Sarah Phillips, Business and Economics Subject Advisor
Economics is a social science and therefore, as with most written subjects, in order to be able to access the highest grades, students are required to demonstrate higher order skills of analysis and evaluation in relation to economic problems and issues.
Students need to use their knowledge and understanding to develop logical and coherent responses to economic problems. Developed arguments require a continuation and, as the description suggests, a development of lines of discussion rather than several individual points that are not explained or exemplified. Therefore students need to use ‘chains of reasoning’. These are also referred to as ‘chains of argument’, or ‘chains of analysis’.
Being able to develop multi-stage chains of thought will almost certainly be the differentiator in extended response questions, allowing access to the higher levels of response, but is also a skill required in some multiple choice questions. It’s therefore important that we practise these with our students as early in the course as possible.
As mentioned, chains of reasoning are also referred to as chains of argument, or chains of analysis. These are a key part of developed analysis. Students may find it easier to consider this development as a series of logical steps, and so I will refer to these as ‘steps’ in the examples below.
MCQs mostly assess knowledge and understanding (AO1) and application (AO2), but some may also assess analysis (AO3) and evaluation (AO4).
Students need to be prepared to use multi-stage reasoning to reach the correct answer. MCQs may require students to demonstrate higher order skills in a range of ways such as rearranging formulas, using multi-stage calculations and/or multi-stage reasoning.
Examples of these can be taken from the June 2022, Paper 3. The examiner’s report makes reference to these:
Multi-stage reasoning was required in this question: first a recognition that the diagram represented a firm operating in a perfectly competitive market; second that it was earning abnormal profit; third that abnormal profit attracts new entrants; fourth that the entry of new firms shifts down the AR = MR line.
This question required a multi-stage calculation from average cost to total cost to the change in total cost and proved difficult for many.
Here are a few practical ideas that you could incorporate into your lessons.
Chains of reasoning can also be used to refute counterarguments. For example, a speaker might acknowledge a potential objection to their argument, such as “some people argue that we should focus on economic growth instead of environmental protection”, and then use a chain of reasoning to explain why their argument still stands. As a bonus, debates are also a great way to understand and develop evaluation skills!
For more information and examples of question types and responses, refer to the examiners’ reports and candidate exemplars on Teach Cambridge which provide helpful comments, advice and guidance on the papers and question types, after every summer series.
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Sarah joined the Business and Economics team in September 2022. She has over 20 years’ experience as a teacher of Business, Economics and Finance and in leadership roles including Head of Department, Head of Sixth Form and Assistant Principal. She has been an assessor for A Level Economics and holds a degree in Business Economics and the RSA Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA).