Get Good Grades in Economics

To do well in economics, you must develop a deep understanding of economic theories, developments in the field, and applied math. Stay current by reading newspapers and magazines like the Financial Times and The Economist. To ace your classes, take good notes, form a study group, and ask for assistance when necessary.


Getting to Know Economics

  1. Develop an understanding of economic theories, history, and practice. When starting to study economics, immerse yourself in existing academic literature on the topic. Browse your library’s economics section. Read newspapers like The Financial Times or magazines like The Economist. Renowned economics blogs like Economist’s View[1] or Grasping Reality[2] are good sources for up-to-date information.
    • Ask a librarian if you need assistance finding the economics section.
    • Podcasts are a great way to gain entrance into economics. For example, you could listen to NPR's Planet Money.
    • Economic books that are written for the masses and are easier to understand include Freakonomics, The Naked Economist, and The Armchair Economist.
  2. Watch the news. The economy is tied to political decisions, the environment, weather, and social movements. Stay up-to-date on what is happening in the world. Try to gather a range of perspectives. Although you might favor CNN, check out Fox News occasionally. If you are based in the U.S., be sure to access non-American sources as well. The BBC or Al-Jazeera offer English-language programming. For econ-specific programs, check out the following:
    • CNN's Richard Quest offers the business oriented show "Quest Means Business."
    • CNBC offers the programs Kudlow's Corner and Mad Money with Jim Cramer.[3]
    • Fox Business provides EMac's Bottom Line.[4]
  3. Attend on-campus lectures. When prominent economists visit your campus, attend their talks. This will give you insight into new developments in the field. Although the knowledge you acquire might not be related directly to your next test, you might be able to use an example from a lecture in an essay question. It is likely that some concepts about which you’ve learned (e.g. supply and demand) will come out in the lecture. Hearing concepts applied to practical situations will help cement your knowledge.

Being a Diligent Student in Class

  1. Prepare before class. Read all assigned readings. Write down any new vocabulary, theories, models, graphs, or measures. Notate any questions you might have.[5]
    • Read an article's introduction and conclusion carefully.[6] Authors often use the introduction to outline the lecture's material. The conclusion could serve as a summary and help you see if you missed anything.
    • Plan to spend two hours of studying for every one hour in class.[7]
  2. Sit toward the front. When taking your economics classes, try to sit in the front of the classroom. Your teacher is more likely to see you, recognize you, and be willing to help you. Additionally, there will be fewer distractions (e.g. other people’s laptops) to keep you from the lecture.
  3. Take good notes. When your professor is giving a lecture, take thorough notes. While you don’t need to copy every word she says, try to craft an outline of her ideas. Create a wide lefthand margin for summarizing content. Fill in each segment with sub-points and facts. Write down any important definitions. Leave a smaller righthand margin for your own thoughts on the material.[5] If your professor says, “this will be on the exam,” take note!
    • If your professor provides a PowerPoint, fill in the presentation with extra details. It is unlikely she will give you all the information upfront.
    • Taking notes by hand is actually better for memory retention than taking notes on a laptop. If you have time, take notes by hand and later type them.
    • Draw your own versions of graphs. When your professor draws a graph to illustrate a concept on the blackboard, draw your own version. Even if she gives you a print out, practice drawing and labeling the graph. You likely will need to reproduce this skill later.
    • Focus on the connection between ideas that your professor is explaining or has mentioned previously.[7]
    • Aim to understand the logic between numbers in a mathematical problem. If you don't understand the concept, draw a question mark in your notes and ask a classmate or your TA later.[7]
  4. Participate in class. You are more likely to remember what happened in class if you participate. Ask questions when you have them. Answer questions that you know. Engage in debates. Offer to draw graphs. Many classes have a participation grade but even if they don’t, being an active learner will help you get better grades.
    • Use class time to clarify misunderstandings about the material being covered rather than to ask logistical questions.[7] For example, rather than asking "What's the reading for next week?," look at your syllabus. A good question would be, "Could you please explain how you produced that figure? I did not quite understand."
  5. Be a smart test-taker. When you get your exam, immediately write down any formulas, theories, or key terms that you think you might want to recall during the test. Read the entire test and pay attention to how many points are given to each section. Read all directions slowly and carefully. Then begin with questions about which you feel confident.[8]
    • Keep in mind requirements for your writing equipment. If you must use a pen, do so.[8]
    • Look to see if any questions are similar to questions you went over in class.[8]
    • When answering multiple choice or true or false questions, look out for words like "never, sometimes, always, or none." Be sure your answer fits an answer for whichever word is included.[8]
    • For essay questions, be sure to include a graph if one is asked for. Follow the directions carefully. If the prompt says to "explain" something, do so. If it asks you to draw a diagram and identify certain markers, do this as well.[8]
    • Write legibly and budget your time wisely.[8]

Building Smart Study Habits

  1. Review your notes after class. The day after your class, review your notes. If you wrote them by hand, make sure you can read your writing. If not, correct it. It is easier to correct poor penmanship earlier than after you have forgotten what you have written. Quiz yourself on any new key terms.[5]
    • Use highlighters, colored pens, pencils, and sticky notes to highlight important points.
  2. Analyze graphs thoroughly. Look at the units of measurement for each axis. What is the relationship between the axes? What concept is the graph trying to explain (e.g. supply and demand curves)?[5] Why do the lines slope in the directions they do?[7]
  3. Complete homework assignments early. Although you likely are busy, aim to get your homework done in advance. This way, if you have questions, you can ask your professor or teaching assistant (TA) before your homework is due. If you complete your homework at the last minute, do not expect your TA to email you back at 3 a.m.
    • When doing your assigned reading, create questions before you read based on the main concepts you are discussing in class or the theme the reading should address. Read while seeking answers to those questions.[5]
  4. Study for exams gradually. By reviewing your notes, you are inadvertently studying for future exams. Continue this process by reviewing graded homework assignments when receiving them. Ask your teachers about any confusion you have regarding answers that you did not get right.
    • If your teachers do not discuss the test format, ask. Request information on what types of questions will be ask and how many points will be allotted to each section.[8]
  5. Create a study guide. Bring together the main ideas from each homework assignment, quiz, or paper. Explain each concept in writing. Share your guide with a classmate to check whether your understandings of the material are the same.
    • Define the top five or six key terms per chapter. Write down the key ideas and draw the most essential graph of each chapter. Give examples of a numerical problem and an algebraic problem. Use different amounts and numbers than the examples given in class.[7]
    • Write your own exam questions and practice answering them.[5]
    • Make flashcards for vocabulary terms.
    • Hire a tutor. If you are having trouble understanding economics, consider hiring a tutor for extra individual help.
  6. Visit office hours. Your professor and TAs have office hours: use them. If you have any questions, bring them to office hours. Attending office hours is a good way to build a professional relationship with your instructors as well. Perhaps you would like to develop your own economics research project. Your instructor is more likely to mentor you if he knows you.
    • Do not expect your professors to be available 24/7 via email or phone. Office hours exist for a reason and email does not supplant the function of office hours.
  7. Keep your goals in mind. When studying for a difficult exam or doing a tedious homework assignment, remember why you are studying economics. Perhaps you want to work for the National Economic Council at the White House. Maybe you want to be a college professor yourself some day. Having a list near your desk of what you want to achieve with your economic knowledge will help you stay motivated.

Reinforcing Economic Knowledge

  1. Start a study group. One way to remember the information you learn is to communicate it to others. Gather a few classmates and form a study group. You can quiz each other before exams and practice applying theories to case studies.
    • Try to form a group of students with similar academic abilities. This will optimize your study time and ability to assist one another.
    • Aim for no more than six people in your group. Larger groups tend to lose focus more easily.
  2. Apply your economic knowledge to everyday situations. The great thing about studying economics is that it is relevant to your everyday life. For example, you can apply the concept of scarcity to your budget. Resources are not unlimited and you need to plan for their use. Look for moments while shopping or planning your money when you can apply economic theories.
    • You could use the theory of marginal utility, or buying goods that give you the highest pleasure for the cost. For example, you could spend $10 on an economics handbook or $10 on a movie ticket. While you might enjoy the movie for two hours, the handbook could help you receive an A in economics, which could lead to graduate school, and a promising career. The lasting returns of the handbook are higher.[9]
    • Diminishing returns works when considering whether to get a second latte, for example. The first latte might have tasted wonderful. It cost $3.50 and was worth every cent to you. You would like a little more but probably would only drink ⅓ of the second drink, which also will cost $3.50. The utility (satisfaction) of the second latte is considerably lower so it is not a wise decision to purchase one.
  3. Tutor a younger student. When studying economics, one way to solidify your knowledge of the basics is to review previous material by tutoring younger students. If you are a junior, for example, consider tutoring a first year college student. This will also be economically beneficial in the sense that you will earn money.


  • Eat snacks periodically while studying. This will boost your energy and reduce your drowsiness.

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