Writing an Economics Essay
Any type of communication implies a sender, a medium and a receiver. The sender is the one who sends the message, the medium is the means by which the message is sent, and the receiver is the one who receives and interprets the message.
Let us look at this and apply it to Economics examination conditions. The exam paper, which is given to you by the examiner right at the beginning, is a set of instructions to follow during that period of time.
At this point the examiner is the sender, the exam paper, in our case, written in the English language is the medium, and you are the receiver. As the receiver you expect the paper to have clear instructions, e.g. duration of the exam, how many questions to answer and from which section, etc., as well as clearly written questions in good English.
Although you are sitting for an Economics paper, your understanding of English must be good, for how will you know what is required of you unless you understand the language, or as we have called it, the medium?
From this point onwards, the roles are reversed. It is you, the student, who now become the sender. You will now communicate with the examiner through the answers to the questions set. You will express yourself through the medium of English on the writing paper provided and the examiner now becomes the receiver.
The more you keep in mind the process of communication, the better your chances of succeeding in your exam.
Essay Writing in Economics
In order to write a good essay, you must keep in mind two very important considerations. One is that you have to have good presentation skills and the other is that what you write is relevant to the question or questions asked.
Let us first consider the point of good presentation. Put it this way, what do you think when someone scribbles something and you cannot understand for the life of you what the scribbling means? Don’t you think there is a communication problem?
Good presentation therefore means that your handwriting must be legible. The problem may be greater than you think. It’s not good enough that you understand what you write; others must also understand it. If you want to test yourself, try looking at something that you wrote some time ago, and see whether you can still read what you wrote.
Even for those with normally neat handwriting, examination pressure may cause their handwriting to deteriorate. It is very easy for the student to get carried away and neglect legibility in an exam, especially if time is running out after one or two essays. Compare the first essay with the last essay that you write!
Good presentation also involves the layout of your paper. A wide margin at the side will make the paper appear neater. Official exam writing paper usually already has wide margins. Try not to cram words towards the right hand side of the paper, either.
The layout of a paper can be much improved by a greater use of paragraphs. Instead of presenting a whole block of words and sentences, split it up into smaller paragraphs. Skip one line between one paragraph and another. It makes for neater presentation and makes reading the essay less tedious. This also keeps the examiner happy. He or she is a human being. Keep him or her on your side.
The other very important consideration in writing an essay is content. Content refers to the actual material that you write down. Putting it simply, you must answer the question that you choose with the proper material and in the required manner.
Answers must be relevant, that is they must show what you know about what is being asked of you, not all that you know about a subject or a topic. Read the question well, think about it, write down all the points that come into your mind on a rough sheet of paper, number these points in order of importance and develop the most relevant ones while discarding the least relevant points.
Voila, that is your essay plan, as easy and as simple as that.
In writing an essay, your problem should be more of what you are going to leave out, rather than of what you are going to write down!
Two types of essays questions are set by examination boards in A Level Economics, including the Matsec Board. These are structured and unstructured essays, and there is an increasing tendency for the local Matsec Board to set structured ones.
While structured questions are divided into two or more parts, unstructured questions consist of one question, sometimes two, with one leading to the other. An example of a structured question is:
a. Explain what is meant by “the natural rate of unemployment”? (5 marks)
b. Evaluate the effects of demand-side and supply-side policies on the natural rate of unemployment. (15 marks)
An unstructured question may look like this:
How far may the law of comparative cost advantage adequately explain the existence of trade? (20 marks)
A structured question is more straightforward and the different questions should be answered separately. However, an unstructured question may also be broken down into smaller questions, and the above example may be written as:
a. Explain the law of comparative cost advantage.
( 7 marks)
b. Show whether the law of comparative cost advantage explains trade or are there other reasons for the existence of trade? (13 marks)