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What an A-Level teacher should know about AP Economics.

If I'm looking for multiple-choice questions, I usually start by looking at what's on offer in the US. A bigger proportion of their exams, at both High School and College level, are multiple-choice, so they have a decent range of resources in multiple-choice format. As I've looked at these, I've often wondered about how American courses compare to the A-Level we have in England. I got in touch with Jacob Reed and we looked at the similarities and differences.

You might recognise Jacob's name if you've ever used his website, There's a nice selection of 60-odd review games, which are great if you have an interactive whiteboard or devices in your classroom. The questions inside the games are actually pretty tricky, so are great for a challenge at the end of the lesson or in a revision lesson. They also include explanations of the correct answer so students can use them independently outside of lessons. I particularly recommend the public goods sorting activity and the costs, revenue and profits game. If you're doing this in class, I'd advise making use of the full-screen mode.

The closest comparison to the A-Level is the AP course. AP Micro and AP Macro are actually separate courses, each gaining students a score of up to 5. Higher scores can be used as college credit.

One of the big differences between A-Level and AP Qualifications is the time spent on them. The AP courses are shorter, each typically studied for about 4 hours per week for a semester (half an academic year). This varies though, for example Jacob teaches students for 90 minutes a day for 9 weeks for each of Micro and Macro. Overall students get around 65-75 hours of instruction for each course.

In contrast, between September of Year 12 and Easter of Year 13 there is about 46 weeks, so at 5 hours of lessons a week, a typical A-Level Student might get 230 hours of class time. (I don't know about you, but that number really surprised me: think of 230 hours worth of lesson planning!). This means we get about 80 hours more than AP Micro and AP Macro combined, and that's before homework time is taken into account. Do we have more content to show for it?

The AP course doesn't cover much any Behavioural Economics, but having said that, Edexcel only touches on it. I also couldn't see much on Information Failure either. But there are also elements of the AP course which we don't look at in A-Level, for example, input combinations.

Jacob and I agree that the difference is probably in the depth of the topics required, and I reckon this, in turn, is down to the difference in the exam format. Multiple-choice accounts for 66% of the marks in the AP courses (and they're not always straightforward!), with the remainder being made up by 'Free Response' questions. If you take a look at this sample paper, you'll notice two big differences from the A-Level paper. Firstly, the AP questions feel more technical than typical A-Level questions; I think our students might struggle with some of the maths required. Secondly, there are no essay-style questions. The questions are much more black and white: there are no lengthy contexts and there is little room for nuanced evaluation.

There's definitely an argument to be made for this type of exam. Stretching my mind back it's similar in style to my introduction to micro and macro courses in the first year of university. It tests exactly what it says on the tin: economic understanding. We've all had A-Level students who have a good grasp of the theory but do poorly in the exams because they don't have the application or evaluation skills, or might even just be poor readers. Because of the more clear-cut nature of the questions, there's less exam technique game playing: the marks don't depend on whether or not a student has remembered that a 15 mark question needs to have x paragraphs composing of y analytical points and z evaluative points, or whether they need to include a definition or conclusion. Jacob explains that this is by design; the exam is written so there is as little subjectivity as possible, to ensure marking is standardised and fair.

On the other hand, whilst I love theory, students (and other teachers!) might find it quite dry to focus so heavily on it. There's also the argument that a good economist can apply and evaluate theories to different situations. More importantly, a good citizen needs to be able to have those skills.

Whatever your feelings on the matter, I will say that the AP's clear cut, theory-based approach can prove very useful to English Economics teachers. AP resources are very good at assessing whether or not students have understood the theory, and therefore make great formative assessment. Aside from, you might want to check out Jacob also recommends the simulations from the Foundation for Teaching Economics and if you're also involved in teaching personal finance, Next Gen Personal Finance might be worth a look.

Thanks to Jacob for chatting with me; you can connect with him on twitter @apeconguy and do remember to check out those review games. If you're interested in writing a guest post, get in touch at You don't need to be an expert: many teachers work in one-man departments are grateful to hear the experiences of someone else.


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