HSC Economics Essay Fundamentals

The fundamentals behind writing a state ranking Economics essay

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

In my last post, I talked about how important short answers are, since they’re the section where you can really ‘control’ your marks the best. Yet while you usually can’t guarantee a specific essay mark, building up strong foundations and technique can help to confidently place your response within a ‘band’ of marks and so is still absolutely vital to Economics success.

Always plan

The planning stage is where a great essay is born. In these few minutes, you are effectively sketching the outline of your response; the rest of the time is just spent colouring this in. A clear, structured plan results in a clear, structured essay, and a clear, structured essay gets you the marks. Likewise, a confused, jumbled plan will end up as a confused, jumbled essay and marker, costing you marks.

The process shouldn’t take too long. 5 minutes is a normal amount of time for a comfortable question, although up to 10 minutes is completely fine if you’re struggling with just how to answer this question. It is always better to spend a bit longer getting together a solid plan than rushing in uncertain of what you’re doing- you end up rambling and wasting more time later trying to improvise and tie all your loose ends together.

So what do you include in your plan?

The crux of it is obviously your paragraphs and their order: the backbone of your essay. These all need to have a logical, coherent flow throughout, building up an understandable, engaging answer to the question. If you’re having trouble thinking of what these paragraphs are going to be, try starting off with a quick brainstorm jotting down potential ideas, and you’ll find a lot overlap thematically and can be combined, or consider some of the structures I’ll talk about later.

I often find it good to also add in what theory, diagrams, examples and stats I’m going to be using for each of these points, so that I can keep flipping back whilst writing to make sure I don’t forget to include any gold. Nothing too overboard in detail, just shorthand to remind myself.

Useful essay structures

So we’ve gone through planning to make sure you’re answering the question, but just what should that answer look like? Often the hardest part is starting, taking all of your thoughts and content and condensing it into a few select points. To help with that, I’ve outlined below a few useful structures you can turn to if you’re ever stuck.

Short Term vs Long Term

This is especially useful for questions where you’re looking at and evaluating impacts.

For instance, in the short term a depreciation deteriorates the BOGS and hence Current Account balance (demand is inelastic- fixed trade contracts), but in the long term it can improve BOGS and CA to a greater degree by increasing international competitiveness.

You can see how flowing through both short-term then long-term here shows a more sophisticated understanding of the complex impacts of a depreciation. In your essay you could either go over all short term impacts first then the corresponding long term impacts, or pair matching short and long terms, depending on the question and what you want to include.

Stakeholders (Firms vs Governments vs Households)

At times, you may feel you have too many different impacts and effects about ‘the economy’ that you want to talk about but don’t want to end up with a sprawling mess.

Breaking it down into the impact on stakeholders such as firms, governments and households, can be a useful way of organising these thoughts. Environment (and future generations- intergenerational equity) can also be another stakeholder worth considering.

Theory vs Real Life

My favourite part of Eco is how relevant of a subject it is, especially in Topics 3 and 4, where the issues you learn about are those confronting society today.

Yet in the crazy, exceptional times that we live in (negative interest rates in Japan, insane global uncertainty following events like Brexit and Trump [impacts confidence and decision-making]), a lot of the traditional theory doesn’t apply.

But rather than just ignore reality, in Eco you can and should acknowledge these contradictions. Start with the theory first to show you know it, then show why it isn’t applicable to the current economy, and if you do this well, your response becomes much more sophisticated and standout.

Introduction & Paragraphs

There is one major distinction between HSC marking and school/peer marking that you need to remember.

HSC markers are paid per script.

While there are measures in place to make sure they don’t just skip through and assign random marks, it does mean that they’re not likely to put in the same effort to carefully read and understand your essay as you might be used to. This has several implications, such as the importance of legible handwriting (it doesn’t matter how good your essay is if no one can read it).

In terms of your paragraphs, this means you need to begin strong with a cohesive and engaging introduction.

From the very first or two lines, it should be perfectly clear exactly what your overall thesis is, i.e. how you’re actually answering the question (again, the entire point of the essay).

Make sure the reader knows what you’re going to be talking about in your essay, and for a trends-based essay briefly put it into context, but always keep it concise.

Likewise, it’s best to have more short, punchy paragraphs than a few huge ones. This makes your essay much easier to read and digest. If you’ve got a point that seems like it’s going to be long, you can break it up with a diagram in the middle, or split the paragraph into two (e.g. if using PEEL [Point, Explain, Example, Link], go Point, Explain, mini-Link then Example, Link).

A commonly overlooked factor in these paragraphs is your topic sentences, which should also be specific and concise. Just by skimming through and reading these, anyone should be able to understand the development of your argument.

E.g. “However, in the long term, by increasing international competitiveness, a lower AUD should indeed improve export performance and growth” or “Despite economic theory, recent depreciation has had little impact on Australia’s net foreign liabilities.”

If you guys have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll try my best to get to them all

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

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