A-Level Economics: What is it and what’s it like with Bill Morrison
Are you considering taking A-Level Economics? Or, maybe you're already studying it and are looking for more insight into how to study it effectively.
In this interview with recently retired teacher, who was Head of the Economics and Business Department and a Principal Examiner setting exams and marking them for various exam boards, you can expect to find out:
- What A-level Economics is
- What it's like to study it
- Where it can lead in life
All about Bill Morrison – Former Teacher and A-Level Economics Examiner
After leaving school Bill went to university but dropped out very quickly and ended up working in finance in high street banks and managing high street national building society branches.
After ten years he ‘got fed up' with working on the high street and went back to university, as a mature student, to study economics at Liverpool. In his banking career he'd taken some banking exams, part of which were economics, and loved the subject – that's how he ended up studying it.
He fell into teaching after his degree and soon became Head of Department for Economics and Business. He held this role for over twenty years, as well as being an examiner. He was a principal examiner which meant that he set some of the A-Level papers – and also enjoyed marking exam papers.
He loves the subject and loves teaching it – and wants to continue to impart some of his knowledge and passion for the subject to young people.
What's A-Level Economics About?
A common misconception is that economics is about money. It's actually about how we go about using the limited resources we have to satisfy society's needs and wants.
Because we have limited resources and unlimited needs and wants we have to come up with a way of allocating resources.
Economics starts with three questions:
- What are we going to produce / provide?
- How are we going to manage resources (land, labour, capital and enterprise)?
- Who gets these things?
We can either have a command economy, where decisions about the allocation of resources are made by central government (think of a communist society), or a free market where supply and demand dictate prices and what's produced.
Why economics isn't about money
The concept of money is only about 300-400 years old. But, places without money have an economic system. For example, if you open a brand new prison and bring inmates in who have never met each other before, in next to no time it will have its own economic system with a means of exchange. If you don't have a means of exchange you're down to bartering.
Our means of exchange is money, but in a prison it could be phone cards, tobacco etc.
So, economics isn't just about money – money just assists the exchange of goods and services.
What do you learn about in A-Level Economics?
Economics is split into two main sections:
- Micro-economics which looks at individual markets and how they operate e.g. price mechanisms, market failure, negative externalities etc.
- Macro-economics which looks at the big picture of the economy as a whole, looking at all those markets as one, as well unemployment, inflation, balance of payments, how to we make our economy grow etc.
Bill talks about examples of negative externalities e.g. the pollution caused by driving a petrol car and positive externalities e.g. vaccination.
Behavioural economics is an emerging field of the subject which is covered in all A-Level specifics. It asks, ‘How can we alter people's behaviour without using taxation?' Instead, behavioural economics uses nudges. A good example is approaching a roundabout where there are yellow lines across the road which get closer together, making you think you're going faster than you are, which encourages you to slow down.
A-Level Economics or Business?
In Business Studies you study how businesses operate. For example, this will include the functions within a business such as marketing, finance, operations. At A-Level you'll look at things from a more strategic point of view.
An example of the difference between Economics and Business is the government deciding they want people to use cars less, so they start taxing car use more highly. This is an economic decision. However, people who run car companies will then think about how they can mitigate the tax rise so that their cars remain competitively prices.
How do you know if Economics A-Level is a good fit for you?
Generally, students will not have studied Economics before they start their A-Levels.
If anything you've read so far has sparked your interest, it would be a good subject for you. And, if you're interested in anything going on in the world e.g.:
- Why is my car insurance so expensive when I'm 18?
- Why is the vaccine rollout slower in some places than others?
- Why is petrol so expensive
It is a numerical subject where about 20% of the marks are gained from numerical exercises. You will need a 6 or above in GCSE maths to be comfortable with the numerical content in A-Level Economics.
Other tips for deciding if Economics is a good A-Level for you…
- Talk to the teachers
- Look at the textbooks
- Start reading quality newspapers to see the stories about economics (in the audio Bill talks about four different newspaper articles from 10th March 2021 and how they're connected with economics)
What's it like studying A-Level Economics?
You should expect to learn the theory but then look at case studies of how that theory shows up in the real world.
Economics lessons are thought-provoking, and students who like to challenge things will thrive debating the issues.
The lessons will build higher-level thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation.
There is a whole new language to economics as well, as there is in A-Level biology and most other A-Level subjects.
There are a lot of diagrams and you also need to be comfortable with extended essay writing.
What subjects go well with A-Level Economics?
Maths goes really well with economics, and you will need maths A-Level if you want to study economics at university.
Other A-levels that go well with economics include:
Basically, subjects about how the world works.
Get more guidance on how to choose your A-Levels here.
Where can A-Level Economics take you?
Economics A-Level gives you a toolbox of techniques to understand and interpret the world around you. It develops your ability to analyse and evaluate, and makes you a problem solver – all of which are very valuable skills in the world of work.
How to revise A-Level Economics
If you'd like to learn from an experienced teacher and principal examiner about how to revise A-Level economics effectively you can learn more about the masterclass here. It will be recorded and available for anyone to watch who is a member of The Extraordinaries Club in the future.