External assessment

External assessment

External assessment in economics consists of two examination papers at standard level and three at higher level.  Under the new syllabus the external assessment section makes up 80% of a candidates' grade at higher level subject and 70% at standard level.  The remainder is derived from the the internal assessment.  More details about each paper, under the new syllabus, can be found on the following pages, dedicated to each examination paper:

Paper 1: Extended response paper 

Paper 2: Data response paper 

Paper 3: Policy response paper (HL only) 

Understanding the assessment objectives

In economics there are 4 assessment objectives, which students need to apply across the examinations and the IA.

AO1 - knowledge and understanding of specified content
AO2 - application and analysis of knowledge and understanding
AO3 - synthesis and evaluation
AO4 - selection, use and application of a variety of appropriate skills and techniques.

AO1 - AO3 represent a progression in the depth of treatment required in examination questions, while AO4 terms are specific to particular skills and techniques.  AO4 is extensively applied in the paper three (HL paper).

Completing the external assessment

All exam papers include 5 minutes reading time for students to consider their responses.  Students may not write during this period.  Many candidates also find that writing a brief plan before beginning their response will allow students to articulate their responses more effectively and avoid wasted time later in the exam.

Using the rubric

One of the questions that your students may constantly ask is how can they reach the higher grade boundaries in the longer response answers.  Many students are confident when it comes to providing short answer definitions.  In order to reach the higher grade descriptors students must demonstrate the skills being examined.  In many cases the ability to demonstrate the required skills distinguishes between the very best responses from the good ones. The relevant objectives for the longer answers are:

AO2 - application and analysis of knowledge and understanding
AO3 - synthesis and evaluation

Examples of the relevant AO skills include any of the following:

  1. Applying relevant economic theory e.g. supply / demand elasticity to the resource material.  This is relevant for paper II questions.
  2. Analysis - breaking down a theory into its constituent parts and underlying assumptions.
  3. Providing both sides of the argument including the impact on different stakeholders and the difference between short term and long term impacts.
  4. Comparing and contrasting more than one theory e.g. Monetarist v Keynesian perspectives in answering a question.  This is particularly relevant for section (b) questions (paper 1) and section (d) questions on the paper two questions.

Applying higher order skills

In their most basic form involves presenting different arguments, both in support and against the statement.  The best responses will also include the following:

Prioritising the arguments

This means stating which of the candidates' arguments are the most significant and which are the least important.  For example a response might state that; the most effective way that governments can reduce market failure, caused by the over consumption of demerit goods is to impose specific taxes on the good or service.  By placing a tax on the demerit good, equal in size to the external cost, the government will internalise the externality, making the external cost to society payable by the consumer.  This policy will reduce quantity demanded to the socially optimum level. 

Another way that governments can reduce the negative externalities is to fund marketing campaigns aimed at reducing consumption levels. 

However, this policy is probably less effective than taxation because the additional tax revenue received as a result of the specific tax can be used to fund the provision of merit goods such as hospitals and schools.

This highlights two different statements and then states which is the more effective.

Long run versus short run

By distinguishing between the two time frames, candidates are developing their response by evaluating the impact in different time frames.  For instance the above question regarding government intervention in the market for demerit goods.  A candidate may also state that imposing a specific tax on a good or service maybe ineffective in reducing the level of quantity demanded significantly in the short run.  This is because goods such as alcohol and cigarettes are addictive and many consumers may choose to consume them regardless of the price.  However, such a policy maybe effective in the long run as new smokers / drinkers are deterred by higher prices, as we have witnessed in the USA where successive governments have imposed prohibatively high taxes on tobacco products.

Consider different stakeholders in the response

A stakeholder is any individual or organisation that has a stake or interest in the business. Therefore any economic policy will impact on stakeholders in different ways and candidates can score highly by considering the policy from the view point of different stakeholders.  For example the question as to whether governments should impose tariff barriers on the import of certain manufactured products from China.  Such a policy should consider the impact on domestic producers, the government as well consumers, which may include other businesses purchasing the product.


In economics candidates are expected to draw a number of diagrams to illustrate their work.  It is important when using any graph that there are no missing labels or elements for the diagram.  When illustrating responses with diagrams responses must include accurate labels of each axis and also label each curve.  It is also important to draw arrows to show the changes in variables.  If a diagram shows a rise in demand then in addition to drawing two demand curves D1 and D2, it is also necessary to draw an arrow to indicate the change from one demand curve to the other.  Responses must also ensure that diagrams include a full explanation of what is happening in the diagram. While there are no specific marks for artistic impression in economics it is important that diagrams are not untidy as this can detract from the accuracy of the diagram.  Students should use a ruler and pencil when drawing lines and ensure that scales are accurate.  Candidates should also not try to include too much information on a diagram.  Rather than one diagram with a lot of information, why not break it down into two diagrams.  It is also important to use examples in any response work.

During the revision process economics students are encouraged to spend sufficient time practising diagrams, including how to label each correctly.

Before moving on to the next page show your classes a summary of the above as a prezi at: What to avoid in your exam

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