Student Perspective: How to Pass Introductory Micro- and Macro-economics

Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Written by E'layna Baker, OAC Communications Intern

Believe me, I know that studying for economics can sometimes feel like a drag. 

In my first semester of University I struggled to understand much of the economic concepts and found it difficult to properly apply the theory to correctly answer questions for homework assignments and quizzes. 

Through meeting with my profs, program counsellors and my Chroma project mentor, I quickly learned that economics tends to be a challenging subject for many students and that I wasn’t alone. I hadn’t taken economics courses in high school either, so learning the subject was particularly difficult because it was so new to me.

But what really is economics?

The main focus of economics is to describe and analyze the process of production, distribution and consumption of scarce resources. 

It heavily relies on mathematics and statistics because they are used to support and quantify an economist’s predictions.

According to, the levels of academic performance needed in order to succeed in economics and related courses are “knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis”.

Knowledge – This includes learning and remembering the material, including facts, definitions, and explanations.

Comprehension – This level focuses on understanding and retaining the knowledge you have acquired about a topic. In economics, you would often be required to provide explanations, estimate trends, or change the form of information (e.g numerically to graphically), and to do this you must comprehend the material.

Application – Economics is a social science that relies on theories, laws and principles to make sense of real-world situations. Once you are able to comprehend the material, you will be required to apply these theories in reality, to tell a story, make a prediction or solve a problem.

Analysis – As your learning deepens, the analysis level requires you to be able to break down the theory and identify the moving parts involved in a particular issue or situation. 

After taking economics courses for the past three years, I’ve picked up a few strategies that work for me when learning challenging material and studying for tests. Some students are naturals with the subject and others may require extra effort, time and new study habits. Whatever category you fall in, these tips may be helpful for you in achieving your academic goals in the subject of economics.

1. Attend all micro and macro lectures.

If you think it is possible to sail through economics by regularly missing class and copying your friends’ notes, you may want to rethink that strategy. 

For me, attending lectures was crucial to passing my introductory economics courses because so much vital information and clarification comes directly from the professor’s words and drawings during the class. 

Attending all lectures at the beginning of the semester also helps you to understand the professor’s teaching style. As you progress into harder topics it may be difficult to keep up or know how to ask questions, if you don’t understand the professor’s teaching style and method of explaining. 

I had a professor one semester that drew diagrams to explain almost every economic concept and another that used abbreviated notes to summarize and clarify key points during the lecture, while projecting diagrams from the textbook. 

One method may be better suited to you than the other, and that is perfectly fine. This difference can actually be used to help you ask for clarification at the end of lectures. You could approach a professor and ask something like, “You explained how to calculate producer and consumer surplus this class. Would it be possible for you to explain that again while drawing the graph with labels?”

Take note of what methods help you learn best, and be sure to show up. 

2. Take effective notes.

Class time in precious. 

During lectures you should focus on comprehending what the professor is saying, and listening for useful examples and phrases that further explain definitions/concepts. 

In order to take effective notes, you must arrive to each class with a basic understanding of what with be discussed. Have you ever read the required text material and completed homework assignments before the lecture? If not, you should! Doing this beforehand helps you take more meaningful notes during the lecture. 

You won’t be able to jot down and draw everything you hear and see during the lecture, but you can build on what you already know and understand from your self-study. 

Taking selective notes is key! I am a visual learner, so it was very helpful in introductory economics to use my class time mimicking the graphs my professors drew and adding detailed labels and colour-coded formulas.

3. Read the economics textbooks!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the course textbook. 

The textbook introduces you to the various methods of communicating topics in economics – verbally (with written text), numerically (with the use of tables) and visually (with labelled graphs). These methods are often used when structuring test and exam questions, so it is important to be familiar with each. 

Make sure you are reading to understand the material, not just to say you’ve read it. 

I would usually read the chapter outline and introduction to get an idea of what type of topics I was going to learn. As I worked my way through the chapter, I would look at each corresponding table and graph, as it is discussed in the text, so that I mentally get a complete picture of the story that is being told in the textbook examples. 

4. Master econ topics as they are taught.

I’ve learned that it is important to understand concepts from last week’s lecture in order to comfortably move forward with learning new material the next week. 

Many of the topics in economics are cumulative and new material you learn is constantly built upon older concepts. Mastering the material as you go is so important. I’d say it is an easier study method and a more efficient use of your time. 

I learned this the hard way during my first semester in Introductory Microeconomics. I waited until it was time to take the midterm to fully dedicate time to understanding the terminology and know how to properly apply and analyze it. 

As I crammed for the midterm, I realized the importance of keeping pace with the course material. Things from week one may not be directly asked in a test you take in week six, but the comprehension of that material may be extremely helpful for understanding how to approach the harder exam questions that will be asked. 

5. Regularly attempt practice questions.

Completing practice midterms, ungraded assignments and unassigned textbook questions are a great way to reinforce your knowledge and pinpoint exactly what you do not understand. 

You should get into the habit of doing this regularly, but it is especially important to complete practice assignments before tests, quizzes or exams. That way you will be fully prepared to answer the different forms of questions that may show up. 

Don’t be afraid to take your answers to the teaching assistant or professor during office hours to ensure your approach is correct. This is also a great opportunity to raise any concerns you have about specific questions!

Hopefully these tips are useful to you as learn more about microeconomics and macroeconomics at the University of Guelph! I’ve learnt over the years that economics is not as daunting as it appears to be. 

The midterms and exams are not meant to crush you mentally! They are used to ensure you understand and can apply the concepts as you go onto your next course, and your career. Learn to see them as a means to demonstrate your effort and hard work as an economics student.

And remember to use the resources around you like teaching assistants, lecturers, internet videos and study groups. Happy studying!

In this series of blog posts, OAC students take us through some of the ups and downs of their journeys at the University of Guelph.

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