How to get an A in economics class

In order to get an A in economics, it is important to do 2 things:
  1. Think like an economist.
  2. Understand what your teacher wants you to understand.
Number 1 in the list is usually hit or miss as it can be very difficult to think like an economist if you are a creative, right brain type thinker.  Getting a good grade in economics requires logical thinking, analysis of numbers and ideas, and following cause and effect chains to reach the desired result.
OK, so how can you start to think like an economist?  First you need to clear your head of all outside influences/events and only consider the information given to you by your teacher and the problem.

  1. Consider the problem and the information given.  Identify what information is useful and which information is not.  Most professors will only give you the necessary information but some will try to trick you by giving you too much information to try and make you over think the problem.
  2. Apple the definitions and recipes you have learned from your class.  This may mean figuring out the determinants of demand or applying the elasticities equation.
  3. Use your knowledge and intuition to analyze the question and answer it correctly.  If you have to graph your answer begin with the basic model and use the information from the problem to answer one step at a time.  If math/multiple choice do the same procedure.  Use the information to answer the problem one step at a time.  See some examples.
The number one trick to getting a good grade in economics is to think like an economist and this means to NOT over think the problem.  It can be easy to include other information that you think is relevant but generally this will result in a wrong answer.  (related: top 10 things to know for microeconomics).

Another common mistake I hear is that students think that the models presented in class are too simple, or the answer is too simple to be correct.  They want to analyze REAL problems from the REAL world.  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – beginning economics classes use models that represent much simpler versions of the real world and therefore ignore a lot of the information that would be used to analyze real world problems. 

The key here is to remember the popular Latin phrase “ceteris paribus” which means everything else equal.  Economists essentially hold the world completely still, and only allow ONE thing to change.  If you can apply this same philosophy, it will make getting an A in economics a lot easier.

Number 2 in the list depends a lot on your instructor.  You can get instructors from all ranges of the spectrum from those you don’t care and teach directly out of the book to those who completely reinvent the wheel and customize each of their own lectures.

It is up to you to recognize what your instructors are looking for when they give you homework and exams.  Your first hint is going to be the material they cover in class and the how they go about teaching it.  Do they really stress the recipe or the process of solving the problem, or do they focus on the analysis and the intuition.  This is an important distinction in economics because what they focus on in class is probably going to make up the bulk of the material on the exam.

Next, really look at the syllabus and the grading policy.  The syllabus is essentially a contract between you and the professor that goes over their expectations of you regarding the course.  Most instructors will give you a grading policy showing how important exams, homework, and other assignments are relative to your final grade.  It is important to remember this because they are bound to follow the instructions in their syllabus and any problem you have with your final grade will involve a review of the syllabus handed out at the beginning of the semester.

In order to really understand the instructor’s expectations you need to GO TO CLASS.  I know this may sound obvious but it is – really – difficult to get an A in any class without going.  If after the first few assignments or the first exam you are not doing as well as you think you should be doing, it is ok to go visit the instructor during office hours or to send them an email asking about advice for the class.

Instructors have to be available during their office hours.  Generally, no students show up during office hours (especially at the beginning of the semester) so this is a perfect opportunity to get to know your instructor and ask those questions about the class and the material.

Also, economics instructors are in a unique position to fail you.  Generally, they feel no remorse for failing poor students because they understand the opportunity cost of your decision to go to class.

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