I’m currently taking an intermediate microeconomics class where we derive consumer and producer choices (e.g. their demand and supply curves) with the aid of calculus. Since I did very well on the first midterm, I thought I would discuss about how to do well in a college-level economics class. This may apply to other classes, but I’m making it geared towards economics. It’s interesting that economics is such a popular college major at the top schools, yet many people do not take economics in high school until their last year, like me. And I didn’t even take a college-level course; it was a somewhat watered-down version course that crammed together introductory microeconomics and macroeconomics.
What are typical college-level economics courses? Assuming you don’t come in with AP, IB, or other economics credit, you’ll start out taking introductory microeconomics in your first semester, then introductory macroeconomics the following semester. Then, as a sophomore, you generally take more advanced versions of those two courses as well as a class that combines those concepts with statistical models, called econometrics. (By more advanced, I generally mean that instead of just staring at boring supply and demand lines you’ll have to find equations for those, then plot them.) After that, it’s generally electives, which can include anything ranging from finance, banking, marketing, and other topics. The format of economics is very similar to other sciences – biology, computer science, chemistry, and physics – but there is a big distinction in that there are no labs. This makes economics more of a mathematical social science, since mathematics is indispensable once a student reaches upper-level undergraduate courses.
Generally, economics classes involve a standard lecture, followed by weekly or periodic problem sets and exams. Prepare to be overwhelmed with graphs. Indeed, mastering the intricacies of economics graphs is one of the ways to do well in such courses, and this is going to be part of my advice.
Tip 1: Understand the graphs.
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you don’t understand why a supply line happens to curve up for a consumer’s price vs. quantity graph, you need to review those concepts. You need to understand how graphs work for consumers, firms, and competitive markets. Moreover, it’s essential to know how supply, demand, and other curves shift in response to some change in a parameter. It may seem overwhelming at first, but much of this gets tested in the problem sets, which brings me to my next point.
Tip 2: Ace the problem sets.
The problem sets are your key to doing well in the course. You won’t see a lot of active help-websites for economics on the Internet like you see for mathematics (cough cough … Math Stack Exchange … ), so it’s important for you to do well on the few problems that you’re given. These will be incorporated in the problem sets. Almost every college-level economics class should assign regular problem sets (with answer keys distributed after the due date), so these problems are often similar to what you’ll see on the exams. If you can understand every facet of the problem – how cause turns into effect, why this policy does that … – you’re almost guaranteed to do well on a problem that tests the same kind of information. Consequently, I strongly advise you to put in more effort in the problem sets than your peers. Go overboard and impress the teaching assistants or whoever grades your homework. It will be your study material when exams approach.
Tip 3: Do the readings.
Economics is not just a lecture and problem sets class; readings are often a part of the curriculum, and I strongly advise you to read as much as you can. Economics has so many useful applications in life in fields ranging from computer science to religion that it’s seemingly impossible to ignore nowadays. (Yes, the latter does exist! Do a quick Google search!) And as a bonus, by doing readings, you can get class participation credit and interact with your professor more easily. Not all classes, though, grant participation credit.
And those are basically 3 strong tips for economics classes. There are many other things that students should do, but they apply often to all other classes that I didn’t feel like it was worth reiterating them.