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Understanding the Economics A-Levels Syllabus

By Yann, published on 26/06/2018 Blog > Academia > Economics > The Economics A-Level Syllabus

As you well know, A-Levels is the vehicle meant to propel you into an institute of higher learning, almost anywhere in the UK.

Universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland use A-Levels results to determine a candidate’s suitability and aptitude for extended learning, from undergraduate to postgraduate level and beyond.

Although some schools in Scotland offer A-Levels as an alternative qualification, overwhelmingly, students in that school system sit their country’s corresponding exams, called Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher.

Unlike in America, where a student’s leaving certificate, or high school diploma, is sometimes considered sufficient credentials for enroling in college, higher education institutes in our country expect prospective students to have sat Year 13 exams and scored satisfactorily.

That goes without saying, doesn’t it?

What student would subject him/herself to the gruelling experience of Advanced Level exams only to put forth minimum effort – or worse: no effort at all?

We take the liberty of presuming you are hard-working and dedicated to your studies, striving for the highest grade you can achieve, and looking for a bit of clarity when it comes to sitting your career-defining exam.

As a future economist, you would most surely want to know what to expect on that portion of your ordeal, so let’s go over the A Level Economics exam syllabus in depth, shall we?

Grab your pencils and have a notepad at the ready; here we go!

How A-Levels Work

Historically, an overall A-Levels score consisted of grades from two exams taken at the end of each year of study, the AS and A2, respectively.

Since the 2015 reform, all of the pertinent exams are taken at the end of the second year of study.

Students may still sit the AS as a qualification in itself, but that score bears no weight on the cumulative exam grade.

Unlike the American SAT exam, there are no compulsory A-Level tests for subjects such as reading, writing and maths.

Quite logically so!

Ofqual reasons that, if you have grasped principles of economics and calculus to such a degree that you are confident of sitting university entrance exams, most likely you have already acquired a framework of fundamental educational skills; no need to test for them!

Instead, candidates choose three or four areas of study and focus intently on those for the duration of their sixth form or tertiary college tenure.

Although there is no requirement or limit on subjects one can sit exams in, the usual pattern is for prospects to study four subjects the first year, then drop their least-favoured topic to focus more intently on the remaining 3 during the final year of study.

Another departure from the traditional is the modular structure of the study materials.

In years past, study courses were structured in a linear model – what is called instructional scaffolding in today’s educational philosophy. That model involved building tomorrow’s lesson on yesterday’s learning.

Modular learning – topic-specific studies constructed in learning blocks, was introduced at a critical juncture in the UK’s education evolution.

Although more students than ever were sitting A-Levels between the late ‘80s and Year 2000, nearly a third of them could not achieve a passing grade.

These days, the standard study pattern is for a student to spend the first year attending lessons in an educational facility, under the mentorship of an instructor; the second year is mostly self-study, which culminates in sitting the exams.

Now we discover what, exactly, you should expect during the course of your economic principles study.

Cambridge International is one of the more rigorous A level exams Just like its famous namesake, the Cambridge International is the best-known exam Source: Pixabay Credit: Blizniak

The 2018 Cambridge Economics Syllabus

Let us start out by acknowledging that exams are administered through no fewer than five awarding bodies, and a further two that offer international A-Level qualifications: Edexcel and Cambridge International, or CIE.

As the latter is the more rigorous exam, we expound on its syllabus.

Module I

Your initial foray into economics studies at this level focuses on microeconomics terminology and concepts.

You should already be familiar with the role of economics in real-world affairs, and that knowledge will be expanded throughout this study unit.

1.1: How the Microeconomy Works

You should be able to:

  • Explain how price mechanism allocates scarce resources in a free market

  • Explain that demand reflects consumers’ satisfaction

  • Recognise the inverse relationship between price and demand

    • Also, the direct relationship between price and quantity supplied

  • Differentiate between shifts and movements along the supply and demand curves

  • Explain concepts of price elasticities, and factors affecting them

In brief: Module 1.1 covers:

  • The central economic problem

  • How pricing works as a rationing and allocative mechanism

  • The relationships between Demand, Supply and the Market

1.2: Why Markets Fail

From this module, you should understand the meaning of market failure, how externalities lead to market failure and be able to discuss environmental issues as one example a negative externality.

Furthermore, you will learn why governments intervene in the market, define how they intervene, and discuss the effectiveness of government policies in correcting market failure.

In brief, Module 1.2 consists of:

  • Market failure

  • Policies to correct market failure

  • The effectiveness of policies.

This entire module is dedicated to microeconomic theory, and should occupy the entire block of study time you have allotted to the study of microeconomics during your first year.

Like this chipset, A-Level study is modular Just like this chipset, your A-Levels syllabus is modular in structure Source: Pixabay Credit: PDP

Module II

Now that you have the principles of microeconomics mastered, it is time to turn to macroeconomic theory.

Your second year of study toward your A-Levels emphasises the use of the AD-AS approach to analysing supply-side policy and its impact at the micro and macro level.

Recent economic trends feature heavily in this study module, and every exam candidate must be able to evaluate the effectiveness of government policy with regard to those trends.

2.1: Workings of Macroeconomy

By this time in your studies, you should be able to explain:

  • the circular flow of income, from individual households all the way to the international economy

  • key determinants of AD and AS, as well as explaining the overall concepts themselves

  • Analyse the effects of AD-AS changes on price levels and national output

Clearly, these are ponderous economic concepts, as they are the only topics planned for the first semester of self-study allotted you in your second year.

However, understanding principles of macroeconomics to this depth is vital, not only to assure the best possible marks on your exam but to ensure you are not out to sea in your later coursework at university.

In summary, your third semester of A-Levels study in economics comprises of:

  • understanding the circular flow of income

  • key determinants of AD and AS

  • changes in AD-AS, as reflected in general price level.

Now is not the time to panic, dear! We’re approaching the finish line; just one more semester and you’ll be sitting exams!

Your last study module is fairly evenly split between macroeconomic aims, and the resultant problems thereof.

2.2: Issues, Policies and Consequences of Macroeconomics

At last, you will address topics and terms that even non-economists are familiar with: gross national product (GNP) and its close relative domestic product (GDP), interest rates and inflation, economic growth, and employment.

You will also be called on to expound on the impact of negative economic factors such as unemployment and budget deficits.

Finally, you will be tasked to analyse macroeconomic problems; their causes and consequences.

Summarising module 2.2 is quickly done: you will study macroeconomic aims, problems and their causes!

Let Superprof help you cross the finish line to a successful A-Level Don’t let intensive study deflate you before you cross the finish line to success in Economics A-Levels! Source: Pixabay Credit: Lily Cantabile

Wrapping It All Up

This is an overview of the 2018 Cambridge International Economics syllabus, condensed in an effort to help guide future economists in their studies.

As the course outline changes every few years, if you are not scheduled to sit your A-Levels this year, you may look at the next generation document.

Looking over this article, especially if you are already feeling weighted down with the import of it all, you may wonder why anyone would choose to study economics!

Let Superprof offer a look on the bright side…

This syllabus deals more with economic theory than with the complex mathematics and statistical analysis you will see in your university courses – especially if you opt for a Bachelor of Science study programme.

In fact, some of the work outlined in this syllabus expressly states that no calculations would be necessary!

If theory is your forte, you are in luck: that is what this exam is all about. Just beware that, once you start classes at university, higher level maths will feature heavily in your curriculum.

Even if you select a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics as your major, which is reputedly less mathematically intense.

Nevertheless, just to brush up on econometrics and economic analysis, why don’t we go find some of the best study materials available today, including past papers?

Need more reasons why you should study economics at A Level?

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