The IA’s make up 20% of your final grade in IB Economics, so you cannot underestimate their importance! If you find yourself struggling with anything from finding a topic to writing your evaluation, here are the answers to 5 of the most frequently asked questions about the econ IA’s, answered by expert IB graduates.
1. How do I choose my topic?
As IB Economists we’re expected to write 3 separate commentaries based on three areas of the syllabus: one in microeconomics, one in macroeconomics, and one in either international trade or development economics.
The best topics tend to be those that have a clear economic theory, but have scope for relevant and detailed evaluation. Taxes and subsidies, for instance, are perfect topics for discussion as they both have clear diagrams in the syllabus and are also closely related to externalities and elasticities. Don’t make it unnecessarily hard for yourselves – you won’t get bonus points for writing about an obscure economic theory. The following is a list of topics we think give you the foundation for an amazing assignment:
- Taxes, Subsidies
- Price Controls
- Monopoly Power
- Tariffs, Subsidies. Quotas
- Exchange Rates
- Interest Rates
- Fiscal Policy
- Trade Strategies
- Market-Based Strategies
- Interventionist Strategies
2. How do I choose my article?
Too many candidates limit their chances at nailing their IA by choosing a bad article. Here are three pointers to avoid that mistake:
- Make sure that the article comes from a reputable news source. Well-known news agencies like BBC News, CNN, or The Guardian should be your go-to sites. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve never heard of the news source before, don’t use it! Be wary of economics-focused sources like ‘The Economist’ or ‘The Wall Street Journal’. Since these kinds of sources generally already contain economic analysis, there isn’t much scope for you to explore new ideas, limiting your potential for a high score.
- When you google search ‘name of topic, name of reputable news source’ (cigarette tax, CNN) to find your perfect article, make sure to use google tools to set the publishing date to be in the last year. You can’t use an article that was published more than 12 months ago!
- Choose an article that explores the imposition (or proposed imposition) of a policy. Writing an IA based on an article that outlines ‘Country X is set to increase fiscal spending as it is facing a recession’ is much easier than with another article that simply says ‘Country Y is facing a recession’. The ability to analyze and evaluate the potential consequences of a policy that could be implemented to prevent a recession, as opposed to simply commenting on the demerits of facing one, leads to both more interesting content but also more marks!
If you can find an article published in the last year from a reputable news source, which mentions the imposition of a specific policy without going into excessive economic analysis, you’re on the right track to smash that IA!
3. How do I structure my IA?
On top of making sure the content of your IA is top-notch, structuring it effectively can make a large difference to your final mark. Most high-scoring Economics IA can be broken down into 5 sections:
- Introduction (75 words) – outlines and summarizes the article in 2 or 3 brief sentences. In this introduction, define a few key terms that will be used going forward through the essay. Make sure that this doesn’t just become a list of definitions, though! Only define a key term if relevant, and if you’ve already used it in a sentence.
- What was the underlying problem? (100 words) – let’s say the government is considering imposing a soda tax. In this case, the underlying problem may be the market failure caused by sugary drinks. You may want to draw a diagram and give a clear explanation on how sugary drinks cause market failure through negative externalities, and how that may be a detriment to society.
- What is the proposed policy (and what is its intended effect)? (200-250 words) – the bulk of your analysis will fall under this section. This is where you explain and show how, for example, an excise soda tax is intended to shift the supply curve in order to curb consumption/production of that demerit good and thus reduce the market failure.
- What are some unintended effects of the policy? (250-300 words) – this is where your evaluation comes in. Don’t underestimate the importance of in-depth evaluation for your IA. Tip #5 in this article does a deep dive into all the essentials of the perfect evaluation
- Conclusion (75 words) – concludes your main ideas in 2-3 sentences. Recap the reason behind the policy implementation, the intended effect of the policy, and summarize your evaluation of the situation. Don’t bring up any new thoughts/ideas in this section as you won’t be able to thoroughly explain them!
4. Do the diagrams really matter?
We all know diagrams are at the heart of IB Economics. For the IA, this is no different. When we insert diagrams, we need them to be large, labelled, clear and correct. Beyond this, however, we also need to make sure that our diagrams aren’t left ‘hanging’. What do we mean by that? Even if your diagrams are clean and accurate, if you don’t explain them, you might as well not have drawn them as it doesn’t show that you understand what the diagrams are showing! The rubric clearly outlines that all diagrams need ‘a full explanation’. Don’t undo your hard work by failing to connect your analysis to your academic artwork!
Top Tip: To boost your score even more, see if you can add some figures from your article onto your diagrams.
5. What do I include in my evaluation?
If you take a peek at the IA rubric, you’ll see that the evaluation section is weighted the highest! It’s all well and good explaining the economic theory that an article refers to, but unless we can examine that material in light of the information found within it we’re limiting our score.
But what does evaluation actually mean? And how can we do it effectively?
The acronym CLASPP is your guide to evaluation inspiration:
- Conclusion (see above in tip #3)
- Long-Term vs. Short-Term – will the effectiveness of the policy change over time?
- Assumptions – what does economic theory suggest that is undermined or neglected by the content of the article? How does this affect the proposal?
- Stakeholders – how are those parties addressed in the article affected differently (consumers, producers, government)? Even within these groups, who wins and who loses?
- Priorities – in the economic context, what should be the priority of policymakers and is the content of the article in line with that?
- Pros & Cons – what are the advantages of the policy in the article? What are the disadvantages?
To score highly under the evaluation header, we need to choose a few of these subsections to analyse how the policy or its proposal might support, undermine, or develop existing economic theory.