Econ in Uni and JC: how different are they?
‘Market’, ‘invisible hand’, ‘inflation’ and ‘recession’. Once you have taken economics in junior college, your vocabulary suddenly expands. You are exposed to many interesting concepts. You understand the economy better. All these are good stuff. But are they good enough reasons for you to continue studying economics in university? If you think you will do well for university economics because you have been excelling for the JC one, read further to see if that assumption holds for you.
JC economics essentially includes two areas: microeconomics and macroeconomic. The two year course in school doesn’t go into the specifics in each area, but serves as a starter for you to get a taste of the subject. By the end of your JC life, you will have a good picture of economics and can understand and explain some common economics phenomena, such as unemployment, fiscal stimulus and international trade.
Using the words of Digital Senior, the JC economics is at the newspaper level: it helps you understand financial news, but you don’t go into the nitty-gritty parts.
As the mode of assessment is writing, those with good writing skills (or English skills in general) tend to do better for economics, ceteris paribus. You may need to write pages of pages of essays. Usually you need to present two sides of an argument, good and bad. You generally don’t need to reach a definite conclusion. And you can’t, simply because you are dealing with qualitative concepts only. That’s why you can end your essay with an ‘it-all-depends’ stand and score well.
A more structured curriculum
However, life isn’t that easy for university economics. First and foremost, the curriculum doesn’t just contain micro and macro-economics. You need to get into the specifics, learning labor economics for microeconomics and monetary economics for macroeconomics for example. Though you do have some freedom in choosing the specific modules that appeal more to you, in general you have to choose some modules that are less interesting to you because you need to earn a certain number of academic credits in order to graduate.
Mathematics will be your good friend
Once you enter university, you will encounter a concept called “core modules”. Those modules are deemed very important and are therefore compulsory to study. From the core subjects you will see if you will enjoy the subject in university. Other than introductory level of economics, you are required to take statistics, calculus and some other foundational mathematics. When you go further in your study, you will run into a subject called econometrics, which is basically crunching numbers (doing regression analysis) to find out the relationship between a few economics variables. Wondering how economists come up with the forecast that the Singapore economy will grow at certain percent next year? Ask the econometricians.
And for a lot of other economic modules, mathematics is the meat and butter. In microeconomics modules, you will use indifference curve and differentiation frequently. In macroeconomics modules, you will use algebra and statistics quite often. Though you are not a mathematics student, using math is a critical aspect of economics learning in university.
Stop writing furiously!
Exams are also different. Seldom will you see a whole stack of papers for you to write essays on. Instead, you will see a thin booklet of exam papers containing questions that ask you to draw graphs and calculate. Don’t worry if your pen will run out of ink half way through your exam. Instead, take very good care of your calculator. Economics becomes a science that is more exact and precise.
But of course, there are writing based economics modules in university. Modules such as economic history, Chinese economy and other more ‘generic’ area requires more writing and reading, similar to the JC economics. But they don’t form the bulk of your learning.
So is Uni Econ for You?
If you are doing well for JC econ
Ask yourself why you are doing well in JC. If you score well because you are very good at writing and can write persuasively, that itself is not a good indication of your success for university economics. If sometimes you feel you are hiding your lack of solid understanding of concepts behind layers of words, you need to know that the camouflage of words/essays does not really exist in university. Moreover, you need to ask yourself if you like doing math. To be sure, the level of math required by university economics isn’t that high. Basic algebra, statistics and calculus will be sufficient. Look at your JC math. Do you like it? Or do you like the relevant parts mentioned above? You don’t need to score an A for the math subject in order to do well in university. But your grades need to be decent and you should not be allergic to numbers.
If you are not doing very well for JC econ
Don’t come to the swift conclusion that economics is not your cup of tea. Likewise examine why you are not doing up to par. If it is because words like ‘demand’, ‘trade’ and ‘oligopoly’ turn you off, probably economics is not for you. If you are interested in those economics concepts, but just don’t grasp the exam technique very well, such as how to answer source-based questions or how to write three pages of essays in half an hour, you still stand a good chance of doing well. As long as your innate interest is there and you are reasonably good with mathematics, don’t cross economics off your list. It is an excellent idea to read the economics textbook for university to see if you enjoy reading it. It is not uncommon to see some economics students switching majors because they realize a familiar subject turns out to be strangely unfamiliar in university. Instead of making a difficult decision to change major, why not invest some time to make a good choice now?