is really pretty simple as it is just making a judgement. Most commonly, you are asked to evaluate a policy response. To do so, you should judge whether it will be effective or not in achieving its objective. You should then judge whether this response is what theory suggests should be done. Lastly, you should look at the impact of the policy on various groups that are affected, for instance, consumers, workers, firms and the government, in the short and the long run. Then, taking all of this together, you should try to figure out whether, overall, the policy is a good one or a bad one.
To take an absurd example, let’s evaluate Robert Mugabe’s decision to print more Zimbabwe dollars to try to tame the hyperinflation that was taking place there a few years ago. Clearly, this is unlikely to be effective in reducing inflation. It is also completely counter to what theory suggests should be done. Looking at the effects of such a policy, it harms consumers, workers and firms in the long run as people stop accepting $Z and the economy turns to barter (and US dollars), even though for some people (for instance, firms with large stockpiles of goods) the inflation may be beneficial in the short run. Overall, then, this can be clearly seen to be a poor policy response to the problem of inflation.
You may also be asked to evaluate the impact of an event (such as an increase in oil prices) which requires you to look only at the impact on the groups affected in the short and long term and then, at the end, judge whether overall the impact will be positive or negative.
Please look at the sample questions and answers below to give you further insight into how to define, analyse and evaluate effectively.
New Material Posted in January 2015
Answering Paper 1
Economics 11 Extended Response Test – Micro 1
Market Failure Paper One-Style Test
Tariff Quota DRQ 2014
May 2011 SP2 Q4 Answer
BOP and Exchange Rate Ruble Test
BOP Exch Rate Test 2014
Grade 12 Re-test II, BOP and Xch Rates – 2010
Test – Global Economy and Institutions
Global Economy DRQ Test + TOT
Imbalances and Global Institutions Test Key
Structuring Your Extended Essay
Material Posted in 2011/2012
BOP and Xch Rates DRQ – USA
BoP and Xch Rates DRQ – Canada
BOP and Xch Rates DRQ – Venezuela
Trade and Protectionism DRQ – China
Trade and Protectionism DRQ – Russia
Trade and Protectionism DRQ – Australia
Model Essay Answer – May 2006 SL Paper 1 Q1
Model Essay Answer – May 2007 HL Paper 1 Q1
Model Data Response Answer – May 2009 HL Paper 3 Q4
DRQ – China Complains to WTO about EU Tariffs
DRQ Model Answer – China Complains to WTO about EU Tariffs
Workbook for the New I.B. Economics by Bryce McBride is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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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