Making a good start with Introduction to Economics

Runners starting race

Dear readers,

This is my first post and will be hopefully followed by many others during my studies. My name is Oscar, I’m Italian, and currently pursuing the BSc in Economics and Finance.

I decided to join the blog since I felt I had to share my impressions and experiences with fellow students as well as actively discuss about subjects we’re studying and how these relate to our daily lives. I hope we’ll have engaging discussions along the way.

One of my main interests (besides economics, of course!) is astronomy. A passion deriving from an innate desire to know the causes of things (the LSE motto, by the way), which makes me think about the outer space almost every day.

I’m aware the past few weeks were quite stressful for us… yet, exam results are finally out!

A subject I loved is Introduction to Economics (EC102) by Professor Amos Witztum. It was the first time I studied Economics from an analytical perspective and such a tough course was exactly what I was looking for.

Unlike other modules, the EC1002 subject guide (SG) can be viewed as a book rather than a simple guide. Most of what you need for the exam lies there and, according to many students, in Witztum’s own book (based on the SG). Another extremely useful source of information is the examiner’s commentary, which should perfect your knowledge of the discipline while providing an example of how to excel in the exam. This course requires DISCIPLINE, TIME, and PERSISTENCE. It’s like a rollercoaster. Sometimes discouraging – when you spend days or even weeks trying to decipher complicated concepts expressed in economic language – sometimes immensely rewarding.

I’d like to give you some tips on how to do well in this course, based on my experience.

  1. Set your goal. Mine was to excel (i.e. 100/100). This point is crucial. Setting a target simultaneously conditions your approach towards the discipline. I eventually scored 90/100 and, without aiming high, this would’ve not been possible. One can even get a lower mark, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, always aim at the highest grade.
    «Aspiring economists, this module is critical!». Once you master the material, you can safely go on with intermediate courses. I’m now studying for Microeconomics and the foundations built last year are exceptionally useful.
    Here’s an examiner’s commentary extract, confirming what I’m saying:

    “Your objective should never be merely to pass the examination. Your aim should be to excel in it. This will give you the encouragement and enthusiasm for later study as well as the ability to do well in the examination. After all, as you are involved in a process of studying anyway, why not make the most of it? Why not let the materials teach you how to think? This is bound to influence not only your ability to handle questions that are specific to economics, but it will also help you to organise your thoughts, whichever path you choose to follow.”

    Beautiful, isn’t it?

  1. ‘Exploit’ the available resources: lectures, SG, discussion forums, examiners’ commentaries, videos/papers on the web, etc. I studied independently, no particular background in economics (living proof everyone can succeed, if they REALLY wish to), and very eager to learn. I relied on each resource mentioned above and worked hard. Honestly, that paid back in abundance.
  2. Make sure you understand EVERYTHING in the SG. Graphs help you understand complex passages. Being able to derive them is fundamental. Once you read a section in the guide, use graphs, maths (‘subtip’: concurrently study for Mathematics 1!), and logic to translate economic models into daily language.
    The SG has few optional sections (i.e. ‘Economics as a theory’, ‘The determinants of output’, ‘The algebra of macroeconomics’ general equilibrium’). My advice is to ignore the word ‘optional’ and study these sections thoroughly!
    Moreover, mathematical digressions are of major importance. They abstract and condense concepts in few lines: quite useful in the exam. Hence, PRACTISE until you’re able to derive each formula.
  1. Try to sort out problems by yourself. It impressively boosts your analytical skills and critical thinking. By deciphering paragraphs independently (it obviously takes time), you’ll see things others don’t. At first, it feels like climbing a mountain and you actually proceed slowly. Nonetheless, as you accumulate information, you surprisingly become faster and faster. By the end of the year, you’ll be driving a Ferrari.
  2. Use the discussion forum as much as possible. There are plenty of insightful discussions there! When you’re stuck and cannot understand something relative to the SG, it’s highly likely other students already asked the same question. Use the search tool (keywords are needed or sentences for an advanced research) and look for what you need. I had the pleasure of debating with fellow students and I found extremely valuable posts dating back 5/6 years. I hope you’ll find mine useful as well!
  3. Explore the subject beyond the essential material. I particularly enjoyed the philosophical questions Professor Witztum disseminated throughout the course, either during lectures or via SG. It is then that one realises the relevance of economics. After all, once we learn how to use the economist’s toolbox, we must apply the tools to make sense of the world. Doing more than required is generally beneficial and strengthens your knowledge. You’ll encounter many causes for reflection and further investigation. Take advantage of them and pursue your own research.
  4. Start solving past papers early. If possible, start before the ‘Study Month’ begins (i.e. January/February). Important: time yourself and critically evaluate your performance! Highlight your mistakes, go back to your notes/books and see what went wrong with your reasoning. Always try to combine words, maths, and graphs.
    Again, you must read the commentaries in their entirety to discover what examiners are looking for. They are sometimes detailed and complicated at first sight. Do not get discouraged. With time, you should be able to reproduce those elegant solutions, and have a lot of fun doing it!

A word of caution, though. The course is very demanding and it might be frustrating when you fail to understand or solve questions/exam papers. I incurred these problems frequently. However, this is exactly the point: make mistakes, you have to. DO NOT LOSE YOUR CONFIDENCE! Keep trying and go ahead, no matter what. Reward yourself accordingly but be inflexible as far as your studies are concerned. Be uncompromising and don’t look for shortcuts. Enjoy what you read. If not, take a pause, do something else, come back and start afresh!

In conclusion, the University of London and LSE maintain stringent academic standards – recognised worldwide – and we must deal with it. We chose this programme for different reasons. I chose it because of its academic rigour and the benefit I derive from two great institutions like the University of London and LSE. Be prepared to face arduous challenges, they make our degree prestigious.

Good luck to those starting with this subject; it’s both fascinating and enriching.

Oscar is studying the BSc Economics and Finance by distance learning in Italy.

20 thoughts on “Making a good start with Introduction to Economics

  1. Thank you very much for your post! The advice was very very great! This surely is a good confidence booster!

    Like

  2. Two things are not clear to me from this post. Are you studying physically in London or did you followed the course by distance learning through the internet ? If distance learning from Italy do you do it from home or through another partner academic institute ?

    Can you do it from home or do you need to study through a partner university ?

    Thank you for post Oscar.

    Like

  3. Hello Kristov,

    I assume you are not a student of the University of London International Programmes.
    Hence, should you be interested in these programmes, the following are links you should read to understand how the system works. Please explore the websites’ content in full.

    – Some history and general aspects:

    http://www.lse.ac.uk/study/UOLIP/home.aspx

    – Official UoLIP website. How we study, materials, tuition, etc.:

    http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/distance-and-flexible-learning/how-you-study

    Hope this helps!

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  4. Oscar thank you for the links you have provided. I will investigate them. However do you study from home or through an Italian partner institute who for example takes the examinations ?

    I am afraid for example that future employers will not take this program seriously if it is only self-study. etc. Especially with so many ‘wannabe’ online programs and fake degrees out there.

    Like

  5. Hello Kristov,

    In Italy there is no recognised institution offering local tuition. Moreover, even if I had the chance to attend lectures, I am not sure I would be able to attend them because local tuition implies extra costs, not included in the total cost of a UoL degree.
    Therefore, extra tuition is currently not an option for me: too expensive given my early budget!

    The truth is that we actually do not study independently because we have lots of resources like recorded lectures, subject guides, examiners’ commentaries, etc.
    In my opinion, although many students decide to attend lectures at recognised centres in their respective countries, we have all we need to succeed even without local tuition.

    Should you be interested in attending lectures at these institutions, check out the following:

    http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/teaching-institutions/teaching-institutions

    I urge you to take a look at the links of my previous comment. They contain relevant information about how we study, materials, TUITION, etc.

    As for you last point, again you just need to click on the links above. You will find detailed explanations about global reputation of these programmes, academic standards, integrity of UoL qualifications, etc. Explore the website as much as you can!

    As for your fear about employers’ views, I cannot help. Different employers have different opinions about these kind of programmes and different countries may hold different positions with respect to distance learning. Thus, it depends. It’s your choice. My advice is to read about UoLIP and see what you’re looking for. If you’re satisfied with the rules of the game, then the choice is easy: just study!

    If you read some history (again see my first link) you will realise this is not a simple distance learning programme and we’re examined to the same standard as LSE internal students.
    Rest assured, it’s not easy to perform well and it has nothing to do with classical distance learning programmes.

    Good luck for your choice!

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  6. Dear Oscar,

    Thank you for the very informative article/blog. I wanted to find out if you only used the guide to study and prepare for this exam or did you actually purchase Professor Witztum’s book as a supplement in your studies.

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  7. I didn’t buy Witztum’s book last year because I believed the subject guide was enough, as main resource. Yet, I practised VERY MUCH through past papers since January/February till May.
    Having that said, if I could go back in time, I’d rather purchase it since I’ve now realised (by talking with other students) that many aspects of the subject are explained more detailedly in his book. I’d have probably saved a lot of time!! In addition, you have more exercises to practise on – even though past papers may offset the ‘lack’ of practise questions in the guide.
    Thus, it should be a good investment. I’d definitely prefer it over the other suggested readings, which are much less focused as far as the exam is concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello Anonymous.

    Check on the EC1002 discussion forum. You’ll surely find quite a few old posts of mine relative to MCQs. Some of them also include PDF files with my solutions, analyses, and comments to each MCQ. I also wrote about how I was preparing for these (i.e. extensive practice with graphs and mathematical derivations).

    As I said in tip 5 above, use the search tool (keywords are needed or sentences for an advanced research) and look for what you need.
    You’ll probably notice many students discussed about MCQs extensively. Try and push other students to work collaboratively and practice together. This involves posting your questions on the VLE and hopefully get to discuss with other students taking the same course.

    There’s no much of a difference between an open question and this kind of MCQ because in both cases you need a model to solve the question. The only difference is that, with MCQs, it should be easier for you to answer it because the correct option must be one of the four available. If you’ve properly studied the basic material (i.e. subject guide), it’ll just take a lot of practice and it should be fine.

    You also have a video purposely uploaded by Professor Witztum, where he explains how to deal MCQs.

    As always, the best advice is to practice A LOT. In particular, you need to become fast at recognising the model required to solve the question and then applying it. Make sure you check the forum for further info.

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  9. I just wanted to point out that the module ‘Introduction to Economics’ (EC1002) has been recently revised. Therefore, from the next academic year (i.e. 2016/2017), the course builds on a different subject guide from the one mentioned in my post.

    However, all of the information provided above is still relevant to those of you studying for this subject because the principles haven’t changed.

    In addition, I had the chance to discuss with the author of the new subject guide because she was the ‘Study Month’ discussion forum moderator when I was studying for this course. She’s an excellent teacher and I’m sure her subject guide will reflect that.

    P.s.: the ‘Study Month’ is an on-line event taking place on the VLE from February each year, where students have an additional chance to discuss with LSE academics and other scholars from different universities. You’ll discover more on this event as a registered student.

    ‘See’ you soon!

    Like

  10. Hi Oscar,

    Your article is very helpful even if the syllabus has changed this year. I too wanted to become a cosmologist when in college and love astronomy! In fact, my first degree is in science. But now I am planning to pursue a career in policy and international development. When I looked at the subject guide last year I thought Witztum’s course would be difficult but interesting to study
    but perhaps this new application-oriented course would be a better fit for my goals since I do not want to major in Economics. Thanks again for the study tips.

    Sapna

    Like

  11. Hello Sapna.

    Thanks for your comment! It’s great to meet some like-minded people :-)

    I guess your science degree will come in quite handy during your current studies. As another student and I were discussing on another post, multidisciplinary approaches help students look at the world from different perspectives. In this respect then, you’re in a good position to add something valuable to whatever your specialisation field will be.

    I agree. The new subject guide seems less abstract than before and should better suit a general audience. I’d say the main change is a trade-off between depth and breath of knowledge. Instead of a rigorous introduction to a limited set of economic models, you’re now offered a more general introduction to a relatively larger set of topics. Some of the technicalities involved before seem to have disappeared.

    Good luck with your studies at UoLIP!

    Like

  12. Hello Oscar I read many of your articles, they are really fascinating and I must admit I feel really identified with your passion for knowledge. I just wanted to let you know about my choice as bachelors degree (Mathematics and economics) the math subjects are quite different instead of mathematics 1 and mathematics 2 it is linear algebra and calculus that we must study however books are similar. My questions are the following I heard about someone who took this same degree and despite trying to pass the exams for two years he failed and had to drop out. I went on the alumni ambassadors’ section and found that in this specific course there is only one person giving advice who graduated in 1965 whereas in the rest of courses there are more than one people who succeeded in the course.
    I’m suspecting that mathematics and economics is probably the hardest degree of all is this the case? the truth is I’m really passional about the subject and want to give it my all but wouldn’t like to get into something unattainable. Are my assumptions true? if so, should I switch to a course that is more manageable?
    Grazie mille and greetings from Spain!

    Like

  13. Hi Antonio!

    Thanks for your comment :-)

    Are you a student already and sitting for exams in May? Or did you just choose the degree and will start next year? If you’re not currently a student, some considerations below might not apply to you. They should be nonetheless useful.

    First, if you like maths, the BSc Maths-Econ is great and definitely feasible! True, it mainly depends on your goals. However, the BSc Maths-Econ potentially prepares you for a broad range of careers.
    For instance, if economics is your passion and you’d like to pursue graduate studies in this discipline or do research, the BSc Maths-Econ is excellent. Some advanced maths is required in order to study economics at graduate level; so, that degree will (more than) provide you with the prerequisites.
    If eventually economics is not your thing, you’re still well prepared for other fields/industries. Mathematics is everywhere.

    In spite of this, if one decided to go for the BSc Econ and simultaneously build some rigorous foundations in maths, it’s possible to choose three mathematics-related subjects as electives: Further Mathematics for Economists, Mathematical Economics, and a combination of two out of three half-units (Advanced statistics: distribution theory, Advanced statistics: statistical inference, and Game Theory). Thus, under the BSc Econ, we’re still able to design a study plan with a major mathematical component. They’re more formal modules (unlike Maths1-2) and provide us with the necessary tools to study economics at advanced level. This is actually what I’m doing; a good compromise between the BSc Econ and the BSc Maths-Econ.

    Yet, as you’ve already chosen the BSc Maths-Econ, I’d suggest you stick to it as it’s an invaluable degree.

    I used the books adopted in Calculus and Algebra too. They’re good books!

    My take on exams is the following. First, we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty of a course or, similarly, overestimate our abilities. Self-confidence is important but we must be aware of the content of each subject before deciding to take it. Hence, planning at the beginning of the year is a fruitful exercise. At this point, you should be attempting some past examination papers. By practising over the next few months, you should finalise your preparation so that you’ll be ready for exams. Make full use of all the available UoLIP resources.

    Generally, if students fail the same exams in two consecutive years, then either they’re not suited to the degree or they’ve not planned well enough and prepared decently. Admittedly, we should be able to gauge our preparation/skills in advance to avoid failing. Failing is primarily due to wrong expectations or insufficient work on the material we’re provided with (i.e. subject guides, textbooks, …).

    I’m ignoring other causes that may influence our preparation/exam performance: complicated circumstances affecting the country in which one is studying, sickness, work commitments, and so on. I assumed these cases don’t apply to you but I’ve now added them because I don’t want to imply that failing is exclusively due to the reasons outlined above. In fact, I used the words ‘generally’ and ‘primarily’, which seem plausible in light of what I’ve been hearing/reading on the forums over the past two years.

    So, after receiving your first set of marks in August, you’ll have an idea of how you perform in mathematical subjects. Only then you’ll receive your first official feedback. Analyse it to decide whether you’re on track, need adjustments in your second year, or even transfer if that’s the case. I hope you won’t fail but if you’ll happen to incur this problem, make sure you understand why. The person you mentioned above probably didn’t understand where he went wrong and ended up failing twice. This is a mistake you should really avoid. It’s pretty costly in terms of money and time.

    If you’re committed to do well and work hard, then you’ll do well – if not extremely well. Often, hard work is the key. In addition, if we like what we’re studying, hard work is truly a lot of fun. It won’t be hard work most of the time!

    I wouldn’t say the BSc Maths-Econ is the hardest. For instance, some mathematically-inclined students might find it very hard to do well in sociology or law, say. Similarly, some talented students in humanities might find maths or physics difficult, say.

    Therefore, defining ‘difficulty’ is, in this respect, very difficult – if you’ll pardon the pun. Don’t believe that transferring to another degree automatically translates into something easier. Each degree has its fair degree of difficulty.

    What I can say – from an economics point of view – is that the difficulty in mathematics lies in its abstract nature. On the one hand, Maths1-2 are not concerned with definitions, theorems, and proofs. So, even if we don’t fully grasp the underlying theory of the techniques used to solve problems, we can still excel. We don’t need to understand proofs or excessively abstract constructs.
    Algebra and Calculus (and further modules of the BSc Maths-Econ) instead are more formal and require a deeper understanding of mathematics. Definitions, theorems, and proofs are important. This is all good because such an approach is very useful in solving many concrete problems of our lives.

    As long as you’re prepared to put some efforts, you’ll manage to survive (if not thrive in) such an abstract world! I’m now studying for Further Maths, which is rather formal and considerably more rigorous than Maths1-2. I’m loving it! It’s answering so many questions I had after completing Maths1-2. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying real analysis, which at first scared me! I’m happy I chose this elective.

    So, don’t be scared by the BSc Maths-Econ. I bet you can do very well if you’re ready to combine your passion with dedication. At this stage, just go for what inspires you and pursue it at any cost :-)

    Again, should you realise it’s not for you (hope this won’t be the case), you can still apply for a transfer in your second year.

    I’ll stop here as I’ve almost written a new post :-) Feel free to ask other questions if you like.

    Prego!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Oscar, I have submitted my application just a few minutes ago. I am enrolled in the course and my exams will take place next year in May/June. I am going to finish my semester here at Coventry uni, I’m studying Computer Science but have realized that this opportunity to study at LSE the degree I’ve been wanted to do since two years ago at the university I was dreaming of is something I cannot miss, basically my plan is to finish this year so that in case I fail I still have an alternative path. My focus is on mathematics right now, I have the study guides samples, so I know the different blocks that constitute my course syllabus and I can know about my strengths and weaknesses in order to plan my study.
    I am 100% sure I want to get the highest grade possible, and am aiming for a first regardless of whether not that might happen. Your resources are simply invaluable to me and since there’s a lot at stake for me I am thinking that maybe we could keep in touch via email or any other source for me to receive some feedback, I’m taking a risk right now since I am 21 years old and don’t want to waste my time in spite of that stress that I’m handling I need to keep my feet on the ground and have a consistent and thoroughly planned approach to the materials, taking advance of the fact that I am starting with four or five months in advance. I have some other questions regarding the course, first is when the online resources will be available to me, is it soon after I am enrolled? or should I wait until august which is when they will send me the books for me to get started? Also are there any internships available to students as I have heard from not very well documented sources? My last question is how many past exams do we have to get the training we need?
    I am buying the books you recommend and want to brush up my math knowledge during these months so that I have a solid ground upon which I can built the rest of my knowledge. I’m giving you my email for us to keep in touch antonio7.9@hotmail.com.
    It is an alternative email I created for this specific purpose, my idea is to build a valuable network that gives me the feedback I need sometimes and guides me through this challenging, promising, exciting and immensely rewarding endeavor. As I become more proficient in mathematics I also want to read about economics in my spare time so as to introduce myself to the subject, but I will most likely postpone that by the summer for obvious reasons, I just want to get some knowledge on the topic from scratch at the same time I sharp my mathematical skills in order to start solving exercises as soon as possible, will probably start doing exam simulations as you proposed in September for the math modules and in the summer I will read the the first book from the supplementary materials before tackling the more rigorous and advanced book also in September, once I am free from the duties of my current course.
    Your help and guide is invaluable to me.
    Molto grazie!

    Like

  15. Hello,

    I am considering the course BSc Mathematics and Economics, and I was wondering how many past papers are students allowed to download?

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