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Biologists should stop whinging, economics has more

I had very deliberately not prepared for the economics scholarship exam that was this morning.  Okay, so I had gone though one or two past papers, just to get a feel for it.  But either way, I certainly was not prepared for the amount of writing that seemed to be required.  Therein lies the title of this blog.

I assume it was to stop students going overboard with their essays again, but this year, they used a “write-on” format to give us an idea of how much they wanted us to write.  I don’t know how much people used to write in the old 18-page booklet, but this was how it went this year:  Each of the three questions had three parts.  Parts (a) and (b) each were about two pages each, each having two or three subparts that were each half a page plus diagrams.  Part (c) was one evaluation question, followed by three pages of lines.  And when I say “two pages” or “one question”, I don’t mean a question that takes up a third of the page, followed by lines.  I mean a nice short question, followed by lines that were almost the entire page.  Resources were in a separate booklet.  Multiply that by the three questions, and that’s a good solid twenty pages of writing.  In the space of three hours.

Why am I telling you this?  I’m telling you that high school biologists should stop whinging about how much they have to write.  They might think they have it hard, with their three essays, but economists (not necessarily alone) know the true meaning of “writing”.  For whatever detailed data and case studies biologists’ essays are based on, we just get a small collection of short extracts from newspaper articles.  The (c)’s here are all very open-ended questions, but that doesn’t make filling three pages any easier.  And that’s barely half the question.  Clearly, economists value lots of writing just as much.

Anyway, apart from that, I figure my biggest obstacle is having no idea what I was writing about.  I often found myself going around circles, especially with those (c)’s, having no idea what else to write.  Repeating yourself is never a good tactic in exams, but I didn’t really have much choice.  With the third question’s (c), I couldn’t even do that; I may as well have left it blank.

Apart from the write-on part, and there being more questions than in previous years, the exam format was similar to previous years.  The first question concerned microeconomic principles, the second, government intervention, and the third, macroeconomics and the global economy.  Farming, for some reason, seems to be big with New Zealand economists.  Probably because it’s a relatively well-behaving market, with most of the requisites for “perfect competition”.  This year, it was dairy and sheep.

The government intervention question led us through an interesting view of the labour market, the renting of property as accommodation, the Working for Families package and progressive tax.  The first part of the third question was a commentary on New Zealand’s overspending and undersaving habits (which the Reserve Bank’s been complaining about all year) and the second part, well, I’m not quite sure what it was about because I didn’t understand it.  (And yes, I do know that everyone else found 3(c) really easy.)  Nothing too unpredictable, though.  Most of it was to be expected.

With last year’s cut-offs being 28 and 38 respectively, and this year’s paper being marginally longer and slightly more intimidating, my predictions go slightly down on last year, to 26 to pass and 36 for outstanding, from a maximum possible 48.  But then, being a weaker candidate in economics, my calls are likely to be less representative of the standard required.


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