A somewhat rambling thought here initially. I would expect most people my age entering ‘foundation’ as a search term would get lots of references to the most famous science fiction works of all times, Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series. Nope. In today’s world you get…makeup. Makeup? As usual, I’ll need to ask one of my students what this is about.

Anyhow, I thought I’d toss in a few comments aimed at the IB1 students at this early stage in the game. For some time now I have realised that the tone is set at a very early stage; what you do as a student and what I do as a teacher during the first weeks very much sets the tone and thus the benchmark for your results in economics


Ancient Inca walls from circa 1300 in Cuzco, Peru, built on by the invading Spaniards. The Incas know how to set a foundation.

Students are often bombarded with good advice at the start of term and most of it is along the lines of what students’ obligations/duties are. Yes, this is perfectly valid and I shall get to my own, somewhat less heavy-handed, contribution in a minute. However, it might surprise you to hear that I and many good colleagues primarily stress our own obligations and your rights! Yes, you have rights. You have the right to demand that your teacher 1) does his/her job; 2) knows the syllabus content and subject; 3) has the empathy necessary to help those in need; 4) is prepared and willing to look up issues that arise in class; and finally 5) does his/her job. Basically, teachers should do the job they are paid for. (I am doing cover for the amazing Environmental Systems teacher as I edit this. In my book, a ‘good teacher’ does not just show up and hand out the assignments; a good teacher looks up the assignments beforehand and does five minutes of homework on the subject. I walked in with the benefit of having looked up the Exxon Valdez disaster and the environmental ramifications. I repeat; whether private or public school students, in some way you are paying the teachers’ wages! Demand quality for money.)

On the door to my classroom reads the following less-than-subtle legend; “You will not ‘rise to the occasion’ during exams. You will default to the lowest level at which you have been taught.” Er, yes, this has received a few wry comments from colleagues – but I’ve not been asked to take it down. It is my acknowledgement that I, the older and more experienced, have a greater duty than you, the young and inexperienced. With ability comes responsibility. One of my karate teachers (‘sensei’) said it many years ago: “There are no bad students. There are bad teachers.”

My suggestion? Make clear that you have expectations on your teacher. Ask them to provide an outline of the course, the year and rough dates for tests and other deadlines. Request a list of ‘suggested reading’ and own-time study materials such as past papers and exercises. Ask about their IB grades and whether IA has been marked up or down. Ask if they have put together key concepts, core terms and/or a glossary. Ask about grade metrics are going to be used (and possible weights of tests and quizzes) and boundaries. If you are in a new game you have the right to know the rules! Get them on paper preferably.

Now, you too will have obligations. Here is not the time or place to beat you over the head with a bullet-point list of ‘to-dos’ and ‘how to be a good student’ – that is what parents, teachers, IB coordinators and therapists are for. My purpose here is simply to pass on the experience of my economics students to you, so these are pretty much their words. Here is how you lay a good foundation in economics:

1. Read your textbook. It is staggering how many students in today’s iThing world want the shortcut/cliff notes/quick-fix version…’the answers’ as it were. This is not a subject where there is ‘an answer’, that’s called religion or mathematics. This is a subject where your ability and propensity to question and the method by which you try to arrive at an answer is as important as the answer itself. Read. Read the textbook, the Economist, newspapers…anything that covers societal issues in our very dynamic times. Read more than one textbook – the same issues, explained differently, add depth of understanding to your basic knowledge.

IB textbooks

My favorite resources for IB economics. Duh.


2. Distil the core concepts out of your reading. By the time you hit IB1 you should realise that a goodly portion of economics text is simply supporting text. You need to be able to glean (e.g. separate) the core issues from the peripheral. Use a notebook divided into three columns:

  • The first column should have the core terms and their definition (“…PED is the sensitivity of demand for a good in reference to the price…relative change in the quantity demanded due to a relative change in price…%ΔQd/%ΔP…”)
  • The second column should link the term to real-life scenarios. Simply put the term into context, i.e. use it in an example YOU make up (“…demand for the IB is becoming increasingly elastic…PED greater than │1│…as more substitutes such as international A-levels arise…”)
  • The third column should contain references to evaluation-type questions (“…discuss why government attempts to decrease smoking might not be successful…”)

3. Discuss, debate, question and participate…in class and at home. If you know the basic definition, can use it in a home-made example and have linked it to an evaluation-type question (see the ‘b’ questions in Paper 1 tests) then you have enough ammunition to say something relevant/insightful in class. Note that ‘insightful’ also means questioning the usefulness or validity of the economic term itself! Many years ago, one of my incredible students in Sweden took a look at the demand curve, went home and looked up a few data streams, read a few highly academic articles and came back with the words; “The demand curve doesn’t look like that. In real life, it’s shaped more like an ‘S’ skewed diagonally.”

4. Take notes and do LOTS of diagrams. There is no substitute for hand-written notes and ditto diagrams! Accept no substitute; the tablets/phablets/laptops simply cannot replace the motor-memory that hours of hand-done diagrams and notes give you. 80% of your grade is based on external examination. You will have a distinct edge (in terms of speed and neatness) if you have practiced diagrams hundreds of times.

For some 18 years now I have managed to keep the following promise to my IB students: “If you do as I ask; if you read what you should; if you question in class and look things up; then I guarantee you a passing grade of 4.”

Your turn.