Economics Coursework Ib Example

How to Structure an Economics IA

This post will go through what you should write in your Economics IA, with step-by-step instructions and with word counts for each section. What you need to know before you write:

  • Avoid writing anything that isn’t going to earn you marks. You’re going to need all the words you can get for your analysis and evaluation. Avoid quotes from the article and introductions longer than 2 sentences.
  • Stick with one section of the course (micro, macro, international, or development). Don’t start off in micro (apple prices rise, supply and demand, elasticity) and then evaluate the potential macro effects (this could hurt economic growth). Even if this is true, the IA is about going deep into one part of the course, rather than showing the linkages between different parts.
  • Less is (often) more. Because of the very constraining word count (750 words) you’ll want to focus on really developing just one or two (two at the most) diagrams in your IA. And only evaluate one potential solution (the one in the article or one of your choice if (and only if) there isn’t one in your article. Some of you, I know, are wondering, “What if the article mentions two solutions? Like price ceilings AND subsidies?” Answer: the International Bacheloreate Organization says you can highlight the section of the article you’re going to focus on, so just highlight one solution (and not the other) and you’re good to go. Bibliographies are not obligatory, but they’re nice. And if you include them, they won’t count against you for the word count.

Now you’re ready. Here’s the Method:

1 Key words (150 Words)

Don’t waste words with a lengthy introduction (or quotations). Instead right away start explaining the case using at least 4 course words (and then use more later). You may want to define some of these words, but we’re definitely not looking for a list of definitions. Actually definitions are not specifically required in this new syllabus.

The rubric only asks for terms to be "used appropriately." So you can get away without definitions if you are using terms in ways that show you definitely know what they mean. If you do define some words (which is still advisable) , do so only after you've used them in a sentence. Also, make sure to always use the economic terms rather than the common terms for things throughout your IA. So instead of writing “money” write “consumption” or “expenditure” or “spending.” This will help to convince the reader you are familiar with the subject.

2 Draw the Diagram (0 Words)

The diagram (and it's titles, etc) do not count in your word count. You need to diagram the problem explained in the article. And also diagram your solution. Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be shown on one diagram. Sometimes not. Of course don’t include a diagram (or any theory at all) that doesn’t help you to explain the case. Include in your diagram as much information as you can. It will need to:

-Use a full title such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”

-Label all of your lines

-Mark all of your intersections with a letter, so you can refer to them later in your article

-Shade in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand),

-Indicate the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. If not, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.

Show as much as you can in your diagrams. A clear picture can help you tell a lot. 

Obviously you will want to fully label your X and Y axis. Let’s look at a simple supply and demand curve for apples:


3 Fully explain your diagram (200 words)

A big mistake students make is that they will identify the key concepts that explain the case, but they don’t explain how those concepts work.  They skip steps in their explanation. It’s human nature to do that. We all do that all the time. We assume the reader is understanding what we’re saying. In this case you can’t do that. You need to force yourself to explain things step by step. Let’s look at an example. I have a students’ (practice) commentary in front of me that reads:

“Supply shifts inward because there was a draught. This leads to a higher price and a lower quantity demanded”

Maybe you’re thinking this isn’t too bad. However, this student has skipped a few steps. He doesn’t make it understandable to a reader who doesn’t know the theory. If you have to be an expert to understand what you’re talking about you aren’t doing it right. You can’t think of your reader as an expert. My student here could have written something like:

“The leftward shift of the supply curve means that, for any given price, less is supplied. This creates excess demand at the original equilibrium price, which puts upward pressure on price. Producers receive the signal to increase their prices and they do.”

Writing like this (step-by-step) isn’t easy. Luckily in this case you get to edit your own writing as many times as you want before you hand it in. 

4 Develop Your Explanation (100 words)

Analysis is about explaining how the theory relates to the case. You have already done a lot of that by FULLY explaining your diagram. But now I want you to take it a step further. Go deeper in your explanation. For example, explain how what is happening in the article is not exactly what the theory said would happen (i.e because of the external factors that exist).  

Explain to us to what extent the theory you have used explain what’s actually going on in the article? And show the linkages between different aspects of theory. Basically you're trying to take it to the next level. But you aren't evaluating. You're just making sure that you have fully explained the theory and how the theory relates to the case.


5 Evaluate a solution (300 words)

Every article is about a problem. For example, apples are too expensive after the drought. In your commentary you’re expected to evaluate ONE possible solution. If one is mentioned in the case it must be that one that you evaluate. You can suggest one and evaluate that only if a solution isn't already mentioned in the article. You want to choose the most appropriate (most likely) solution here, rather than one that is obviously not going to work at all.

To evaluate you'll need to use at least 3 different (CLASPP) approaches. (The CLASPP approach to Economics evaluation is explained here). Try to include "assumptions" of the theory if you can, to show the limits of the theory and that it doesn't always work out in real life.   In the final of the 3 posts on Mastering the Economics IA we will take a detailed look at the 2013 rubric and use a checklist to make sure you really do get full marks.

A big thanks to Thanks to John Gangi (at United Nations International School in Hanoi and author of and Kaisar Dopaishi (DP Economics workshop leader and Principal of Singapore International School, India) for their helpful feedback.


Once again, my IB Economics students are working on yet another Internal Assessment Commentary, this time on syllabus section 3, Macroeconomics. Since they found my sample Microeconomics commentary so helpful, I thought I’d punch out a quick sample of a macro commentary for them and for anyone else who is working on their IB Economcis Internal Assessment.

The commentary below (not including the selection from the article) is 749 words in length. This does NOT include words in the graphs, so let’s not have that debate in the comment section. The new IB economics internal assessment model (first examinations 2013) will not count words on graphs, so this sample commentary is perfectly suited for the new assessment model. If you’re a 2012 student, you would be wise to count words in graphs as part of your word count.

If you like what you see, or have any quesitons, please leave your comments below the post.

Article highlights:

An Impeccable Disaster –

Paul Krugman clearly explains the problems faced by two or Europe’s largest economies today:

So why is Spain — along with Italy, which has higher debt but smaller deficits — in so much trouble? The answer is that these countries are facing something very much like a bank run, except that the run is on their governments rather than, or more accurately as well as, their financial institutions.

Here’s how such a run works: Investors, for whatever reason, fear that a country will default on its debt. This makes them unwilling to buy the country’s bonds, or at least not unless offered a very high interest rate. And the fact that the country must roll its debt over at high interest rates worsens its fiscal prospects, making default more likely, so that the crisis of confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And as it does, it becomes a banking crisis as well, since a country’s banks are normally heavily invested in government debt.

Now, a country with its own currency, like Britain, can short-circuit this process: if necessary, the Bank of England can step in to buy government debt with newly created money. This might lead to inflation (although even that is doubtful when the economy is depressed), but inflation poses a much smaller threat to investors than outright default. Spain and Italy, however, have adopted the euro and no longer have their own currencies. As a result, the threat of a self-fulfilling crisis is very real — and interest rates on Spanish and Italian debt are more than twice the rate on British debt.


The European Central Bank (ECB) is engaging in a new form of monetary policy in which it buys government bonds directly from the Spanish and Italian governments. Essentially, the goal is to bring down the interest rates on Italian and Spanish government bonds, which should reassure private investors that Italy and Spain will be able to pay them back and thus reduce the upward pressure on interest rates in the Eurozone, a situation which threatens to reverse the already sluggish recovery from the recessions of 2008 and 2009.

Monetary policy refers to a central bank’s manipulation of the money supply and interest rates, aimed at either increasing interest rates (contractionary monetary policy) or reducing interest rates (expansionary monetary policy). The ECB is currently buying government bonds from European governments, effectively increasing the supply of money in Europe with the hope that more government and private sector spending will move the Eurozone economy closer to its full employment level of output, at which workers, land and capital resources are fully employed towards the production of goods and services.

If successful, the ECB’s “quantitative easing”, as the new type of monetary policy is known, should bring down interest rates on government bonds and thereby reallocate loanable funds towards Italy and Spain’s public and private sectors.  The increase in supply of loanable funds should bring down the private interest rates available to borrows (businesses and households), making private investment more attractive.

The ECB’s bond purchases make it cheaper for Italy and Spain to borrow, lowering the interest rates on their bonds, restoring confidence among international investors, who may be more willing to save their money in Italy in Spain. The inflow of loanable funds into these economies (seen as an increase in the supply of loanable funds from S1 to S2) should bring down private borrowing costs (the real interest rate), encouraging more firms to invest in capital and more households to finance the consumption of durable goods, increasing aggregate demand and moving the Eurozone economy back towards its full employment level of output, from AD1 to AD2 in the graph on the right.

In certain circumstances, monetary easing like this could be inflationary, but in reality inflation is unlikely to occur given the large output gap in Europe at present (represented above as the distance between Y1 and the dotted line, signifying the full employment level of output). Any increase in aggregate demand will lead to economic growth (an increase in output), but little or no inflation due to the excess capacity of unemployed labor, land and capital resources in the European economy today.

With private sector borrowing costs increasing due to growing uncertainty over their deficits and debts, the Italian and Spanish governments will find expansionary fiscal policies (tax cuts and increased government expenditures) are unrealistic options for achieving the goal of full employment. The ECB, however, as Krugman argues, should continue to play an increasing role in the expansion of credit to cash strapped European governments, with the aim of keeping interest rates low to prevent the crowding-out of private spending that often occurs in the face of large budget deficits. Inflation, always a concern for central bankers, should be a low priority in Europe’s current recessionary environment. Only when consumer and investor confidence is restored, a condition that requires low borrowing costs, will private sector spending resume and the Euro economies can begin creating jobs and increasing their output again.

In the short-term, Italy and Spain should take advantage of the ECB’s bond-buying initiative, and make meaningful, productivity-enhancing investments in infrastructure, education and job training. If their economies are to grow in the future, Eurozone countries must become more competitive with the rapidly expanding economies of Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere in the developing world.

In the medium-term, the Eurozone countries must demonstrate a commitment to fiscal restraint and more balanced budgets. Eliminating loopholes that allow businesses and wealthy individuals to avoid paying taxes, for example, is of utmost importance. Also, increasing the retirement age, downsizing some of the more generous social welfare programs and increasing marginal tax rates on the highest income earners would all send the message to investors that these countries are commited to fiscal discipline. Then, in time, their dependence on ECB lending will decline and private lenders will once again be willing to buy Eurozone government bonds at lower interest rates, allowing for continued growth in the private sector.

About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate's Economics for the IB Diploma and REA's AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

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