How To Ace The Short Answers in HSC Economics

Too often, HSC Economics students fall into the trap of taking a narrow approach and obsessing over perfecting their essays. Yet whilst building up strong essay foundations (to be covered in a later post) is vital, in preparing for your exam, it is the short answer section that is arguably the most important.

Post written by Eric Chen (3rd in the state Economics 2016). See all articles first and personally get in touch with our state rankers here

From a quantitative view alone, at 40 marks, it’s worth almost half your HSC mark. Furthermore, once mastered, these 40 marks are the easiest to consistently earn.

With multiple choice, it’s easy to make a silly mistake or stumble on a trick question, and alongside a lot of effort, it takes a fair bit of luck to push an essay up from a 16 to a 17, or from a 19 to a 20. What a whole extra paragraph might get you could be achieved with just one extra sentence in the short answers.

In this sense, the short answer section is where you can really ‘control’ your marks and I’ll detail the best way to do so below.

1. Read the question

This may seem straightforward, but properly analysing the question can help you figure out your approach and how to maximise your marks.

The directive verb

Economics doesn’t have too much variety in the directive verbs used and often questions don’t have any, but there are a few key verbs you’ll need to be aware of.

In most cases, talk about both positive and negative effects/issues. The HSC definition of discuss doesn’t require you to necessarily talk about both sides, but I find this the easiest way to think of an answer and ensure you’re covering the scope of the question.

This is all about cause and effect, and how cause leads to effect. For instance:

“Explain how ONE labour market policy may influence the level of structural unemployment.”

Let’s say you wanted to talk about education and training. That would be your cause. The effect would be a decrease in structural unemployment, and the how would be through reducing the mismatch of skills between job vacancies and the unemployed.

This is similar to ‘explain’, but often requires greater depth and is more common in questions worth more marks.

Mark distribution

Seeing how many marks each question is worth gives you a quick approximation of how much you need to write and what you need to include. This is important so you don’t overwrite and waste too much time on one question (your answer might be worth 6/4 but you can’t get 6/4). To explain this, let’s look at an example:

“Explain the effects of a reduced rate of economic growth on the Australian Government budget.” (4 marks)

Now 4 marks doesn’t mean you need to talk about 4 things. Often, as in this particular case, you’d only need 2 points and an explanation/elaboration on each. So here you could have:

Increased unemployment -> increased Government expenditure on unemployment benefits (cause = 1 mark) -> increase budget deficit or reduce surplus (effect = 1 mark)
Less output -> reduced Government tax revenue (cause = 1 mark)-> increase budget deficit or reduce surplus (effect = 1 mark)

As you saw above, most ‘explain’ and ‘discuss’ questions worth an even number of marks follow this point-elaboration rule, such as:

“Explain the limitations of both fiscal policy and monetary policy in addressing an economic slowdown.” (6 marks)

Here, you can get the marks by giving 3 limitations of fiscal or monetary policy (as long as you have at least one for each; answering the question must always come first) and explaining each one.

However, if you feel one of your limitations is weaker, and you’re struggling to go through that cause-effect process, then feel free to add in another one just to be safe.

At times, mark distributions might seem confusing at first, especially when it comes to odd numbers like in the example below.

“Analyse the effects of rising interest rates on both the current account and the capital and financial account of the balance of payments.” (5 marks)

Begin by breaking down the question and looking at its parts. In the current account you could possibly talk a little bit about BOGS, but NPY should be your focus. The capital account is largely irrelevant (although you should still acknowledge it is mostly unaffected to show you are deliberately excluding it, not because you don’t know; same thing with NSY in Current Account), but the financial account is heavily affected.

How you answer this now is less defined and more flexible than before. Just make sure your response is logical and structured.

You could go for 2 marks worth (cause/how-effects, with more focus on effects because of the question and directive verb ‘analyse’) on effects on the CA through NPY, 2 marks on KAFA through financial inflows/outflows, and then 1 mark on how it could affect BOGS (via influencing international competitiveness and output through exchange rates or inflation).

However, with the BOGS link not being that strong, you could also again acknowledge how it may be affected, but that the biggest direct impact on the BoP is through the NPY and the Financial Account and then go into more detail (3 marks worth for one, 2 marks worth for the other).

Your biggest guide here becomes the amount of lines given to you. Trust they should be appropriate given normal handwriting and decent succinctness. If you are unsure, continue through the exam first and if you have leftover time, come back and add.

2. Keep it simple

A common mistake is writing too much or wasting time trying to think of unique, contemporary answers when the most straightforward textbook answers will get you the marks without risking confusing the marker.

Stats, case studies and diagrams are not needed unless the question specifies; just include enough points for the marks. The marking process for short answers is more reminiscent of going through a checklist of ticking off each mark, and so clarity is key; you are aiming to hand the markers your points on a plate and make their life easy.

A neat trick is underlining the key parts of your answer to make it easier for the marker and for you to make sure as you’re writing that you’ve included enough information for the corresponding marks.

3. Practice

The best way to improve short answer is practice. Go over past HSC and trial papers and get your answers marked by your peers/teachers. This is also a great way to revise content in a hands-on approach, and I’d recommend doing at least one relevant short answer section after finishing each topic or dot point in class.

Some people also like to make their short answer questions, which can have significant advantages. By placing yourself in the position of the marker, you can better understand the mark distribution of each question, whether your answer is relevant and be more efficient overall.

There are only so many different types of questions they can ask, so if you’ve mastered the technique and done all the HSC papers, you should be set going into the final exam!

Post written by Eric Chen (3rd in the state Economics 2016)

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