A-Level Economics: Cracking the A* Code

As exams approach, in whichever format your school may have opted to approach them this year, no doubt your stress level has begun to rise faster than the housing bubble of 2008. The most common questions I get from students when it comes to their revision are: Where do I start? What do I do? How do I use my time efficiently?

This blog sets out practical and easy-to-follow tips that will go a long way to getting you on course to hit the top grades. 

Mastering Theory

Economics is logical concepts expressed in complex ways. If you understand the basic logic that underpins the theory, you’re more than halfway there. To that end, there are plenty of excellent resources to help you understand the theory, but it is imperative that you focus your efforts on what you need to know for your exam board. 

The starting point is to familiarise yourself with your exam board’s specification, but since I know you’re busy, I’ve linked in all the major exam boards:

For Edexcel students, they have put together an extremely helpful guide which includes notes on certain topics which you can access here.

Right, so now that you have a comprehensive list of topics and sub-topics, you’ll need to make sure your content knowledge is strong. In my experience, a lot of textbooks tend to overcomplicate the theory, so that it can seem far more daunting than it actually is. 

So, below is a list of options you might wish to explore to help you master the content:

  • Your school notes should be a pretty good starting point
  • I know I’m biased, but an excellent tutor can help you put together excellent notes and make much better sense of the content
  • Free resources such as YouTube videos. Expert Tuition have their own channel with a handful of A-Level Economics videos, but there are plenty of others too who you can make use of such as Econplusdal.
  • On online.expert-tuition.co.uk you’ll be able to access intensive revision courses that were run by Expert Tuition’s Managing Director and Economics specialist, Ahmed Alaskary

Exam Papers & Mark Schemes

Ask any student who has managed to achieve an A or an A* and they will all tell you that they completed as many past papers as they could get their hands on. Exam questions tend to be fairly repetitive and mastering each topic will mean that you can confidently answer anything that comes your way on exam day.

On the Expert Tuition website, you can freely access a whole host of past papers and, for Edexcel students, there are even questions broken down by topic. Make sure you utilise the mark schemes and familiarise yourself with what the examiners are looking for. Pretty soon you’ll get a deeper understanding of the type of questions you’ll be asked and, importantly, get into the minds of the examiners to tailor your responses to the mark scheme.

Structuring Your Written Responses

Under the new specification, examiners place a candidates response in a level for both analysis and evaluations. It is therefore crucial that students understand how to structure their answers to hit the top levels in each question.  Waffling never helps. Blind attempts to answer questions without a coherent structure are also unlikely to be marked favourably.  

For Edexcel students, I would strongly advise reading through the Expert Tuition Guide, a free resource which details exactly how you should tackle each question. Writing too much can actually be as harmful as writing too little as A-Level Economics is a very time-sensitive exam. Mastering the exam technique is fundamental if you’re serious about scoring a top grade as it also means your answer is easier to follow for the examiner. 

Diagrams, Diagrams & More Diagrams

I can’t emphasise how essential diagrams are to scoring top marks. Make sure you practice all the diagrams you need to know for your exam board. Quite simply, you won’t get into the top levels and achieve an A* without them. They help structure your thoughts, provide you with easy application marks and push you into the top levels. Some questions, such as Edexcel Paper 3 June 2017 Question 2c explicitly ask candidates to draw a diagram – your answer is capped if you cannot do this, and so, it is vital that your diagrammatic analysis is excellent.

Expert Tuition have compiled extremely useful flashcards with all of the diagrams drawn out for Edexcel and AQA students.

Regularly practicing drawing diagrams will help you score top marks, but practice can also reduce the amount of time it takes you to draw each diagram accurately. As mentioned previously, every second you can earn in an Economics exam will be crucial, so get practicing!

Real-Word Knowledge

For the 25 mark essays, there is an expectation that top candidates will apply the economic theories and principles to real-world examples. To show the examiner that you’re an accomplished economist, you’ll need to display a good understanding of current affairs and be able to contextualise the theory.

This can seem intimidating, but I suspect you know far more real-world knowledge than you realise. For example, if you’ve mentioned that a Monopoly makes supernormal profits and that this makes them dynamically efficient as they can invest these profits, give an example! Tell me about an innovative product that Apple have brought to the market over the past decade – AirPods? Apple Watch? Face ID? Shall I go on or is the point taken that you do know real-world knowledge.

To build up your real-world knowledge, I would recommend three things:

  1. Keeping up-to-date with the news and reading publications such as The Economist
  2. Use the data response from past papers! You do realise that the extracts and figures in the data response section of your paper is all factual information – the exam board don’t make it up. Given that the data in there was used to ask questions about your syllabus, don’t you think it makes sense to use that data to add to your pool of real-world knowledge? 
  3. A useful free resource published by Expert Tuition is case studies for each Theme. To save you the hassle of having to find each one, I’ve listed them below:

Examiner Reports: The Underused Gem

I’m astonished by how few students are aware of Examiner Reports and how valuable these can be for your revision. Unfortunately, for some exam boards, the report is no more than just an overview commentary of how students performed on each question for that exam. If you’re an Edexcel student though, it is so much more than that. The Examiner Report, such as the June 2018 Paper 1 Report include actual students responses (they usually put one excellent response and one that did not score highly) and a commentary to explain what mark it got and, crucially, why. My advice would not be to read Examiner Reports from cover to cover, but instead, to read the responses to questions that you found difficult when attempting that paper – more often than not, it is an extremely reassuring exercise as you realise that your response is on par with, or even better than, the response in the report that scored top marks. A mark scheme is useful in knowing what points are expected for each type of question, but an Examiner Report gives you a deep dive into the minds of examiners to know exactly what they want to get into the top levels.

You can find the Examiner Reports on the exam boards website under past papers. 

Final Thoughts

Having amassed over 8000 hours of A-Level Economics tutoring experience, I can tell you that what differentiates those candidates that score top grades is not a natural instinct for the subject. Instead, they behave and apply themselves like an A* student and follow the guidance detailed above. If you really want a top grade, it is well within your reach.

Good luck! 

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