Answering IB-style Questions

The commentaries and final examinations for IB economics require you to really only do 3 things – define, analyse with the help of diagrams, and evaluate. As well, the new HL paper 3 asks students to perform some quantitative tasks but these seem to be fairly straightforward. At the bottom of this page you will find some model answers to IB and IB-style questions.

Definitions are required for both papers one and two and in your commentaries. In paper 1, usually the ‘a’ part of the essay question will require you to define terms. The data response questions in paper 2 also require definitions in part ‘a’.

Definitions are straightforward to learn, but they must be learned. The tricky thing about definitions in economics is that while the words are often familiar to us their economic definitions are usually somewhat different (and usually more precise) than their everyday meaning. For instance, while we all know what ‘scarcity’ means in everyday language, in economics the definition (the situation where wants exceed resources) is quite different. Even more befuddling, sometimes a term in economics has different meanings depending on the section being studied. For instance, the term ‘quota’ is used both when looking at supply-management schemes designed to keep the prices of commodities like milk and eggs stable and when studying protectionist measures designed to keep out imports.

To learn the correct definitions, it is important to have a good source. Some books are better than others, but with my own students I used the definitions from the markschemes for past IB papers. If you ask your teacher to look on the Online Curriculum Centre operated for IB teachers, they should be able to find a glossary made up of definitions taken from past papers.

Analysis with the aid of diagrams is a core skill in economics and is at the heart of paper 2 and your commentaries. To succeed, you first need to understand and be able to reproduce accurately the diagrams from the course. Again, there is no short-cut here – you will need to practice drawing the diagrams and you should do so while telling yourself why each line appears as it does.

Once you know the diagrams, though, it is a fairly easy thing to do well on the ‘b’ and ‘c’ parts of the data response questions in paper 2. First, you need to explain, in words, precisely what is going on in the situation that is being analyzed. Be sure to explain pretty fully – for instance, if the situation is one where demand rose, it is always a good idea to go on to explain why that was the case in a way that shows that you understand why the event would lead to an increase in demand. Next, having explained the situation, show the situation using a diagram. Be sure to fully label the diagrams and show the different equilibrium price and quantity points with dotted lines to the axes. Lastly, explain the diagram, making sure to make specific reference to the points and lines that you have drawn. To sum up, you need to explain, then show, and then explain what you have shown.

Evaluation is the last big skill that is required in both papers one and two and in your commentaries. Generally, part ‘b’ of the essay questions in paper 1 is an evaluation question, as are the ‘d’ parts of the data response questions in paper 2. Evaluation is really pretty simple as it is just making a judgement. Most commonly, you are asked to evaluate a policy response. To do so, you should judge whether it will be effective or not in achieving its objective. You should then judge whether this response is what theory suggests should be done. Lastly, you should look at the impact of the policy on various groups that are affected, for instance, consumers, workers, firms and the government, in the short and the long run. Then, taking all of this together, you should try to figure out whether, overall, the policy is a good one or a bad one.

To take an absurd example, let’s evaluate Robert Mugabe’s decision to print more Zimbabwe dollars to try to tame the hyperinflation that was taking place there a few years ago. Clearly, this is unlikely to be effective in reducing inflation. It is also completely counter to what theory suggests should be done. Looking at the effects of such a policy, it harms consumers, workers and firms in the long run as people stop accepting $Z and the economy turns to barter (and US dollars), even though for some people (for instance, firms with large stockpiles of goods) the inflation may be beneficial in the short run. Overall, then, this can be clearly seen to be a poor policy response to the problem of inflation.

You may also be asked to evaluate the impact of an event (such as an increase in oil prices) which requires you to look only at the impact on the groups affected in the short and long term and then, at the end, judge whether overall the impact will be positive or negative.

Please look at the sample questions and answers below to give you further insight into how to define, analyse and evaluate effectively.

New Material Posted in January 2015

Answering Paper 1

Economics 11 Extended Response Test – Micro 1

Market Failure Paper One-Style Test

Tariff Quota DRQ 2014

May 2011 SP2 Q4 Answer

BOP and Exchange Rate Ruble Test

BOP Exch Rate Test 2014

Grade 12 Re-test II, BOP and Xch Rates – 2010

Test – Global Economy and Institutions

Global Economy DRQ Test + TOT

Imbalances and Global Institutions Test Key

Structuring Your Extended Essay

Material Posted in 2011/2012

BOP and Xch Rates DRQ – USA

BoP and Xch Rates DRQ – Canada

BOP and Xch Rates DRQ – Venezuela

Trade and Protectionism DRQ – China

Trade and Protectionism DRQ – Russia

Trade and Protectionism DRQ – Australia

Model Essay Answer – May 2006 SL Paper 1 Q1

Model Essay Answer – May 2007 HL Paper 1 Q1

Model Data Response Answer – May 2009 HL Paper 3 Q4

DRQ – China Complains to WTO about EU Tariffs

DRQ Model Answer – China Complains to WTO about EU Tariffs

Creative Commons Licence
Workbook for the New I.B. Economics by Bryce McBride is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

14 Responses to Answering IB-style Questions

  1. Zelia Pereira says:

    What would be most useful are worked examples (questions and answers) for the quantitative Higher Level Paper 3

    • Administrator says:

      The book itself contains a number of paper 3 type questions, the worked solutions for which are in the solutions key that is sent as a PDF file to teachers who have ordered the book. If you would like to order a copy of the book, I am having some sent out in a week or so from Oman, and another (last) batch is being sent from there at the end of November. I look forward to hearing from you by email.

  2. Adam Ashton says:

    I purchased your book at a recent training session in Dubai. It is a very useful resource. Would I be able to receive the PDF answer key? Many thanks!

  3. Vineet says:

    Dear Mr. Bryce,

    My son is in Economics SL. He knows content but is having difficulty in finding how to answer the questions.

    I need some more information on the book to understand how will it help my son. Can I receive the book and answer key online. I can pay online.

    Best Regards,

    • Administrator says:

      Dear Vineet,
      Thank you for your message. I will send you an email with more information in a moment.

  4. reema gambhir says:

    I have a query in IA. When we select an article is it compulsory that the article should focus on a problem and also mention a solution. Is it okay if we give our own policy solution which is not mentioned in the article.

    I will be grateful if you solve my query.

    Thanks and Regards,

    • Administrator says:

      Dear Reema,

      Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. To answer your question, it is not compulsory for the articles to mention solutions, but it helps a great deal in evaluation if a solution is proposed in the article, as you can then evaluate it. If an article just outlines a problem, your evaluation will be on firmer ground if it just evaluates the impact of the problem on various stakeholders. Generally, commentaries should comment on the article, so I have always advised my students to avoid evaluating aspects that they themselves may have introduced.

      All this said, these are just my preferences. Perhaps opening up a thread on the OCC would be more enlightening – I myself would be interested to see Manuel’s take on your question.

      Thank you,


  5. Naeim MAHDAVI says:

    Hi Bryce,

    I don’t see the answer key to the sample questions above. In your new book, do you have sample questions with appropriate level 4 answers? Thanks

    • Administrator says:

      Dear Naeim,

      You should see model answers to some of the questions above, but no answer keys. In general, as there are many examples from past IB examination papers of extended response and data response questions and mark schemes floating around, I did not put such questions in my book. However, in light of the relative newness of the quantitative HL Paper 3, the new book does feature an abundance of Paper 3-style questions, the worked solutions for which are in the teachers’ guide.

      All the best,

  6. T.J. Luttrell says:


    I am a new teacher to IB and have yet to go to any training for IB economics, but taught economics in the U.S. I am working through my first set of exams and the difficulties of mark schemes and grade descriptors. My question is on writing explain and evaluation questions. In an explain or evaluate response what is the best way for my students to avoid being descriptive rather than forming responses with analysis and or evaluation.

    Thank you!


    • Administrator says:

      Hi Thomas,

      I just spent a fair bit of time composing a response and then I hit the ‘tab’ key and all was lost…

      Anyway, to sum up, have a look at the “Completing Internal Assessment” page as I have a planning sheet and a model commentary there (“Inaction on $100 oil likely to backfire) that many teachers and students have found useful. The thing is, evaluation is evaluation, whether it is for a commentary of for an exam.

      To avoid being descriptive, it is good if students have a mental checklist – short run and long run, positive and negative, and the actors/agents involved (consumers, producers, government), and then make sure to look into the impacts touching on all of these variables in an organized fashion.

      All the best,

  7. Irtaza Zafar says:

    Dear Bryce,

    I am a Economics HL student and I’m facing great difficulties with the diagrams which is really worrying as diagrams are really crucial in the exams. Any advice on what to do?

    Thank you!


    • Administrator says:

      Dear Irtaza,

      Are you at a school that is using my book? If so, you have had some practice. That said, if you want extra practice, you need to simply make a list of all the diagrams learned in the course and then just take time reproducing them accurately, making sure to label them correctly while doing so. You are correct – if you have your diagrams and your definitions down cold, you will find analysis and evaluation much more straightforward.

      All the best,


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