5 A Level Examination Tips You Do Not Want To Miss10 min read

Since most of you are preparing for your A levels now, here are some tips to complement the recent e-book that I published here.

1. If you haven’t, get yourself access to schools’ Prelim papers and answers now.

I cannot stress just how important this is. Doing well in Economics at the A Levels is about practice, application and more practice. You need the exposure to different types of question in order to train your brain to think like an economist. There are many ways you can get access to these papers and answers. You can either ask your friends and compile a bundle of papers and share it around with one another (ofcourse for educational purpose only and not for reprinting and sales), or perhaps you can see if your photocopying shop or bookstore sells bundled copies of it (some schools do and it’s cheap and good). I would not be sharing which schools have access to these papers here but I think you just need to ask around and search and you will be able to find them.

Once you get the prelim booklets, here is what you do. Trust me, you will want to follow it because it has worked. My students have got top in level grades in economics, As and Bs, for prelims using these tried and proven methods. Those that do not follow closely to this method with discipline will tend to fail.

1. Choose a couple of schools (at least 6) which you will attempt full length essays and case studies for practice.

The important thing here is, don’t overdo it. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to write so many full length timed essays to do well in economics. The key here is to spend only some of your time practicing writing in exam-like conditions, but most of the other times, you should be doing…

2. Reading through the prelim questions, brainstorming answers to them and then cross referencing them with the answer key provided.

Some times you will notice that you come up with answers that are not in the answer scheme. Well, if you are confident of your economic reasoning ability (and you should be) then as long as you have followed the correct logical train of thought, then your answers should be acceptable as well.

At this point perhaps you would like to read my e-book on essay writing and learn about how you can create arguments that support a stand. Economics is not about listing and regurgitating facts or points you memorised from notes. It is about forming a concrete argument and putting that across.

3. Referring to your notes and textbook (I recommend Sloman) whenever needed to sort out knowledge gaps.

However, do not over rely on your textbooks. Memorise and understand all the definitions for the different terms and make sure you are able to use them in your arguments. However, do not go to the extent of trying to cramp and memorise paragraphs of arguments from your notes. They are usually excessive and you will soon realise (if you have not already, and hopefully not through the hard way 🙂 ) that lengthy paragraphs and forty five minutes do not get along.

4. Make reading it a habit or a routine, a ritual, or whatever you call it.

You need to do this consistently for at least a month to see results. Thankfully you have about a month left to your A levels. If there is one thing that you must do then this is it. The rest of the points are going to be important, but if you find that you do not have time and are struggling with your other subjects, then please, minimally get yourself a copy of prelim papers and answers.

2. Read daily.

You may be groaning at this point, “Oh.. not again, giving us the same old advice.” I am giving you guys this advice because it works. It works for most subjects that are essay based and particularly so for economics. To put it simply, you need to be kept up-to-date on the big picture and latest macroeconomics happenings in order to have that edge at the examinations. A student who has a good understanding of the different economic contexts of different countries, and is able to demonstrate that understanding flawlessly in his or her answer is going to score better than someone who just writes based on theory and uses hypothetical examples! Give yourself the edge now!

What should you be reading?

For a start, you can subscribe yourself to Google Alerts for Economic News and Economic Blogs at this link here. This service feeds economic news to you daily and you do not want to miss it.

If you have not by now, please read key chapters from Sloman such as Market structure, Theory of Production, Market Failure, Fiscal policies, Monetary policies and so on. If you do not have Sloman, it might be too late to get one, so try to borrow it from a friend or a library or something.

If you subscribe to The Economist, great – I know, like me, you are too busy have not been reading it, but start reading the economics, finance and business sections now.

If you have some spare time, please go check out some of the books related on economics. The newest one that I would recommend would be End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman. If you stay in Singapore, you can get it from Kinokuniya bookstores. It is a great book by the Nobel Prize Laurette on depression economics and how the current US and Eurozone crisis should be resolved. It is a very easy read and does not have many concepts out of A Level economics. Another book that I will recommend is Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. It is a great book, you do not want to miss it. Books are so important because they refuel your passion for the subject. If you are intending to pursue economics in your undergradaute studies like me, you need to start reading books now.

So finally I am reading, what now?

Annotate, annotate, annotate. Hold a pen in your hand and start annotating. A method of annotation that I learnt somewhere is as follows:

a. Use a Star to denote anything that is especially important and you would like to remember.

b. Use a Question Mark to denote anything that you would like to research and find out more about.

c. Use a Checkbox to denote anything that gives you a task to do and you would like to monitor your completion of it.

d. Use a “LOL” to mark anything you find outrageous and funny.

e. Else just underline like it is free (because it is).

The important thing here is you need to come back to this annotations and follow up on them. Research the things that you are supposed to research. Remember the important things that you wanted to remind yourself to remember.


Just reading is not enough. You need to think as you read about how these knowledge can be used in your responses to question. This is a very important step but in order to do this you need to have seen different questions in the first place. Hence, I will stress again, get yourself the prelim questions before it is too late. 

3. Study in 90 minute intervals.

This is simple. Research has shown that when you study in 90 minute intervals without interruptions, you will get much better results. What do I mean by without interruptions? This mean you turn off that handphone of yours or put it into NON vibration mode. This means you turn off facebook, twitter, youtube or anything else that could possibly distract you for that 90 minutes. No technology, get your head into Economics.

Now you may ask what do you do after 90 minutes? Anything, but stay away from technology. Take a break, drink some water, go for a stretch, take a hot shower, relax with some nice music, basically anything that can get you refreshed works. Then go for your second 90 minute cycle.

Trust me this will work.

4. Schedule exercise and relaxation into your day and eat well.

It is easy to get caught up with all the examination study madness and forget about the basic things of life. If you don’t sleep at least seven hours a day, you are not performing at your peak and if you are not performing at your peak, no matter how much you try to cram, things will not go in. I know this is starting to sound naggy like your mum (I am generalising here) but exercise is very important. Studies have shown that when we exercise we actually have more energy and our brains become more alert. We also feel happier because exercise releases endorphines into your bloodstream that keeps you feeling alive.

While working is important, you should consciously schedule relaxation into your days. By leisure I do not mean sitting in front of your computer and facebooking or using youtube. When you engage yourself in these activities, you actually become more tired and I am sure many of you will understand this from experience. Instead, go for a cup of coffee and read a book that you enjoy. Listen to some relaxing music. Meditate (if that is your thing), or do yoga!

Lastly you need to monitor your diet. Make sure you eat enough health foods that keep you alert and going. Coffee, contrary to popular belief, is actually very healthy when taken in moderation. It is one of the best health drinks as it has loads of anti-oxidants. So perhaps a nice warm cup of cappuccino is what you need to keep you alert through the day. Always eat vegetables and fruits with every meal.

You need to keep yourself healthy in order to succeed at the A Levels. Late nights, no exercise, poor diets are not going to work out well.

5. Sleep early the day before and do not study on the day of the examination.

Again, contrary to popular belief, it is not helpful at all to study on the day of the exams. I know some of you are not going to listen to me on this one and would not dare to risk their final and most important examinations to test this theory out, but for those of you who are willing to, this is one of the single best tactic that can dramatically improve your performance at the test.

Having a good night’s rest and not studying on the day itself are two most important things you have to follow in order to keep your mind sharp and performance at its peak. It is tested and proven by myself and some of my students and it works. The rationale behind it being that you want to keep your mind open to the questions that might be posed to you at the exam. Studying last-minute will only cause you to shift your focus to a particular topic, and as a result, you will forget other things that you already know or you might become too lethargic to analyse the actual questions at the paper. This is particularly true for economics because it is in itself a long paper and you need to stay focussed throughout. You must trust that you are well prepared because you are a professional student. Do you see professional long distance runners doing a lengthy run before their actual race? Do you see any athlete practicing long hours the day before their competition and sleeping late at night before the big day? By all means go ahead and do some light brain teasers or mental exercises. I recommend Lumosity, which is a great website for playing some games that can improve your intelligence. However, that being said, do whatever you deem is best for you.

These are five tips that I strongly believe in and I know they will work for you.

All the best for your exams!

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