Leaving Cert economics: Topical paper features Airpods, Brexit and tracker mortgages

First exam based on new syllabus is fair but challenging, say teachers

The first Leaving Cert economics paper based on a new syllabus was “fair but challenging”, according to teachers.

This year, for the first time, students had already completed a research project worth 20 per cent of overall marks.

Maireád O’Sullivan, an economics teacher at Glenstal Abbey School, said the new-look paper was easy for students to navigate and student-friendly with references to Apple Airpods and PlayStation 5 gaming consoles.

“It included a lot of topical issues which students would have found very interesting such as global aircraft market, corporation tax, Brexit, the tracker mortgage scandal and Central Bank regulation,” said Ms O’Sullivan, who is spokesperson for the Business Studies Teachers’ Association of Ireland in Limerick.


She said the paper would have “made students think and apply their knowledge”.

While the new structure of the exam may have posed challenges, Ms O’Sullivan said the use of colourful and engaging infographics and graphs made it more interactive and engaging,

It also required much more application of knowledge and was less emphasis on rote learned material.

Keith Hannigan, economics teacher at Dublin’s Institute of Education, said the mood among students in advance was a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

In the end, he said, it was “a much nicer paper” than the sample paper provided earlier in the year.

“The choice that students had this year would have made it very accessible for good students,” he said.

Section A: short questions

Due to changes this year, students had to answer five out of ten questions. Normally they are not provided with any choice.

The questions were very topical and ranged from price discrimination in relation to Netflix to the tracker mortgage scandal.

Mr Hannigan said: “The short questions were testing, there was no room for waffle and students would really need to have known their material and be well prepared.”

He said a question 4 on cigarettes and “demerit”, or harmful, goods was interesting, but the reference to “demerit” may have caught some students out.

Any student who studied banks will have liked question five which looked at KBC Bank, the tracker mortgage scandal, why banks should be regulated and the duties of the Central Bank.

The question on the Human Development Index (HDI) was “lovely”, he said.

“This is a very modern way of measuring human welfare and the standard of living of people in various countries, looking at education, life expectancy and money,” he said.

Some students may have struggled with question 7, which focused on gross debt per person and budget surpluses in each country.

Given the choice on offer, many may have opted for “lovely” questions on utility - question 8 - and market structures - question 9.

Ms O’Sullivan said some teachers felt students may have found question 10 challenging, which sought the historical reasons for the trend in the ECB rate, even though there was a graph to assist.

Section B: extended response questions

Due to changes this year, students have to answer three out of six extended response questions. Normally they have to answer four out of five.

Ms O’Sullivan said while critical thinking was required, many student-friendly scenarios were there to encourage this, she said , such as the negative multiplier effect of large corporations such as Google withdrawing from their rental property contracts in Dublin during 2020.

Students would also have liked the question on price elasticity of demand in the context of Apple Airpods.

Mr Hannigan said students will have liked the topical question on globalisation, a brand new topic on the syllabus.

“The second part of the question focused on corporation tax in relation to Ireland and the EU. The last part of the question was on Brexit. Students would really have liked this question,” he said.

They have have faced more challenges in question 14, which focused on inflation and the consequences of low inflation.

“The second part of the question was quite tricky and focused on investment in broadband and trying to increase Ireland’s competitiveness,” he said.,

Question 15 - which looked at whether GDP or GNI was a better indicator of how Irish citizens are doing - may also have posed problems.

“ The last part of the question focused on the negative multiplier effect of Google withdrawing from its rental property contracts. Looking at negative multiplier effects however might have been off-putting for some students,” Mr Hannigan said.

Overall, Ms O’Sullivan said teachers have noticed that this year’s paper was more focused on interpretation and analysis with many clear and colourful infographics from the CSO and elsewhere.

Some also felt there was more of a focus on the macro side of the course than the micro side, but the level of choice was to the student’s advantage.

She also welcomed the mixing of strands in the exam which made the application of knowledge “more like ‘real life’ economics”.

“Many new elements of the course were seen in the exam for the first time such as demerit goods, the HHI, market failure HDI and globalisation and there was a noticeable reduction in definition questions and rote learning,” she said.

Ms O’Sullivan added that some teachers were concerned that there were no marks visible within questions (only marks at the end of the entire question) .

“This would have been a bigger issue regarding the timing of answers but the choice this year alleviated this issue,” she said.

Try this at home:
- Leaving Cert economics (higher level)

Select whether each of the following statements are normative statements or positive statements:

* If the Irish government increase jobseeker's allowance by 5% in the 2022 budget, unemployment in Ireland will increase by at least 2% by 2023.* We have to do more for the less well off in society.

* The government should have increased unemployment benefit by more than €0.10 this year.

* Sales of new cars in Ireland decreased during 2020.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent