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The IB Economics Paper 1 Essay Structure

In the new syllabus (May 2022 exams onward) and get to choose 1 out of 3 questions, chosen from any of the 4 units. Paper 1 is worth 20% of your final for HL students and 30% for SL students.  

You'll get get 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes). That seems like quite a lot of time and it is, but you're expected to do a lot in that time, so you'll need to be careful to do everything you need to do in the time you get.

It’s easy to waste time (i.e with lengthly introductions or descriptive writing) that earn you no marks at all.

If you use this structure you’ll be sure to earn all of the possible marks for each of your IB Economics Paper 1 essays. 

Part A - 10 Marks (Roughly 30 Minutes)

Answer the question using real case studies and theory from the course. 

Definitions and your real life example

In a quick introduction paragraph, do the following:

  • Start with a sentence explaining part of what the question is about, using a keyword from the course, if possible.
  • Define a key word in the question. Preferably the keyword used in your first sentence.
  • Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or an important related key word.
  • Define either another key word in the question (if there is another one) or another relevant key word. (Or skip this definition of nothing relevant comes to mind).
  • Explain your real life example: Briefly explain a relevant real-life example. Keep this to around 2 sentences. You'll link back to this example later in your essay.

Draw and explain a diagram

  • First, draw the best diagram --the one that will do the most to help you answer the question.
  • Check that you've drawn the diagram accurately.
    • Have you labelled it fully, including:  
      • A clear title
      • All lines (i.e. D1, D2, S)
      • X and Y axis points (i.e. P1, P2, Q1, Q2)
      • Important line intersections (i.e. E1, E2)
  • Explain what the diagram shows, in general.
  • Explain a specific insight of the diagram. For example, “As the diagram shows, the warmer weather results in a greater demand for ice cream. At Price P1, the quantity demanded increases from Q1 to Q2.”)
  • Then, develop that insight further. Use points on the diagram to explain WHY, for example, the greater demand for ice cream causes the price of ice cream to increase. For “The rightward shift of the demand curve means that for any given price, more is demanded and this puts an upward pressure on price. Producers get a signal from the market that there is excess demand, so they see that they can increase their prices and they do.”)
  • Check your insight explanation. This last part is often where the high marks are hidden for Part A questions --making sense of the theory for The Reader. (I always say think of "The Reader" as a simple person who doesn't understand any economics yet. He or she doesn't understand the theory yet and doesn't understand any of your key words. If you can explain this, using an economy of words (I mean, "succinctly" ;-), well then you're a very special person who deserves all the marks we could possibly give you.  
  • Finally, make sure you link your example to the diagram. Use your diagram to explain what happened in your example. 

Part B - 15 Marks (Roughly 45 minutes)

Before we get into the structure for Part B, let's notice what these questions are all about. 

In part B you are always being asked to evaluate --even if the word evaluate isn’t used. (I've developed a handy model you can use to always evaluate in IB Economics exams and commentaries, here: CLASPP). 

To develop your writing Part B, it helps to keep your TOK claim and counterclaim structure in mind. You can treat your Part B question as a kind of Knowledge Question and you're going to (explain the answer to the question, but then) weigh up a variety of critical insights into the question. 

In general we’re basically trying to argue both sides of a case (i.e. how it’s good for some stakeholders, but it's bad for others. or how it's good in the short-term, but bad, in some ways, in the longer term). And we'll do this in a variety of ways. For example, the theory says X, but the theory depends on ceteris paribus, which doesn’t normally hold true). Again, all of these approaches to Evaluation in Economics are explained in our CLASPP article. In all of these ways, we're basically debating with ourselves, weighing up the pros and cons of a given theory or policy, so we can make a careful, balanced conclusion.  

Okay, now let's get into the structure for your Part B Economics Essay Questions. 

A quick introduction

In your Introduction you'll want to include: 

  • Definitions, just the same way you did in Part A. It's okay to refer to definitions you already gave in Part A. Refer to these with lines like, 
    "Elasticity, as defined in Part A, would influence the reduction in quantity demanded." You need to direct the reader's attention to your Part A definition. Otherwise, they are not likely to remember and give you credit for it. 
  • Be sure to define one or two additional words from the title, if you can. 

Draw a diagram... maybe

  • Should you include a new diagram? Sometimes yes, but other times no. You can always refer to a diagram you drew in Part A. If your Part A diagram does not allow you to explain the key concepts you need for Part B, then you'll often want to draw another one. You’ll have to make a judgment call on this. See "Draw and explain a diagram" from Part A for help with that. 
  • Explain a real life example that relates to the question. "Vaccine subsidies can reduce production costs, increase consumption, especially among lower-income groups and this increased consumption would benefit society as a whole." And provide at least one real detail about it, which supports your insight. For example, "BioNTech received a $445 million from German government in 2020." Finally, link your example to the diagram you just drew. 

Exploration 1 

  • Claim: Link your case back to the theory.As the diagram above (or in Part A) shows, this increase in supply would likely result in a decrease in the market clearing price.” So you are answering the question of the case using course theory and also using your example.
  • Counterclaim: Share a critical thought on the theory. You could say, “However, this depends on everything else remaining constant (ceteris paribus), which only really occurs in theory.” Or point out that this theory is considered theoretically sound. However, it cannot be tested. Or perhaps there is something else unrealistic about the theory. Again, use CLASPP
  • Mini conclusion: Link back to the question (answer the question). “So we can see that, it is likely that, in most cases, and an increase in supply will be followed by a decrease in the equilibrium price."

Exploration 2

  • Claim: Explain something else the theory shows. "Given that the market clearing price of vaccines will fall, a key advantage of the policy is that more consumers will be willing and able to consume them.”
  • Counterclaim: Criticize this claim. Again, look to CLASPP for various ways to do this. For example, "This policy may increase the ability of many people to access a vaccine. However, many may be unwilling to consume it for some other reason."
  • Mini-conclusion: Link back to the question and make sure you're using your insights here to actually answer the question. 

Exploration 3

Here, just as you did in your Exploration 1 and 2, 

  • Claim: Explain something else the theory shows. 
  • Counterclaim: Criticize this claim. 
  • Mini-conclusion: Link back to the question and make sure you're using your insights here to actually answer the question. 

Conclusion (Synthesis)

Draw together the insights of the different mini-conclusions you have made in your body paragraphs and come to a measured, qualified conclusion. Make sure you also answer the question here. Also try to say something original. Show that you understand that policy decisions and economic theories are complicated. For example, implementing policies can have unintended consequences (i.e. hurting certain stakeholders at the expense of others).    


If you'd like some support developing your Paper 1 essays, Tim is available for Private tutoring on Zoom.