EAL: Economics as an Alien Language

This year’s exam papers are a true mix of the good, the bad and the utterly confusing. Looking at the papers with a wide-angle lens, coverage/depth was excellent and there were no egregious examples of peripheral and non-core issues aimed at with the questions. And, once again, as in every exam since 2013, theory of the firm was 100% avoidable – which is either good or bad, depending on the whether you lean towards being able to strategically target revision areas before exams or if you feel strongly that all core syllabus areas should be tested.

I direct my main and most critical comments at Papers 2 and 3, the brunt of my criticism pivoting around what the skill set actually is for these two papers – and the semantics of what ‘data response’ and ‘calculation’ de facto entail. A rather popular hard-right (conservative) debater in America was once asked, during a debate on transgenderism, why only boys were allowed in to the Boy Scouts. The quick reply was that it can be heard in the name ‘Boy Scout’ and that we actually agree on the definition of ‘boy’. (Note: since this was recorded, the Boy Scouts in fact now allow girls to join.)

So, looking at data-response questions; I put forward that a ‘data response question’ (DRQ) is a question that begs a response via interpretation or reference to the DATA. If one can address the questions without having to even read the data, well, the data is at best superfluous – and at worse the paper is basically a contradiction in terms (like ‘military intelligence’). When, for some 20 years now, I have told my students to disregard the data unless absolutely necessary (e.g. in ‘d’), there is a mismatch between what our definitional parameters of ‘data response’ are.

Get the May 2018 Paper 2 (HL) and follow along:

Section A, Q1:

(a)

(i) no reading of extract necessary

(ii) no reading of extract necessary

(b) need the data

(c) need the data

(d) no reading of extract necessary (except for top-tier final 2 marks)

 

Section A, Q2:

(a)

(i) no reading of extract necessary

(ii) no reading of extract necessary

(b) no reading of extract necessary

(c) no reading of extract necessary

(d) no reading of extract necessary (except for top-tier final 2 marks)

 

Section B, Q3:

(a)

(i) no reading of extract necessary

(ii) no reading of extract necessary

(b) no reading of extract necessary

(c) brief glance at Figure 2 necessary

(d) no reading of extract necessary (except for top-tier final 2 marks)

 

Section B, Q4:

(a)

(i) no reading of extract necessary

(ii) no reading of extract necessary

(b) no reading of extract necessary

(c) no reading of extract necessary

(d) no reading of extract necessary (except for top-tier final 2 marks)

Doing the math:

  1. Out of a total of 80 marks, 60 marks can be earned without using the data. (This is a total of 68 marks minus 2 marks for each ‘d’ question, as this is what one could earn without any reference to the data.) So, 75% of the test is basically not ‘data response’ at all.
  2. A student who wishes to minimize the opportunity costs of reading would chose questions 2 and 4, since every single question herein can be 100% addressed without any reference to the data – again, the caveat being that 2 x 2 marks would be deducted for lacking reference to the data in ‘d’ questions.

So, if one can get a grade 7 without ANY use/interpretation/application of data, it really isn’t much of a data response question is it?

Paper 3 suffers from similar issues, albeit somewhat cagily not referred to as ‘calculation questions’ anywhere in the syllabus. In fact, while Paper 1 questions are ‘extended response’ and Paper 2 are ‘data response’, Paper 3 questions are…well, ‘questions’. Yet it is strongly implicit in the paper that the questions are primarily supposed to be calculation-based. I checked the first exams to come out (May 2013) and the total marks for non-calculation questions in Paper 3 were 16 marks out of 75; 21%.

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s Paper 3:

Q1: Out of 25 marks, questions d, f, g and h require no calculations whatsoever. Thus, 10 marks out of 25 is 40%.

Q2: Questions bii, c, di, dii, eii and eiii require no calculations. 12 marks out of 25 is 48%.

Q3: Questions b, c, d, f, i, j and k require no calculations. 16 marks out of 25 is 64%.

In summary: 38 marks out of 75 marks are given for ‘explain’, ‘identify’, ‘outline’, ‘distinguish, ‘draw’, ‘describe’ and ‘illustrate’. In other words, in a paper ostensibly aimed at examining the calculating capacity of students, 50% of total available marks are reserved for questions where no calculations are required.

On a final note, question 1-l (page 7) is either brilliant or stupid. Haven’t decided yet.

 

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