To give some context, this is a typical question that students ask me very often.
For the sake of sharing with my readers, I decided to post my response here as well.
Why use examples in the exam?
The exam-oriented “correct” answer would be to achieve L3 answer in the marking scheme for “A” levels’ exam.
But that’s really missing the point of the training.
Examples are utilised to provide support to your arguments, and make them more compelling. They provide strong flavour to purely conceptual arguments.
A good essay isn’t just one that “makes sense”, with good depth and breadth. It must convince the reader to “buy-in” the points that you are trying to make.
Must examples be real?
Many students assume that examples written in the exam must be empirical (i.e. based on actual events).
This isn’t entirely true. In fact, while a certain worldliness won’t hurt your cause in the exam, actually the examiner isn’t on a particular look out for such “real-world” examples.
In fact, the best essays written for the Economics’ exam makes use of illustration (a.k.a story-telling) to drive home the key arguments.
Examples of such story-telling include the use of arbitrary objects like oranges and apples to illustrate trade-offs in production for the PPC (Production Possibility Curve).
Side-note though, in Case Study exams, as much as possible, your explanations and accompanying examples should align to the contexts laid out in the excerpts as much as possible.
This is because the Case Study exam seeks to test the student’s ability to contextually understand and apply Economics concepts.
The importance of examples.
Students are of course familiar with the constant struggle to “explain” and “discuss” in the exam.
While some of this can certainly be attributed to lack of familiarity with the topic, or even lack of confidence, a key reason is actually due to students “trying too hard” to purposefully elaborate.
Sometimes all it takes to get the point across is to illustrate using a story (i.e. use example la).
But the true power of examples goes beyond illustration only.
Examples are often used in the best essays to frame and contain the illustrations by adding relevant assumptions needed to ensure the analysis is water-tight.
In addition, the virtue of example is to tell a story – which means that you can inject arbitrary scenarios to provoke the reader into a thought analysis with you.
Fail to use examples at your own risk in the exams!
Woah so important ah. Must we use examples in every paragraph?
Use your judgement!
To borrow some Math / Economics speak, your exam is actually an optimisation problem where you aim to maximise exam marks, given constraints on time, and your writing and thinking speed.
In other words, if we take away the constraints, you should try to bring in as much supporting props as you can to the essay. That’s why research papers have so many citations – they don’t have to physically scrawl out 15 pages in 2.25 hours!
However, with under 45 min per set of 25 marks worth of essay(s), you should plan your argument points and prioritise utilising examples for those that have potential for maximum effect (i.e. the ones where you think has the most value-add for the reader).
Writing examples for every point, especially if elaborated in depth, will likely make for excessive effort and may cause time management issues, which would be disastrous.
If you had found the explanations somewhat paltry, I apologise.
But you should understand that “using your judgement” and even creating examples effectively in the exams ultimately boils down to really trying to understand the Economics’ content, and also lots of practice (I personally call them rehearsals for fun).
You should always try to learn as best as you can with available materials, and then participate actively in class and consultations when required. And with any luck, that “A” grade that you are working towards will be yours.
Tapping on available resources also means you can contact me and ask me questions anytime here, or leave comments below.
Don’t be shy!