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Using Diagrams in AQA A-Level Economics: It's Time for Students To Raise Their Game...

Jim Riley

28th January 2019

It’s time for AQA A-Level Economics students to raise their game with how they use diagrams if they want to maximise their exam performance in 2019.

That’s a key finding from tutor2u Economics' in-depth review of principal examiner feedback from the 2018 exams, followed up with interviews with other examiners and experienced teachers.

Gone are the days when A-Level Economics students could simply provide a memorised diagram in their responses to pick up a bunch of marks. This approach simply doesn’t wash now. Diagrams score very few marks unless they used to contribute to analysis. Otherwise, responses are stuck in AO1 (knowledge) regardless of how neat and accurate the diagrams are.

Why have things changed?

Because just about every A-Level Economics student can draw an accurate diagram by the time they enter the exam hall, but relatively few students really understand the diagrams (the lines, the areas) and can apply them dynamically to the context provided.

Now, students need to “do something” with their diagrams. Of course, they still need to be 100% accurate and relevant. However, more is needed.

For example, consider how a diagram might show:

  • The impact of an improvement in the technology used by UK firms on the UK’s short-run aggregate supply or long-run aggregate supply curve?
  • The effect of the UK government deciding to reduce the supply of narrow money in the economy
  • How a house-price bubble might occur

To access the higher-order (A03) marks, diagrams in A-Level Economics need to be DYNAMIC. So, lines in the diagram need to be shifted in response to the given scenario, new areas shaded, and revised equilibrium points noted.

Furthermore, in multiple choice questions, students can be asked to interpret unusual or unexpected areas on diagrams. Examiners do not always ask the obvious 'textbook' questions, but may, for example, require students to recognise the area representing total variable costs on a monopoly diagram (rather than the usual 'supernormal profit' area).

In longer extended-response answers, students again need to be able to adapt their diagrams in response to more unusual scenarios, for example, illustrating the impact of rising demand in a perfectly competitive market on individual firms (rather than the usual adaptation to long-run equilibrium following a change in supply).

The best way for students to be completely confident in thinking on their feet in a pressured exam-room environment is to have practised adapting diagrams, rather than merely practising drawing the basic diagram.

How should A-Level Economics students respond to the more challenging requirements for diagrams?

We've already mentioned a crucial part of the solution - diagram practice.

But, practice of the right kind. Memorising diagrams is no longer enough!


That’s why tutor2u Economics have produced the AQA A-Level Economics Diagram Practice Book!

We’ve been through the entire AQA specification in fine detail and produced activities to help students revise and practice every diagram in there.

More importantly, we’ve created a comprehensive bank of scenarios in which diagram practice can take place, encouraging students to develop their ability to create dynamic diagrams that access the higher-order marks.

The 100-page AQA A-LEVEL DIAGRAM PRACTICE BOOK contains hundreds of activities that precisely map to the AQA Economics specification.

Ideal for the crucial final phase of revision by Year 13 students, the Diagram Practice Book is also relevant for Year 12 Economists in their first year of study. Around a third of the content is likely to be taught in the first year.

Each copy of the Diagram Practice Book is just £7.95 (+ delivery) with a 15% bulk discount if ordered along with three or more other revision workbooks from the tutor2u Economics collection.

Order your AQA A-Level Economics Diagram Practice Books Here

Jim Riley

Jim co-founded tutor2u alongside his twin brother Geoff! Jim is a well-known Business writer and presenter as well as being one of the UK's leading educational technology entrepreneurs.

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