How To Answer Economics Essay Questions

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”)

Conclusion (Synthesis)

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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So this article will serve as a kind of extension to a previous article I wrote which you can access through this link.

Economics. Boring to study (debatable). Very useful later in life. Today we’re focusing on IB Economics Paper 1 tips. This is gonna be more technique based.

As with all the techniques I’ve been posting about up until now, you want to make sure that you know your content fairly well enough.

If you’re going to do well for Econ, you DEFINITELY need to know your stuff before you walk into that exam. Now, let me just say that the IB Economics Paper 1 exam is A LOT easier if you have a method for doing it.

The advice I’m going to share today entirely revolves around your structure first. We’ll get into the analysis part at a later stage. So let’s get into it.

IB Economics Paper 1 Tips

Structure/Plan Of Action

Planning is a general theme to pretty much all my articles. There will be no exception for this IB economics paper 1 tips article. Planning is key and I know it’s a cliché to say this but when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Simple as that.

Don’t worry too much about that though. This is a pretty simple structure to follow so you won’t need to worry too much. It’s not very technical. Pretty much “IB Economics Paper One For Dummies” if you know what I’m sayin’.

So. How should you go about planning? With this, fool proof, examiner-friendly acronym that I credit my former Economics teacher for brining to our attention. It’s called DEED in the case of the 10 mark question and DEEDE in the case of the 15 mark question.

“Ok. Great. Fantastic. Stupendous, Rhys. Yeah I TOTALLY get what the acronym is supposed to mean”

Whoa calm down not so fast. I’m not done explaining it yet.

So What’s DEED and DEEDE Stand For?

First of all, I have to clarify that you use DEED for the 10 mark questions only. This is because for the 15 mark question, you need to add an evaluation. DEED basically stands for this:

D – Definitions

E – Explanation

E – Examples

D – Diagram

And since you know the 15 mark question needs to include and evaluation part to it, you know the final E in DEEDE is going to be:

E – Evaluation

Now you’re going to want to remember this acronym for the test and format your answer entirely around that format. Trust me. It’s foolproof if you’ve nailed your analytical writing.

So how would you go about answering a 10 mark question using the DEED format? For this, we’re going to look at an example from an actual past paper (Please don’t sue me IBO if you’re reading this)

This is the Microeconomics Question from the IB Economics November Past Paper:

For 10 marks:

“Explain why a government might decide to impose an indirect tax on the consumption of cigarettes”

For 15 marks:

“Discuss the possible consequences of the imposition of an indirect tax on cigarettes for the different stakeholders in the market”

We’re going to break down these two questions with the handy IB Economics paper tips I have in mind in the next two sections.

How To Structure Your 10 Mark Questions – IB Economics Paper 1 Tips

So remember DEED? Yeah. We’re gonna apply it now so don’t get TOO excited.


Let’s start off with the easiest one (assuming you’ve done your content revision well). This is the part where you define all the theories or economic terms that you’ll be writing about.

So in the 10 mark question above, you may choose to define what an indirect tax is and also what demerit goods are (because cigarettes are demerit goods). Simple as that. Two definitions defined. Next.


You could also write your example here if you wanted. It doesn’t really matter which route you take. So long as you’re clear, your answer flows well, and your explanation and examples are good obviously.

For the explanation, you’d have to get analytical and explain the theory of a government implementing an indirect tax on cigarettes. So how does the theory work? How does implementing an indirect tax help a government raise revenue and reduce the overall consumption of cigarettes?

That’s basically what the explaining part is about. Explaining the theory, how it works, what it’s affects are and potential flaws (you don’t actually need to mention the disadvantages of the theory unless it’s a 15 mark question).


In this part of your answer, you need to basically give an example supporting your explanation and the theory you used. It can be a real life example that you know of or you could make up a hypothetical one .So you could basically go:

“For example, the government of country Y decided to implement an indirect tax on cigarettes to reduce the negative effects of passive smoking on non-smokers. As a result….”

That’s probably not such a good example. You should check with your teachers about it but yeah. That’s the general gist of how you would approach the example stage of your 10 markers. Remember. It doesn’t need to be a real world example. It can be hypothetical but you have to explain it well.


This is probably the easier part of the entire 10 marker. You could get some very easy marks, I’m talking 2 or 3 marks even, for drawing the diagram correctly, labelling the diagram correctly, and titling it correctly.

Points for diagrams are literally the easiest marks you can get in the IB Economics Exams. Trust me. It’s so easy to pick up marks here that you BETTER remember to include them. I know I’m blabbing on about their importance but let’s take a look at a markscheme shall we?

Now before I get into anymore detail, let’s PRAY my site doesn’t get flagged by the IBO for just giving you a sneak peek at a markscheme…

So. Notice anything different between boundaries 2 and 3?

No? Look again. It clearly says “Where appropriate, diagrams are included”. Same goes for boundary 4. You see how hard it’s going to be for an examiner to give you a mark higher than a 6 if you don’t include a diagram?

See why that’s important? 4 marks. Poof. Gone. Include your diagrams folks because it’ll make all the difference. You could have the best theory and explanations and still land a 6 instead of a 10. Diagrams are easy marks unless you forget to include them.

So. Moving on to the 15 marker.

How To Structure Your 15 Mark Questions – IB Economics Paper 1 Tips

This time we’re adding that extra E to DEED. Let’s get right into it. Here’s the question in case you forgot:

“Discuss the possible consequences of the imposition of an indirect tax on cigarettes for the different stakeholders in the market”


Looks like indirect tax comes up again as a possible term to define. Guess what though? No worries! All you gotta do is say “Please refer to part a) for the definition of an indirect tax.” Bam. Done. Moving on.

You can move on to the next definition which is likely ‘stakeholders’ or ‘the market’. Before we move on let’s just clear things up. You don’t need to define a term that’s already been defined in the 10 marker.

You can just refer the examiner to the same definition. Gives you more time to spend on everything else (by the way we’re going to get into time management after this 15 mark section don’t worry).


This is where you use that thing in your skull called a brain to really impress your examiners. Keep in mind examiners mark you based on how relevant your answer is to the question. SO. Your theory has to revolve around the question.

Basically you have to ask yourself “Ok so it’s asking for possible consequences on stakeholders in the market…Right so I have to think about how the indirect tax affects different stakeholders”

In these cases, it’s always good to include 3 stakeholders to really show off your writing skillzzzz. So for example in this question, the three that you would pick that would make sense would be the government, consumers, and producers of cigarettes.

Your explanation revolves around telling the examiner how the indirect tax affects all three stakeholders.


Like earlier, you gotta include your examples. They can be hypothetical or real life examples that have to essentially indicate the effects of the theory you just explained in real life.

So in this case, off the top of my head, you could go:

“The government of country Z for example decided to implement indirect taxes on alcohol. While the end result was an increase in revenue, the addictive nature of alcohol meant that country Z was unable to lower consumption for the demerit good” (In this example I’m just gonna assume demerit good was define earlier)

Probably a crap example but you get the idea.


Now remember children. You should never ever miss skip your daily dose of healthy diagrams or the big bad examiner will tell you off and you’ll fail your exam and you’ll fail your subject and you’ll fail IB and end up homeless and poor and starving and, and, and….. Need I say more? 😀

Ok so I’m gonna assume most of you rolled your eyes at that one. Hey man. Just so you know, I do try to make these posts as unboring as possible. Yeah I know unboring isn’t a word but I’m using it. Sue me 🙂

RIGHT enough crappy comedy. Diagrams, easy marks, draw them correctly and you’ll be alright. You get the picture. Moving on.


Here we go ladies and gents. The final frontier for the economics paper. Evaluation is probably what chokes up a lot of IB Economics students. For the 15 mark questions, this part makes all the difference between a 6 and a 7.

So how do we approach this? Well look at the question again:

“Discuss the possible consequences of the imposition of an indirect tax on cigarettes for the different stakeholders in the market”

It’s not asking for an evaluation that goes “In conclusion, this theory creates revenue, reduces consumption and..” NO. DO NOT go down that path. LOOK at the question again. It says “Discuss” and “Possible consequences”.

Get it yet? It’s asking for a discussion where you compare the advantages and disadvantages. If you took another route and didn’t use advantages vs. disadvantages, then a discussion with the points you wrote.

Essentially your evaluation should look more like this:

“In relation to the consequences, producers and consumers see to lose more with this indirect tax as consumers will pay more for goods that were previously cheaper and cigarette manufacturers may see a decrease in demand for their product.

Alternatively, the consequences of cigarette consumption towards society in the form of passive smoking and health problems may remain as smokers may not react to the indirect tax as cigarettes are addictive in nature.

On the other hand, the immediate benefits of an indirect tax are an increase of revenue for the government which could increase government spending on the economy.

A reduction in cigarette consumption could also lead to a reduction in negative externalities of consumption in the economy as there would be a reduction in passive smoking etc. etc.”

You get the idea.

Probably not the best answer in the world but that’s along the lines you should be writing. Use key words from the question to indicate to the examiner that you know your stuff. Also, you DO need a conclusion so you’ll need to pick, in this case, whether advantages beats disadvantages or the other way around. So it would be something like:

“Overall, upon further analysis, while it’s true that there are potential drawbacks to multiple consumers for the implementation of an indirect tax on cigarettes, there are also numerous more advantages to be considered which could benefit society and the government in the long run”

That’s basically how you would answer that.

Time Management

Ok, ok, ok I’m sorry. Look I know you’ve done a ton of reading already. Don’t worry. This part will be shorter BUT IT’S STILL IMPORTANT. So read on folks.

Bare with me now. We’re almost at the end of the post. This last part has to do with managing your time in the exam. It’s crucial so stick around.

You have an hour and a half for the exam both SL and HL. You want to be making sure you’re allocating your time efficiently.

Which question deserves more attention? The 15 marker obviously. So let’s break it down into manageable amount of information:

1 hour and 30 minutes

45 minutes per question

Since the 15 marker deserves more attention, you need to give more time to it. Depending on how fast you write, you could split it into a 15 minute and 30 minute arrangement; 15 minutes for the 10 marker and 30 minutes for the 15 marker.

Personally, I was taught to allocate 17 or 18 minutes to writing the 10 marker and 28 or 27 minutes for the 15 marker. Either way you do it, make sure you’re arranging more time for the 15 marker. Also take into account reading time of 5 minutes.

Do a lot of practice before walking into that test. It’s a monumental help. Also, just as an FYI. Make your diagrams BIG and BEAUTIFUL. Ok not beautiful but just make them big. Bigger diagrams are easier to read, mark, and are generally more appealing to the eye, especially for an overworked examiner who’s got like 30 other papers to mark.


I may not have mentioned it explicitly with the other IB Economics paper 1 tips but I will now.

MAKE SURE that you make references to the information given to you. It’s not mandatory because you’re essentially referring to the information given to you on the paper but it’s good practice to explicitly reference of cite the info from time to time. This is applicable to both the 10 mark question and 15 mark question


Looking for some more studying tips? Here are some general, but effective, ones!

Posted by Rhys McKenna in IB Economics

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