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Step by step guide to writing an A* economics essay

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Writing economics essays for A levels, O level or GCSE exams may seem like a daunting task. Where to start? How much to write? What to write? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here is a step by step guide that will help you write a striking A* economics essay!

Part one: Reading the exam question

Part 2: Writing your essay


Part one: Reading the exam question

There are 4 steps that should be applied before writing your essay.

Step 1 . Underline the content words

Content words cover the whole of the subject area of the syllabus. Their aim is to make clear what is the focus of the question and what you are required to write about.

Before diving into your essay, it is important to identify the content words given in the question. More importantly, make sure that you clearly understand these keywords.

Take this question from a Cambridge past paper for example :

Explain how a firm maximises its profit in perfect competition. [12 marks]

The two content words are profit maximisation and perfect competition. Make sure you are familiar with the concepts.

Always refer back to these keywords in your essay. It would be irrelevant to write a whole page about the features of perfect competition as this is not asked in the question.

Step 2: Underline Command words

The command words not only indicate what to do but often how much detail to go into.

There is a difference between, for example, 'state the advantages of' and 'explain the advantages of'. The state requires no justification; simply a list of advantages. Explain needs meaning to be added to the advantages, often with a because to back it up.

Examination questions are carefully written to test specific knowledge and skills.

Examination questions never contain questions such as: 'Write all you know about . . . ' or 'Write as much as you can remember about . . . ' 

Step 3: Look for extra requirements

The word ‘and' is particularly important in a requirement. It is very easy to read the first part of a requirement, for example ‘Discuss the performance of the business...’ and miss out a further task later on, such as ‘... and state any further information you may find useful.’

Step 4: Look at the number of marks

The command words should give a good idea of how much work is needed, but the number of marks will also help. It is important to practice questions to time to get an idea of how long certain questions take.

Step 5: Plan time management

Time management is very important!

Before the exam calculate how much time needs to be allocated to each question.

During the exam, spend 3-5 minutes making a rough plan for each long essay. Make sure you will have the time to include all the points required in a structured way.

Part 2: Writing your essay

Congratulations! Now you are ready to write your essay. Follow the following steps.

Step 1: Make a plan to ensure that not to go out of subject

You'll improve your chances of writing a good answer by reading the question carefully and then planning your answer. We suggest that you start by making notes as a rough sketch for your answer. Spend around five minutes doing this. Then elaborate your notes into your answer, using headings and paragraphs, and picking out the main points from the question

The following is an extract from an examiner's report:

'Some candidates started badly by providing an incorrect formula and others wasted time by providing information on everything they had learned about ________. It was disappointing that many candidates provided material that was not relevant to the question set and they scored poorly as a result.'

This is what might happen if you don't plan your answer properly.

Step 2: Structure your essay

Presenting your essay in a structured way will help you score higher marks.

In the first paragraph, define your keywords and give the examiner an indication about how you will apply your knowledge to the requirements of the question.

In the middle paragraphs put forward your arguments. Don't forget that most questions require an argument and a counterargument. Remember to include both sides of the argument.

In the last paragraph, conclude your essay. It is important to conclude an argumentative question with something like 'yes the assertion of ____ is true ' or 'no I do not agree that____'

Step 3: Include headings. Split the answer up wherever possible.

Write each point as a heading first, and then put in the discussion. It is quick and easy to underline or embolden headings so that they are clear. If multiple requirements are given, it’s usually a good idea to separate answers into different headings – this makes it clear to the examiner that all parts of the requirement have been addressed.

Use space – separate out points in paragraphs. Again, this not only makes it easier to identify the points for the examiner but also makes it easy to identify what points have already been made.

Step 4: Include diagrams and examples

Diagrams and examples will add more depth to your essay and show the examiner that you have understood the topics. Students including diagrams and examples have a better chance of scoring higher marks. Don't forget to label and explain your diagrams.

Tip: Imagine that you are the teacher.

Imagine that the person reading your essay is your student and as an economics teacher, you have to explain the concepts in a clear and structured way.

Imagine that Jimmy, a student new to economics, asked you this question:

Indirect taxes reduce consumer surplus and should therefore never be imposed in a mixed economy. What's your view?

You are Jimmy's (favourite!) teacher, how would you explain the answer to him?

  1. Define 'indirect taxes', 'consumer surplus' and 'mixed economy'. Jimmy does not know what these words mean.

  2. Explain why indirect taxes reduce consumer surplus.

  3. Debate whether indirect taxes should be imposed in a mixed economy. Jimmy must be able to understand your arguments so make it clear.

  4. Go into depth. Explain technical words such as 'merit goods' and 'demerit goods'.

  5. Draw, label and explain relevant diagrams to help Jimmy visually understand what's happening.

  6. Jimmy asked you to give your view. So don't forget to conclude whether you think that indirect taxes should be imposed or not.


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