The IB Economics IA sees many students spending hours on their laptops trying to write their commentaries… often to no avail. School teachers may ask you to choose a new article, write a new commentary, and basically start over from ground zero.
As one of best IB economics tuition in Singapore, we’ve compiled a guide to help you best tackle the IAs – completing all three is no mean feat. And if you are new to IB Economics, do check out our overall Guide to IB Economics.
The first thing that you need to know is that there is NO DIFFERENCE between the HL and SL IB Economics IA. Think of IAs as ‘article assignments’; you’ll choose an article from a reputable news source, and craft a commentary response to the article. Each of your three IAs will be based on Units 2, 3 OR 4 (pick one each time, with no repeats). The commentary needs to highlight a key Economics concept that acts as a lens through which you analyse the article (pick one from below for each commentary, with NO repeats).
There are 9 Key Concepts:
- Scarcity : available resources (land, labour, capital, entrepreneurship) are limited whilst human wants are unlimited. Thus, we cannot produce everything that people need and want. This leads to the 3 key economics questions: What and how much to produce? How to produce? For whom to produce?
- Choice : Economics is a study of choices, or selecting among alternatives, due to the problem of scarcity. Households, firms, workers, governments all make choices. Choices lead to opportunity costs, which are trade-offs. The consequences of such choices, present and future, is studied in economics.
- Efficiency : Economic efficiency involves making the best possible use of scarce resources to avoid waste; may refer to producing at the lowest possible cost, or producing what consumers most want – Productive Efficiency and Allocative Efficiency respectively.
- Equity: condition of fairness (not the same as ‘equality’, which may not be fair). Often used in connection with income distribution and the distribution of goods and services. Mostly concerned with ensuring that everyone can fulfill basic human needs. Fairness is a value judgment – normative statement.
- Economic well-being: refers to levels of consumption and standard of living among the residents of a country. May be split into material and non-material well-being.
- Sustainability: refers to maintaining the ability of the environment and the economy to continue to produce and satisfy needs and wants for future generations; being able to meet the needs and wants of the present generation without reducing the ability to meet the needs and wants of future generations. Depends crucially on the preservation of ecological assets and depletion versus replenishment of resources.
- Change: Markets, economies and stakeholders are always subject to many changes. Economic models are used to explain and analyse changes.
- Interdependence: refers to the idea that economic decision-makers interact with and depend on each other – no one is self-sufficient. For example, 1 firm’s actions can affect other firms and consumers. 1 country’s actions can also affect other economies.
- Intervention: typically refers to government intervention – the government may enact policies to achieve microeconomic and macroeconomic goals and tackle market failures.
Be clear about the assessment criteria so that you will focus on ensuring all the bases are covered.
P.S. Each commentary can only be 800 words – no waffling allowed! Only tight and pithy.
P.P.S. Each commentary is marked out of 14, and the final “Rubric requirement” Criterion F out of 3, making the total score for a complete portfolio, 45 marks. For Criterion F, you just need to ensure that you fulfil the formatting requirements for your IB Economics IA e.g. font size, line spacing etc. Think of it as almost 3 free marks!
Here’s some thoughts on how to format and write your essay in the said ‘tight and pithy’ manner.
- How to choose a suitable economics IA article?
- Arguably the most important part of your IA. Many students get weeded out at this phase – teachers may ask you to find another article if the one you submit for approval is unsuitable. Many students waste time because they end up selecting a wrong article. Sometimes, in the midst of their heavy workloads, teachers may even “approve” an article cursorily, only for students to run into problems trying to write the commentary because the article is just not suitable.
This is how you choose a suitable article –
- Date: Check with your school teacher on this. The article must usually be written in the last year, and preferably (though not necessarily) in the last 6 months. The article should not be published more than a year from the date of writing the commentary. Any article written before then would be considered ‘outdated’.
- Source: The article must be from a reputable news source e.g. New York Times, Straits Times, BBC News, Nikkei, The Sydney Morning Herald etc. – it should NOT be from informal news outlets or tabloids. The article also should not be based off a podcast or television or radio broadcasts. It must also not be a blog post, commentary or editorial piece as you are not supposed to write a commentary on another person’s commentary. Look at the URL & title of article. If you see words like “blog” or “commentary” or “editorial”, or “opinion”, do NOT choose that article. In general, do not use Economist, Time, Forbes and Fortune magazine articles as they are usually commentaries or editorials.
- Length: Neither too long, nor too short. A good length would be about 2 pages, excluding pictures. This ensures that you have enough ‘meat’ for your analysis. Longer articles often provide a lot more analysis rather than just reporting news, which would be unsuitable for your IA.
- Contents: The article cannot have a full Economics analysis already spelled out. The article should just report NEWS, with minimal economic analysis or interpretation (because it’s the student’s job to interpret, analyse and evaluate!). However, the article should ideally contain a problem, a solution and some pros and cons of the solution. Usually, the pros and cons come in the form of short one-liners from ministers, government officials, or other individuals like the local farmers, firm owners etc. quoted in the article.
- Relates to ONE of the nine key concepts: The article should naturally fit well with one of the nine key concepts. You must choose a different key concept for every commentary!
- Can be illustrated through economics diagrams: As the IA commentary must contain at least one diagram, the issue and/or solution in the news article should be something that can be illustrated through an economics diagram. For example, news on Public Goods would not be suitable as there is no diagram for that. Most IAs I have seen contain at least two diagrams (one for explaining the issue and one for analysing or evaluating a solution).
- Different sources: Your IA portfolio should contain a diversity of news sources from different parts of the world. So for example, you can choose 1 from New York Times, 1 from Straits Times and 1 from the BBC. Students should also try to write each commentary about a different country in a completely different world region. This will show the breadth of international exposure which the IB programme advocates.
- Treatment: After you have selected your article, HIGHLIGHT the FULL sentences that you’ll be making reference to in your commentary. The examiner will then zoom in to the HIGHLIGHTED portions when reading your article. When saving the article, the header, footer and page number of the article should be made visible. Convert the article to pdf. You can do so via: https://www.printfriendly.com.
Now, it’s time to write your commentary!
2. Introductory Statement
- We recommend that you have an opening statement that briefly describes the article.
- An example would be “This article highlights the steps which Singapore’s government is taking to mitigate the contractionary effects which COVID has on the Singapore economy.”
- Unlike in your essays, you don’t really need to define keywords or terms unless they are of great importance to your commentary.
3. Explain the key problem and how it arose. Draw and explain using a diagram.
- Use textual quotations! (Very important)
- For example, if your commentary is on recession…
- Explain how the recession has arisen: QUOTE the circumstances as mentioned in the text e.g. “millions are cutting back their expenditure amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, fearful that they will be unemployed in the near future…”
- Insert a suitable diagram – in this case, an AD/AS diagram – and explain it, still QUOTING from the text and linking it to relevant Economics concepts: e.g. Shift the AD curve leftward, explaining that there is a decrease in AD since (C) or consumer expenditure, which is a component of AD has decreased.
*Note that words in diagrams are NOT counted in the 750 words. Hence, take care to LABEL your diagrams fully with headings (“Market for Cars in California”), axes with units if applicable (“GPL / Real GDP”), intersection points (Label with alphabets like “a” so you can refer to them later), shaded areas if applicable (e.g. deadweight welfare loss for market failure).
Sometimes, articles give you specific data to work with, e.g. “The price of one cup of rice increased from $3.10 in 2010 to $3.95 in 2015.” In these circumstances, you may label the “Price” y-axis on the diagram with the EXACT figures $3.10 and $3.95 to show the increase. The same applies if they give you exact quantities for the x-axis.
In short, the more specific your diagram is, the better!
When explaining your diagram:
- MAKE YOUR EXPLANATIONS DETAILED, in a STEP-BY-STEP manner! This is where Mr Hong’s training comes in as well as A Level and IB Economics Study Guides such as Ace Your Microeconomics and Ace Your Macroeconomics.
- Many neglect this, fearing that it will sound like a ‘grandmother story’. But the truth is, this is NECESSARY to scoring well for the IA – the basic content, if you will. Without it, there is no ‘meat’ on which you can base your analysis.
4. Evaluate the solution. With accompanying diagrams and explanations, of course!
- To connect the problem to its solution used by the government / the Central Bank etc, use a one-liner connector statement, something to the likes of “Hence, the Indonesian government has enacted a fiscal policy…”
- EXPLAIN the policy with a diagram! E.g. for Fiscal policy, you’d shift the AD curve rightward and explain how this shift occurs.
Then, the time has come for EVALUATION.
- Give 1 – 2 pros about the policy, using INFORMATION from the text. Note that by explaining the mechanism of the policy, that can sometimes be considered one “pro”.
- Follow with 1 – 2 cons or disadvantages of the policy. There are some common examples like the strain on the government’s budget and opportunity costs for policies which require the government to spend – e.g. fiscal, interventionist supply-side policies, exchange rate policies.
- CONTEXTUALISE! Each article usually has unique information explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the policy used in THAT SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCE. Leverage on that information, and incorporate it into your explanation.
- E.g. The article states “However, in this frugal society, the idea of spending large amounts of money on cars is frowned upon.” Then you could potentially quote this piece of information and explain that the fiscal policy may have its limitations because the Marginal Propensity to Consume may be low, and the extent of increase in the AD may not be that significant.
5. Conclusion: Synthesis and Evaluation!
- “In conclusion…”
- You cannot simply parrot or summarise what you’ve been saying in the commentary thus far. Instead, you need to give a value judgement – do you think the policy should be implemented? Why? If you don’t think it should be implemented, what other better alternatives do you have? What factors did you consider?
- These are some ‘factors’ that you can use to ‘weigh up’ the pros and cons. You may or may not explicitly state these factors in the conclusion: “Long Term versus Short Term effects”, “Assumptions made”, “Priorities” – is it a recession that you need to pull the country out of immediately, else suffer the adverse effects (?), “Stakeholders affected”, “Pros versus Cons magnitude”, “Better or Worse Alternatives”.
- Take a stand! Or, state and explain what factors the final stand would depend on. For example, that you need more information e.g. “The decision to implement such a trade policy would depend on the exact terms and conditions of the policy…”
*Our Students’ Advantage*
We help vet students’ drafts and provide detailed comments for improvement. Each IA usually entails a few rounds of improvements, including after school teachers have also vetted through and commented. As IAs are marked by school teachers (checked/moderated by external IB examiners), it is very important to work closely with teachers, taking their directions and corrections into account. Mr Hong has plenty of experience in helping students achieve that. 13 marks out of a maximum 14 (93%!) is quite a common achievement among our students. Our students therefore enjoy massive advantages but we do not help any student write an IA because it is a piece of work that students have to own and be responsible for.
“Mr Hong stayed up past 11 pm to call and help me rectify outstanding issues in my IB Economics IA – I had been asked to redo the IA and was under a severe time crunch. Mr Hong helped me understand the nuances of the article I’d chosen, and formulate credible points for my analysis and evaluation. Very grateful for Mr Hong’s help! Highly recommended for other students to sign on :)”KJ, ACS Indep
The help and expertise Mr Hong offers in economics IAs are invaluable. Each and every suggestion and comment were personally curated towards my He understands the ins and outs of what’s required in an IB Economics IA, and was able to help in prioritising the relevancy of my points. In addition, he provided insight on current and past economic policies, events, and developments to add further depth to my IA. Lastly and most importantly, Mr Hong’s willingness to take the time to guide me through the entire IA process was key to me achieving to me the grades I strived for.JY, SJI International
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