On this, the third of three posts to make sure you score full marks on your Economics Internal Assessments, I want to give you a detailed checklist you can use to check your own work.
I have included what the IB says they expect for full marks, and translated that into actionable steps.
If you do everything on the checklist your teacher will have to give you full marks.
A: Diagrams (3 marks)
IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student is able to construct and use diagrams.
IB Expectations: Relevant, accurate and correctly labelled diagrams are included, with a full explanation.
Checklist (to get full marks):
Drawing the diagram:
- You have fully labelled your x and y-axis (See the method here)
- You’ve chosen the most appropriate diagram (the one that best explains the theory that relates most to your case).
-You’ve used a full title (such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”)
-You’ve labelled all of your lines (D1, D2, S1, S2)
-You have marked all of your intersections with letters (i.e. E1, E2)
-You have shaded in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand)
-You have indicated the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. (If no prices or percentage changes are mentioned, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.)
Explaining the diagram
-You have made sense of the diagram for the (unschooled) reader
-You have explained WHY the curves shift (etc), not just THAT they do.
-You have taken a step-by-step approach (See the method here)
B: Terminology (2 marks)
IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student uses appropriate economic terminology.
IB Expectations: Terminology relevant to the article is used appropriately throughout the commentary.
Checklist (to get full marks):
- You have defined the 4-5 words most important words related to the concepts involved
- You have connected these definitions to the case
- You have used economics words whenever possible
C: Application (2 marks)
IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student recognizes, understands and applies economic information in the context of the article.
IB Expectations: Relevant economic concepts and/or theories are applied to the article appropriately throughout the commentary.
Checklist (to get full marks):
- You have stayed focused on the theory that’s related
- You have developed these theories
- You’ve chosen the most appropriate diagram
D: Analysis (3 marks)
IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student can explain and develop appropriate economic theories and/or concepts in the context of the article.
IB Expectations: There is effective economic analysis relating to the article.
Checklist (to get full marks):
- You have fully explained the diagram
- You have referred to areas that you’ve shaded in (i.e. consumer surplus), shifts in curves, (D1-D2), percentage increases in price, etc. Anything that can help you to fully explain the theory.
- You have explained clearly all of the effects the change (i.e. the drought) has had (i.e. supply, demand, price, quantity)
- You have explained related theory
- You have pointed out the extent to which what has actually happened (in real life) is not what theory would say would happen (i.e. perhaps price increased, but there was no increase in supply).
E: Evaluation (4 marks)
IB Explanation: This criterion assess the extent to which the student synthesizes his or her analysis in order to make judgments that are supported by reasoned arguments.
IB Expectations: Judgments are made that are supported by effective and balanced reasoning.
Checklist (to get full marks):
- You have evaluated using at least 3 different areas of CLASPP
- You have developed your evaluative insights
- You leave the reader feeling that they understand that this is a complicated situation, that you’ve laid out (for example) the pros and cons, stakeholder effects and the assumptions that the theory is based on fairly.
- You have drawn together (synthesised) the different CLASPP insights to draw conclusions for the policy (i.e. whether, as a whole, the policy is appropriate or not).
- You have made it easy for the reader to understand the full picture and believe (‘to be convinced by’) your final conclusion.
And that’s it.
This post will go through what you should write in your Economics IA, with step-by-step instructions and with word counts for each section.
What you need to know before you write:
1) Avoid writing anything that isn’t going to earn you marks. You’re going to need all the words you can get for your analysis and evaluation. Avoid quotes from the article and introductions longer than 2 sentences.
2) Stick with one section of the course (micro, macro, international, or development). Don’t start off in micro (apple prices rise, supply and demand, elasticity) and then evaluate the potential macro effects (this could hurt economic growth). Even if this is true, the IA is about going deep into one part of the course, rather than showing the linkages between different parts.
3) Less is (often) more. Because of the very constraining word count (750 words) you’ll want to focus on really developing just one or two (two at the most) diagrams in your IA. And only evaluate one potential solution (the one in the article or one of your choice if (and only if) there isn’t one in your article. Some of you, I know, are wondering, “What if the article mentions two solutions? Like price ceilings AND subsidies?” Answer: the International Bacheloreate Organization says you can highlight the section of the article you’re going to focus on, so just highlight one solution (and not the other) and you’re good to go. Bibliographies are not obligatory, but they’re nice. And if you include them, they won’t count against you for the word count.
Now you’re ready. Here’s the Method:
Step 1 – Definitions
Don’t waste words with a lengthy introduction (or quotations). Instead right away start explaining the case using 3 or 4 course words. And then define these words. We’re not looking for a list of definitions. Rather the definitions should come in after you have just used the word in a sentence. So, as a rule don’t define a word before you’ve used it.
However these few definitions won’t be enough to earn you full definition marks in your IA though. To do that you’ll also have to:
- Define two or three additional words (after you’ve used them) throughout the commentary.
- And make sure to always use the economic terms rather than the common terms for things. So instead of writing “money” write “consumption” or “expenditure” or “spending.” This will help to convince the reader of your familiarity with the subject.
Step 2: Draw the Diagram
The diagram (and it’s titles, etc) do not count in your word count.
You need to diagram the problem explained in the article. And also diagram your solution. Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be shown on one diagram. Sometimes not.
Of course don’t include a diagram (or any theory at all) that doesn’t help you to explain the case.
Include in your diagram as much information as you can. It will need to:
-Use a full title such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”
-Label all of your lines
-Mark all of your intersections with a letter, so you can refer to them later in your article
-Shade in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand),
-Indicate the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. If not, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.
Show as much as you can in your diagrams. A clear picture can help you tell a lot.
Obviously you will want to fully label your X and Y axis. Let’s look at a simple supply and demand curve for apples:
Step 3: Fully explain your diagram
A big mistake students make is that they will identify the key concepts that explain the case, but they don’t explain how those concepts work. They skip steps in their explanation. It’s human nature to do that. We all do that all the time. We assume the reader is understanding what we’re saying. In this case you can’t do that. You need to force yourself to explain things step by step. Let’s look at an example. I have a students’ (practice) commentary in front of me that reads:
“Supply shifts inward because there was a draught. This leads to a higher price and a lower quantity demanded”
Maybe you’re thinking this isn’t too bad. However, this student has skipped a few steps. He doesn’t make it understandable to a reader who doesn’t know the theory. If you have to be an expert to understand what you’re talking about you aren’t doing it right. You can’t think of your reader as an expert. My student here could have written something like.
“The leftward shift of the supply curve, means that for any given price, less is supplied. This creates excess demand at the original equilibrium price, which upward pressure on price. Producers receive the signal to increase their prices and they do.”
Writing like this isn’t easy. Luckily in this case you get to edit your own writing as many times as you want before you hand it in.
Step 4: Develop Your Explanation
Analysis is about explaining how the theory relates to the case. You have already done a lot of that by FULLY explaining your diagram. But now I want you to take it a step further. Go deeper in your explanation. For example, explain how what is happening in the article is not exactly what the theory said would happen (i.e because of the external factors that exist). Explain to us to what extent the theory you have used explain what’s actually going on in the article? And show the linkages between different aspects of theory. Basically you’re trying to take it to the next level. But you aren’t evaluating. You’re just making sure that you have fully explained the theory and how the theory relates to the case.
Step 5: Evaluate a solution
Every article is about a problem. For example, apples are too expensive after the drought. In your commentary you’re expected to evaluate ONE possible solution. If one is mentioned in the case it must be that one that you evaluate. YOu only have a solution isn’t mentioned.
To evaluate you’ll need to use at least 3 different (CLASPP) approaches. (The CLASPP approach to Economics evaluation is explained here). Try to include Assumptions of the theory if you can, to show the limits of the theory and that it doesn’t always work out in real life.
In the final of the 3 posts on Mastering the Economics IA we will take a detailed look at the new 2013 rubric and use a checklist to make sure you really do get full marks.
Thanks to my fellow HL Econ teacher at OFS Niamh Bowman for her great ideas and help with this method.
The next 3 posts will provide you with a bullet-proof system for scoring full marks on your Economics Internal Assessments, following the new 2013 syllabus. The IA is a brilliant opportunity to put some marks in the bank and make that 6 or 7 in the course much easier to achieve.
This first article will focus on choosing an appropriate article.
Why does this matter?
If you choose a bad article you’ll find it like competing in the Olympic 100 meter dash wearing your granny’s high heels. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Your name might be Usain Bolt. You’re working with the wrong equipment, so you’re gonna get beat. Here, just like in your Extended Essay and so much else in life, you’ve got to make good decisions at the start of the thing to end up where you want to go.
Actually, you need to decide on the concept you want to explore BEFORE you go looking for your article. You should normally focus on one of the really major concepts like supply and demand, market failure, or aggregate supply and taxes. And once you’ve done that you’ll know what type of article you’re looking for.
Here is how to spot the perfect article for your commentary
- Of course the article can’t be written by an economist. It relates to course concepts, but doesn’t explain or understand the economic reasons behind what’s going on. It might say something like, “apples are more expensive than they were before the drought, but no one can figure out why.” So you get to come in and be a hero.
- The article relates to theories that you have covered in class. If it’s about development, but you haven’t covered development yet, save that article for a later IA and find something you’re sure you can nail.
- The article can be sufficiently explained using two related theories. For example it might be explainable using (1) supply and demand, and (2) elasticity. It isn’t always necessary that two concepts be involved in your analysis to achieve full marks, but it allows you to show how theories interrelate (and that you know more than one concept).
- Make sure the article is not from a source or a country that you have covered in a previous IA. Using several different online sources are fine. But several articles from the same news organisation (i.e. all from the BBC, or all from the New York Times) is not okay.
- The article must be published within the last 12 months. This isn’t 12 months from the start (or the end) of the course, but from the time you write that specific commentary.
- Finally, the article will be a slam-dunk, perfect example of the concept you want to discuss. You don’t want to have to waste words trying to justify why you think a certain product has negative externalities of consumption. It needs to be obvious. For example, vaccinations obviously have positive externalities of consumption. Wheat, while good for you (because if you don’t eat anything you’ll die) is a much worse choice. So you’d much rather go with the subsidising vaccinations article, if market failure is your concept of the concept of choice.
Google news is obviously a great source. Once you’ve chosen your concept you can go a long way doing simple searches like “cotton subsidy shortage,” or “vaccination price africa.” And then test the articles you find against the criteria above. It should take you too long if you know what you need. However, even if it does take you a couple of hours that’s time well spent.
The next post will lay out a step-by-step approach that get you top marks on your IA’s every time.
Theory of the firm (ToF) is hard. Well, it can be. (Hey, I just noticed ToF=tough. That can’t be a coincidence). The first year I taught IB Economics, my students really struggled with the diagrams and all of the memorization in this part of the course.
But if there’s something I love it’s taking something hard and making it easy. So I love mnemonics and finding a structure (or a system) that you can always use to get great results. That’s what this will be. This approach is the only thing that works for me.
So, while this is obviously an Economics post, you can also take this as a lesson in how to use mnemonics to pack otherwise hard-to-remember information into your brain. I read a lot of books on this subject to help my students (people like Cal Newport, Adam Robinson and Joshua Foer) and I’ve applied what I’ve learned here.
You might want to read your Theory of the Firm textbook chapters before reading this post, because this article won’t teach you the theory. That would require a very long and detailed post. Instead, what I want to do here is give you a powerful system to help you remember what most people struggle to: the 5 most important points in the theory of the firm.
First, here are the important ToF facts that most people try to memorize, but fail to, because they don’t use a system:
If a product is sold…
1) Where Marginal Revenue = 0 total, total revenue is maximized.
2) Where Marginal Cost = Average Total Cost (or, you can say, where Marginal Cost = Average Cost) productive efficiency is maximized AND the firm breaks even. (2 things to memorize there, rather than just one for each of the others).
3) Where Marginal Cost = Average Variable Cost, the firm will have to shut-down. That’s their shutdown price. Well actually it’s the minimum price a firm can sell their product for before they have to shut-down –but we call it the shutdown price anyway.
4) Where Marginal Cost = Average Revenue, social benefit (or allocative efficiency) is maximized.
5) Where Marginal Cost = Marginal Revenue, profit is maximized.
I know, I know. By now you’re wishing you’d taken History instead of Econ. But you didn’t. You, my friend, are destined for greatness, so you’re just going to have to learn this and be great.
Let me tell you about these 5 rappers (or MC’s as we used to call back in the day). Each of these MC’s sell their albums for a particular price.
The 5 MCs
Here are their names and their personalities:
MR Zero doesn’t understand about costs. He just wants the biggest possible pay cheques (the most revenue). But, in the end, he doesn’t end up with a lot of profit (because revenue is not the same as profit). That might make him a big zero in your book, but doesn’t care. He just keeps smiling.
MC Average TC is just an average guy, so he’s not rich. He just breaks even every month. He’s also in the rock group MC AC, which is known for being against waste. (I show my students this video.) The helicopter pilot on this show was named TC. He was just an average guy and I don’t recall him ever wasting anything.
Where MC = AVC
MC AVC (pronounced as “Havoc”). This guy is the worst! No one likes him. Every time he goes to a club they know they’re going to have to shut down (if it gets even one penny worse). That’s how bad he is.
MC AR used to be so cool. Books were written about him. That’s how cool he was. Instead of calling him AR, we call him ARal (pronounced “Harold”) or MC ARal (Harold) Potter. The “al” part of his name is because he does do what’s good for society (allocative efficiency), allocating resources in a way that society sees as the best way.
MC MR profit is rich. He’s clever, so he sells at the price that makes the most amount of profit possible.
So there you go
If you try to think about the diagram in terms of these rappers, their personalities and what they accomplish by selling at the price they do, you’ll find it much easier to remember what the diagrams mean. For example, you can now remember that, if you if you sell your product at the price where MC=MR, you’ll maximize profit, but not allocative efficiency (because you’re not producing at MC=AR). And you won’t maximize your revenue, despite making all that profit, because you’re not selling where MR=0).
And as a free bonus
I’m going to spare you the rest of the work I did on this post. I tried to make up a rap song about these guys to help you remember even easier, but I’m actually not a very good rapper. I know, surprising right?! I’m as shocked as you are. Anyway, you lucked out not having to hear it. Just imagine me, with a backwards ballcap rapping like, “Mr Zero’s got more cash than anyone could ever handle, Yet not as much profit as an everyday vandal.” It was bad.
“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything
that can be counted counts” (Anonymous).
This holiday I read two new books that have really challenged my thinking about how to equip children and teenagers for success. They are: Teach Your Children Well (by Madeline Levine, 2012) and How Children Succeed (by Paul Tough, 2012).
Actually, they’ve confirmed some ideas I’ve had for a while, but haven’t really acted on. So they’ve made me feel a little guilty. I should be doing more to support the non-academic needs of students. We all should.
Here’s what you need to know.
A lot of us (teachers, parents and students alike) act as though schools are mostly, if not entirely, there to prepare students academically. Middle schools prepare students for high school and high school is basically there to prepare students for the academic needs of college. Recently, 73% of American students surveyed affirmed this view (Balfanz) and I have taught with a lot of good teachers who would as well.
What’s wrong with that?
There are a few reasons why we need to change peoples’ mind about this. For the sake of concision, let’s look at just two (of many) arguments: why we can do more and why we must do more.
We can do more
Yes, schools do train us to be intellectuals (which is a powerful and good thing), but at their best they also prepare us more broadly to be capable adults:
-to be able to take care of ourselves,
-to work together,
-to handle complex adult social and emotional situations,
-to have healthy habits (so we can live longer, more active lives),
-to have a social-conscience,
-and on and on.
Hard to argue with right?
Few would dispute the importance of these skills and yet, when the pressure is on (when exams are just around the corner), we can overlook these valuable aims. And let’s be honest: exams are ALWAYS just around the corner. So we often (myself included) can get caught up in focusing on the academic priorities (test and exam prep) and keep wellness and soft-skill capability-development perpetually on the back burner.
Why is this?
One of the most powerful maxims in business is: “What gets measured gets done.” If no one ever keeps track of whether you show up for work or not, you probably won’t show up for work. Similarly in schools, we might all agree that eating well and stress-management are important and yet many schools don’t measure whether students are gaining these (wellness-related) skills. As a result, many students graduate without developing them.
We must do more
If you aren’t already convinced, let’s look at a few facts about mental health (just one part of wellness). In an average class of 25 students, 5 show symptoms of a mental disorder, and 2 or 3 (2.5) suffer from “mental illness severe enough to result in significant functional impairment” (NIMH). Similarly, while students have historically “cited either family discord or peer problems as being their greatest source of stress, school is now identified as the number one stressor in their lives” (Kids and Stress). So, mental illness should be something they learn about and develop strategies to cope with.
Where to go from here
I think where we need to start is asserting a broader role for schools. We need to challenge those who will try to claim that schools are not the place for teaching about emotional wellbeing, for example. And we should try to change their mind. And then we can look for small ways to encourage wellness education. For example, teachers can incorporate wellness (theory) in lessons and the development of good habits (practice), for example in what students eat at lunch time. And students can choose presentation topics that include aspects of wellness (i.e on positive psychology, or nutrition) and share insights with their peers.
(For my part, I will be running a club at OFS this semester called Health Leadership, to help students who want to make a difference in this area at our school and/or in Singapore more broadly).
I would like to thank my wife Bettina for buying these books for me and helping me a lot with this article. She is currently completing her Master’s of Education thesis, exploring wellness-related physical education interventions. So she’s teaching me a lot. (As per usual).
Balfanz, Robert. Can the American High School Become an Avenue of Advancement for All? p.1) (Here’s a link)
“Kids and Stress, How Do They Handle It?” KidsHealth KidsPoll, October, 12, 2005. The National Association of Health Education Centers database. From Levine xv.
“The NIMH Blueprint for Change Report,” Research on Child and Adolescent Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41, no.7 (July 2002) p 760-66. From Levine xv.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’m all about finding systems and structures to make challenging things less challenging. Or, to put it more simply, I like to do things the easy way. To that end, I want to show you how to make a few tweaks to your average extended essay and earn top marks for it. The following are some advanced techniques that many International Baccalaureate (IB) extended essay supervisors might forget to share. And many aren’t aware of them.
Before reading this blog post, I suggest reading my post on getting started with your extended essay. That article explains how to choose a good essay question, among other things.
This article is about advanced techniques, the polish that can raise your grades (to a high B or an A). But if your foundation is off no amount of polishing is going to be enough. So again, make sure you get off to a good start.
1) Doubt Your Sources
By now your Extended Essay contains the best sources that you could get your hands on. You’ve used them to analyze and draw conclusions. You’re satisfied with them. But you shouldn’t be.
Even though you included the best information you could find (and you don’t want to look lazy) you should be the one (rather than your Extended Essay grader) to point out the weaknesses in your research.
This defies common sense, but do it anyway. You might think this is rather like going to a job interview and pointing out why you’re a bad employee, but it’s not like that at all. Pointing out the weaknesses in your research shows that you know how to improve next time (which impresses us) and it shows that you’re taking an academic approach (you are able to be objective) rather than a self-conscious approach. Weaker students, students that haven’t put in my effort into their work, won’t want to do this because they know there are tons of weaknesses in their research. But if you’ve done a reasonable amount of work, using primary and secondary sources, it only helps you to be critical.
To help you with this, there is a great checklist you can use called Test Before You Trust (link here) to help you ask important questions about your sources (i.e. Is the site free of advertising? Is the site one-sided or balanced). You can use the questions as prompts for your Extended Essay writing.
For example, Question 14 asks, “Are sources given for statistics?” If you answer no, you can write in your Extended Essay something like, “Article X was written in an academic way and it was available on a site that was free of advertising and therefore perhaps less likely to be biased. However, the article did not provide the sources or raw data they used to calculate their statistics. So it is not possible to verify their accuracy.” See?
2) Dip your toe into real academic stuff
Few high school students have ever used Google Scholar (their site for research, i.e. from university professors in your subject). Why? Because it can be boring. I’ll give you that. However, it is very, VERY impressive when high school students can read and understand and explain aspects of real academic articles. So try to find just one that relates to your Extended Essay, print it out, take a couple of hours with Dictionary.com, Wikipedia, and Google and try to figure out what the article’s talking about. And (intelligently) use a couple of quotes from it in your Extended Essay. It’s perhaps worth asking your parents or an older sibling to help you track down this article, because finding one that directly relates to your Extended Essay can be the hardest part (because you don’t yet know the meaning of all of the related key words).
This might seem like a lot of work, but it sends a strong signal to your marker that you’re as serious as any university student.
3) Use a proxy
When you hear the word “proxy” you might think of VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) that let you surf the web more freely. Proxy sources similarly allow you to research a bit more freely.
Let’s say your Extended Essay is about the launch of a new organic lettuce in Singapore. You’ve looked around and there isn’t any data about lettuce in Singapore at all. In this case, an example of proxy research would be if you could find research on the sales of organic cucumbers. You can simply point out that no info on lettuce was available, and that you’ve made an assumption that the market for both items is similar. And then you can go on to make all kinds of insights into the market for lettuce, using the cucumber data.
Proxies can be used (but rarely are actually used) in most Extended Essay’s. Even if you were able to find a lot of data, there is probably a way to use a proxy to strengthen your analysis.
4) Become an expert on the Extended Essay criteria
This one is self-explanatory. Just like on all of your exams, if you want to earn the top marks, you need to get into the head of the examiners.
-What impresses them?
-What are they actually giving marks for?
-Is it possible you (and your supervisor) have overlooked (or misinterpreted) one of the criteria?
-Could you tweak one of your sections (i.e. your conclusion) to make sure you’re going to get full marks for it?
Talk to your friends and parents and teachers and your turtle about this.
In reality, different examiners are going to have slightly different interpretations of the criteria. So if you really want the grade be as safe as possible. Read the criteria a few times, looking for key words that some examiners might focus on and adjust your writing so it would satisfy any marker. (That’s easy for me to say. Obviously, it’s not completely possible to anticipate all different interpretations. So just do a little of this and then go back to enjoying your life.)
5) Edit, Edit, and then… you know… Edit a bit more.
I’m about to recommend something shocking. Ready? Ok. “You’re going to have to read your extended essay.” I’m sorry. I know it’s really long. Every year I read Extended Essay’s that are just horrible. They don’t make any sense. They say the same thing over and over again. They bring tears to my eyes and not in a good way my friend.
As you read your Extended Essay take a pen to it and mark it up like you were me.
-Find grammar and spelling mistakes.
-Cross out superfluous writing. Could you say the same thing in fewer words? Yes. This is always true of your writing. And for mine. Start by deleting most of your introduction, for example. And then look for times when you say things you’ve already said before.
-Look for times when you used sources (even when it’s not for a quotation) but you haven’t cited it.
-You know what I’m saying here. Mark it like your teacher would mark it.
Don’t think that this is your teacher’s job to do this for you. In this case it’s really not. We can’t give you line-by-line advice. Just general feedback.
And even if you’re lucky enough to have a teacher who will give you a lot of feedback, you’re wasting their time and yours. It’s much better to hand in a well-written, edited piece of work so your teacher can focus on helping you with the smart (rather than the silly) mistakes you’ve made.
6) Read two Extended Essays that are better than yours
Exemplar Extended Essays (ones from previous years) are a great resource. You’d be crazy to not avail yourself of these. Look for anything they’ve done well that you could emulate. For example, have they structured their work in a clever way? Does their conclusion tie together the mini-conclusions they’ve made throughout the essay?
And that’s it dude. You’re done.
Thanks to Brett Bowman, the Extended Essay Coordinator @ OFS for his insights into understanding the limitations of different sources.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (Aristotle).
A lot of what we do every day is habitual. Obviously, some of our habits are good and some aren’t, but they all work in the same way.
Think of how powerful it would be if you did the things you knew you should: If you didn’t procrastinate; if you did you got in the habit of getting ahead in your homework, if you always asked questions in class; if you did extra questions from the textbook.
A lot of times we see our habits as something we simply have to deal with, something we have or don’t have, a result of undisciplined childhood. But changing habits isn’t so hard when you understand how they work. I just finished Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, which explains the psychology and social science behind habits and outlines the simple, three step process involved in all habit.
Let’s take one of Duhigg’s examples: alcoholics anonymous. The famous 12 step program Alcoholics Anonymous uses doesn’t rely on therapies or scientific treatments, but rather on uncovering the individual reasons why people drink and dealing with them differently. For one person they might drink because they’re lonely, so that person will learn to hang out with people in an alcohol free environment, thereby getting their social-fix without the drink. AA gives these people a the support they need to understand themselves better and change their habits in a structured way.
Basically, every habit has 3 parts: the Trigger, the Activity and the Payoff. (T.A.P.)
Removing Bad Habits
Let’s say you want to stop eating junk food in the evening. You already know the middle part (the Activity) that you want to stop, but you’ll need to investigate to figure out the first part (the Trigger) and third part (the Payoff).
The Trigger is the situation that gets you doing the habitual activity. What happens when you start snacking? Maybe you do it when you’re nervous. You start thinking about the next day’s activities. Or maybe you do it when you’re bored. It could be anything.
The Payoff is the reward you get when you’re done. One person who eats too much junk food (habitually) might like the taste in their mouth, so that’s their payoff. But another person might do it because they like the feeling of being really full in their stomach or they might enjoy keeping their hands busy.
Once you’ve identified your unique Triggers and Payoffs, you’ll want to modify the behavior (eat carrots when you’re watching TV after dinner) and give yourself a similar Payoff. If you used to enjoy the feeling of being full carrots will work just as well. If it was the sweet taste, perhaps carrots and then a sugar-free candy at the end.
Getting a new good habit
To get yourself doing a new habitual activity, we use the trigger-activity-payoff process again. We’re going to build a new activity and payoff, building on a trigger that’s already there.
Let’s say you want to do your homework right away in the afternoon.
For the Trigger you would choose something like walking in the front door, something you know is going to happen every day. As soon as you get in the door and take off your shoes you’ll also take your books out, put them on the desk and sit down to your homework (the activity).
And for The Payoff you’ll have to give yourself something you actually want, like an hour or 2 of guilt-free television or a healthy milkshake. Make sure the Payoff is something you’ll enjoy and something you can give yourself every time.
If you do this for 14 to 21 days you’ll find it becomes your new normal. You’ll be a little bit more successful and a bit more like a robot.
–You might enjoy this related article on writing New Year’s Resolutions.
The site is getting over 200,000 views a year now! That triples the number of readers I had just a year ago. To make it easier for all of you to use, I thought I should create a central resource page with all of the important stuff on it. If you’re looking for something really useful, it’s probably here.
You might want to bookmark this page (or ‘like it’) for future reference.
My Grade Calculator Calculates all possible percentages for your test (to speed up your marking).
A list of knowledge issues for different subjects compiled by teachers at the Overseas Family School
Why student wellness should be a central part of high school education. And how to do it right.
How to get your students to change their habits. Insights from research.
Theory of Knowledge resources
The (wildly popular!) TOK Essay Structure
How to make a good TOK essay Great. Upgrade your work.
The Top 10 Good TOK Essay tips
The basics of how your essay is marked
A Downloadable Essay Outline (PDF worksheet)
The (Foolproof) Econ Essay Structure. Get full marks in the time allowed.
99 Great Economics resources Podcasts, Research Sources, Advice pages, etc.
And a series on mastering the Economics IA:
-Part 1 Getting started (Choosing an Appropriate Article)
-Part 2 How to Structure the Economics IA
-Part 3 Making a Good Economics IA Great
Business and Management resources
How to Structure Your IB Business and Management IA
How to Evaluate in IB Business and Management
An IB Business and Management IA Outline
I also recommend listening to the Motley Fool Weekly Podcast.
Extended Essay resources
My four steps to help you choose a perfect EE question
Advanced Extended Essay Tips. Making a good EE great.
General Advice for Students
What students should know about differentiation
Advice for writing amazing college application essays and statements
Tips for raising your grades
How to manage your time
Advice for taking killer notes
How to cite your sources
How to write like an expert
How to master any field If you haven’t heard about deliberate practice yet, you need to read this.
Personal Finance resources
My advice on preparing for retirement
Andrew Hallam’s blog. Wise investment advice.
And of course there are always new resources on the blog…
It’s important to use your time efficiently on economics exams. In the new (2013) syllabus, you only get 45 minutes per essay. And that’s not much time to do everything you need to do. It’s easy to waste time (i.e with introductions or descriptive writing) that earn you no marks at all. If you use this structure you’ll be sure to earn all of the possible marks for each of your IB Economics essays.
Some students will be able to write more than others, because they write more quickly. This structure was written with an average-writing-speed student in mind.
Part A (18 minutes)
Part A1: Definition and real life example
Definition: Define a key word in the question
Definition: Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or a related key word
Definition: Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or a related key word
Real life example: Briefly explain a real life example. Two sentences maximum; you’ll keep link back to this later in the essay.
Part A2: Draw and explain a diagram
Draw the diagram which will best help you to answer the question. Draw it accurately and fully labelled (I.e. “Price of Ice Cream, Quantity of Ice Cream, D1, S1, E1.”) and with a title on top.
Tell us what the diagram shows, in general.
Explain a specific insight of the diagram (i.e. “As the diagram shows, the warmer weather results in a greater demand for ice cream. At Price P1, the quantity demanded increases from Q1 to Q2.”)
Develop that insight further. Use points on the diagram to explain WHY greater demand for ice cream is causing the price of ice cream to increase. (i.e. “The rightward shift of the demand curve means that for any given price, more is demanded. And this puts an upward pressure on price. Producers get a signal from the market that there is excess demand, so they see that they can increase their prices and they do.”) This is often where the high marks are hidden for Part A questions –making sense of the theory for The Reader. (I always say think of “The Reader” as a simple guy who doesn’t understand any economics yet. He doesn’t understand the theory yet and doesn’t know any of your key words. If you can make this stuff make sense to such a person in the time allowed you’re a rock star).
Link your example to the diagram.
Part B (27 minutes)
In part B you are always being asked to evaluate –even if the word evaluate isn’t used. We have the CLASPP model, which lists a variety of types of evaluation. However, it’s useful to try to carefully structure your answer to do this well. To do this, we’re borrowing an approach you’ll learn in Theory of Knowledge. We’re going to treat the Part B question as a knowledge issue.
If you aren’t sure about this approach, you can read this. In general we’re basically trying to argue both sides of a case (i.e. how it’s good for stakeholders and then how it’s bad for them) and do this in a few different ways (i.e. the theory says X, but the theory depends on ceteris paribus, which doesn’t normally hold true). In this way (basically debating with ourselves) we can explore the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and make an informed conclusion.
Intro (Definitions, diagrams and case link)
It is okay to write things like, “As the diagram in Part A shows, … or “Demand, as defined in Part A, …” However, sometimes you’ll need to include additional definitions and diagrams to help you explain your evaluative points in Part B. You’ll have to make a judgment call on this.
Definitions. Define words that require definition. At least one.
Diagram. Draw a diagram if you’re going to need it for your explanation. This will be required about 50% of the time. Basically, if there is a diagram that relates closely to the question and it’s not already in your Part A answer, you’ll have to include it here.
If you do include a diagram do it like this:
Explain the diagram. What does it show in general.
Explain a specific insight of the diagram (i.e. “As the diagram shows, the increase in the price of vaccines has little effect on the quantity demanded.”)
Develop that insight further using points on the diagram (i.e. “The large increase in price from P1 to P2, results in only a slight decrease in demand from Q1 to Q2″).
Link the example to diagram and the question. “Therefore a tax on vaccines will result in decreased demand and is therefore hurts some stakeholders.”
Mention a real life example that relates to the question. It might be the same one you used in Part A. And provide one detail about it (i.e. “China’s grain output rose 5.4 percent 2008.”)
Body 1 (Case link, claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim: Link your case back to the theory. “As the diagram above (or in Part A) shows, this increase in supply would likely have resulted in a decrease in the market clearing price.” So you are answering the question of the case using course theory and also using your example.
Counterclaim: Criticize the theory. You could say, “However, this depends on everything else remaining constant (ceteris paribus), which only occurs in theory.” Point out that it depends on ceteris paribus, which almost never occurs. Or point out that it’s purely theoretical; it cannot be tested. Or perhaps there is something else unrealistic about the theory. Challenging theory like this is tough, but there are a lot of marks for you if you can do it well.
Miniconclusion: Link back to the question (answer the question). “So we can see that, it is likely that, in most cases, and an increase in supply will be followed by a decrease in the equilibrium price.”
Body 2 (Claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim: Explain something else the theory shows. Look to CLASPP for various ways to do this. We’ve already used “assumptions” (which is a very powerful one you should always try to include), so I’ll use stakeholders for this example. “Given that the market clearing price of vaccines will fall, a key advantage of the policy is that more consumers will be willing and able to consume them.”
Counterclaim: Criticize this claim
Mini-conclusion: Link back to the question (answer the question).
Body 3 (Claim, counterclaim and mini-conclusion)
Claim. (i.e. advantages)
Counterclaim (i.e. disadvantages)
Mini-conclusion. Answer the question (i.e. “Therefore the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in most cases”)
Draw together the insights of the different mini-conclusions you have made in your body paragraphs and come to a measured, qualified conclusion. Make sure you also answer the question here. It’s easy to , but also try to say something original. Show that you understand that policy decisions are complicated. For example, implementing theories has unintended consequences (i.e. hurting some stakeholders).
Thanks to Niamh Bowman for her great ideas and help with this structure. Niamh is an IB and MYP Economics and IB Theory of Knowledge teacher at the Overseas Family School in Singapore.
The purpose of this article is to help you strengthen the logic and argument of your ToK essay. This is great for making final touches to your work and to help you spot some common mistakes. And it will, of course, pull your mark up.
I’m just going to assume that you’re already using my Essay structure (click here if you’re not sure). (It’s a 9 paragraph, 3 section structure which works with just about every question). It will make a lot more sense if you are.
When you first get assigned your real ToK essay, you’ll have a few “titles” to choose from. You choose a title, and then you have to come up with a KI for it and then a thesis. The thesis is your brief answer to your KI (or your hypothesis).
In general your essay is about claims (with examples), counterclaims (with examples) and conclusions. It’s important that you understand that your claims always support your thesis and your counterclaims always oppose your thesis.
I have my students think in terms of Claim -> Counterclaim -> Mini-conclusion. Outside of ToK land we refer to this as Thesis (claim) -> Antithesis (counterclaim) -> Synthesis (mini-conclusion).
Your mini-conclusion is a simple statement that combines the insights of your claim and counterclaim. (I.e. “Looking at the role of imagination in art, we can see that it is helpful in many instances, but imagination can also sometimes obscure reality.”) Try to be a little wise here. Say something kind of interesting if you can.
The important part
Be very careful that your claims always support your thesis. And that the examples you use to support your claim are also supportive of your thesis. And the opposite for your counterclaim. It’s easy to forget which side you’re on at different points in the essay.
A strong conclusion
In your final conclusion, draw together the insights of your mini-conclusions and again try to say something really interesting here if you can.
If your claims and counterclaims are solid and you make mini-conclusions as you go through, are solid, your final conclusion should be clear and well supported. This will make your essay (your analysis/argument) seem very well thought-out and therefore convincing.
Here are links to all of my articles on the ToK Essay Structure I recommend. Lots of students and teachers have told me they find this really helpful for ticking all the boxes.