Amongst the most common question I get as an Economics tutor is: How does one do an evaluation in an Economics essay question?
This is a tough question to answer well, because it isn’t something that can be taught like a good old black-white theory. This is a component of the Economics exam that drips with the gravy that is subjectivity.
Years ago, in one of my first write-ups, I had written about the concrete ways by which students can tackle such questions without getting a case of the shakes during exams.
But it is inadequate for general use, beyond the A level Economics exams, because it was designed specifically for just that.
Fsat forward today, when one student asked me that same old question again, I knew I had to dig deeper to try another approach in explaining what makes an “evaluation” tick.
How does John do it?
Cambridge defined evaluation as the process of judging or calculating the quality, importance, amount, or value of something.
That said much, yet very little on its own. We can flesh it out further by using a schematic that I proudly came up with on the spot for my student.
To liven things up, I used “John” as the over-achieving Economics student example. And in case you wonder, I was thinking of “Bill” actually, but I forgot which name it was at that moment. For authenticity (and mock originality), I opted to stick to “John” here as well.
John is good at evaluating in the Economics exam. Be like John!
Step 1: John gathers information.
In the Economics exam, this would be called the “planning phase”.
As the name of this step suggests, John gathers as much information pertaining to the question as possible, to ensure the broadest possible scope that can be discussed.
In many cases, students fail to gather sufficient information. This is commonly attributed to lack of finesse in the subject. In simpler terms – poor application of Economics’ knowledge as a result of inadequate studying preparation, and/or weak understanding of concepts.
So how does John do it? By studying hard and studying well!
Step 2: John synthesises the information.
As if often the case, and very much intended during the planning phase, not all that’s hastily scribbled on the sides got written into John’s exam script.
A couple of points fell by the wayside as they failed to stand up to rigorous prodding. John felt that they were ill-suited as they presented potential holes for the examiner to poke at .
A couple of others also failed to make the final cut because John was not confident during the exam about whether he was 100% correct about his assertions. After all, John is not infallible as a human – better not take chances with the “final boss” la.
John makes a final call with the points to write in the essay and moves on quickly. John does so confidently because he has done much practice on various questions, and also knows enough about the world’s going-ons to know to pick the most suitable points.
Practice makes perfect, and stay in touch with General Knowledge!
Step 3: John critically analyses each assertion.
This phase is all about putting together the synthesised information, and serving them in coherent fashion to the reader.
In addition to good explanations, backing theories and examples, John presents multi-faceted perspectives to the subject, showing how contexts are critical to the applicability of the information he serves up at each argument.
Obviously I am glossing over all the wondrous bits that goes into what must be the most challenging part of the essay. But in my defense, I had actually given some examples of how to do good analyses here.
Having said that, each step leading up to this point is incredibly important. It is hard to imagine being able to enjoy a good meal if you have bungled your grocery shopping, or the preparation of ingredients. In other words, get your core concepts in Economics right before even worrying about higher-order evaluation!
Step 4: John confirms his stand.
Up to this point in fact, to give himself maximum thought latitude, John has not confirmed his take on the matter at hand yet, despite having some basic preconceived notions.
This is also where half the confusion of “evaluation-type” essay questions lie in. Schools are often differentiated by two main schools of thought (pun intended) regarding the writing strategy:
- State stand at the beginning, argue for it while acknowledging potential argumentative gaps; or
- State stand after all angles have been examined.
Fortunately schools tend to teach consistently. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for assessment books in the market. Since the “A” level exam papers do not come publicised with answer keys, how to tackle the questions best is anybody’s educated guess.
That said, over the years, it has been seen that either style works – so it boils down to the aptitude and preference of the student when it comes to putting pen to paper.
Generally, the “safer style” would be the former. But just as we love watching thrillers that do not give away spoilers at the beginning, the more “advanced style” would be the latter, which is correspondingly more demanding to compose.
What about John’s way of writing then?
As an “advanced” writer, he is confident that the facts laid out to the reader coherently points to his stand at the end. He therefore sees no need to party-poop his essay by blaring his stand outright when the gates open.
Step 5: Conclude by convincing.
I talked about the most challenging part of the essay (Step 3). I also mentioned the most confusing portion for students (Step 4). It seems fitting therefore to talk now about the portion of the Economics essay that frequently cause readers grief – The Conclusion.
There are a couple of reasons why conclusions frequently rank as the most pitiful part of many Economics essays:
- It is the last part of the essay and students frequently run out of time and steam by then; and
- If you had bungled the earlier steps, you can’t expect to conclude well anyway.
One question I often get over the years is whether a dedicated conclusion to the essay is necessary. My answer has been an unequivocal yes. Here’s why:
- Just as you avoid an abrupt end to an interaction with a kaki to avert a bad final impression, you do not leave your essay dangling for the reader to go wth; and
- This is your final opportunity to convince your reader to your assertions – why waste it?
Other well-meaning students attempt to conclude by giving a “boring” summary of the write-up, akin to a flashback scene in long-running period dramas. If it doesn’t sound appealing, you are right there.
Some more enlightened students attempt what they think to be thought provocations, but which come across attempts to “add argument points” at the last minute.
You should get it by now – the Conclusion may as well be synonymous for Economics essay graveyard for many students. John, our role model, avoids all of these by doing the one thing that most students never got around to: Re-iterate the various contexts within which the essay sits.
It sounds profound – and it is. What John does is to make a final analysis that crystallises all the assertions and assumptions he had made, and explain their applicability to specific situations. Of course the prerequisite to doing so depends on getting all of the stuff that came before it right.
By laying out the different contexts, John balances between leaving little room for readers’ ambiguity, and yet showing multiple perspectives, in his conclusion. And in doing so, he convinces the reader that he is the authority on the subject matter (at least in the exam).
Cue ace exam.
It is not easy.
Writing like John isn’t something that we can do overnight. For those panicking students and parents/guardians out there, fret not – it can still happen with hard work and good take-up of Economics as a subject.
Importantly too, exam questions are designed to assess the students’ performance rigorously. Don’t expect to get easy questions all the time! I have written about how exams can be best coped here, so do give it a read.
Have further questions about how to tackle evaluations in Economics exams? Ask me at the Comments sections below!