May 12, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
I’m sure Economics A-level pupils don’t need to be reminded that a fortnight sees the start of the Economics A-level exams – with the AS microeconomics exam. Whatever the exam board the all economics papers contain at least one data response, which is responsible for a lot of the marks. The data can be charts, tables, but also usually a considerable amount of text. They will be excerpts from newspapers or magazine articles and are usually about a certain market or a certain market failure. The questions might involve asking for definitions, calculations, explanations and finally, for some of the longer questions – some evaluations of policies or effects or some arguments for or against something.
Whilst the higher level writing skills required do separate students – what is just as important is the use of the data. The most important thing to understand is that data response means respond to the data (that may seem obvious but I am constantly surprised by how difficult students find that concept to understand). That is obvious but what is key to understand is that the examiners are actually testing your ability to select and use the data in your answers. Often, the data contains the answers. You may be asked for a supply and demand diagram to explain why price rose in a market, and in the data it will clearly tell you some influences on supply and demand. You may be asked to evaluate the case for and against something and the data will include the arguments you can use.
So if you carefully go through the data, marking in which question you can use bits of it and how (e.g. does it signify higher demand or lower supply, or does it signify an effect of a policy or an evaluation argument for or against) you will then find it so much easier to know what to write in your answers and thus so much easier to get marks. Sometimes, mark schemes specifically tell examiners to deduct marks if a pupil hasn’t specifically used the data. But looked at more positively – the data is there to help you, every word in there is thought about, and if you use it well it can bring you a lot of marks.
For years I’ve been trying to find a way to explain this to students – and then Emmanuel Adebayor fell into my lap. Well, not literally. What happened was that last season the Tottenham striker was kept out of the Tottenham squad for half of the season that has just ended having had an argument with Andre Villas-Boas, his manager at the time. He was asked to train with the youth team during a period in which Tottenham badly struggled to score goals. Then Villas-Boas was sacked, Tim Sherwood took over, restored Adebayor to the team, and he scored 16 goals, helping the team score a great deal more in the process.
The analogy I think all economics students should remember is this: Tottenham couldn’t score. Adebayor was there, but wasn’t used. Once they used him, they scored more. The data is your Adebayor. It is there for you to use, and there is no reason not to use it. If you use the data you will likely get a lot more marks than you don’t. So swallow your pride like Andre Villas-Boas should have done and use what has been put there to help you. Best of luck!