Updated: Nov 11, 2021
New JC1 students taking Economics would invariably face the question of whether to take H1 vs H2 Economics twice in the first year; once when deciding on the subject combination at the start of the year, and possibly once more at the end of JC1 when facing dismal Promotional Exam scores for their H2 Economics.
Having taught both H1 and H2 Economics before and after the significant alteration in H1 Syllabus in 2018, let me shed some light on the key differences between the two papers.
1. The Difference in Examination Format
Students taking H1 Economics sit for one 3-hour paper with 2 Case Study Questions (CSQs) totaling 90 marks (each worth 45 marks), while those taking H2 Economics sit for two papers of 2 hours and 15 minutes each, completing 3 essay questions in one (totaling 75 marks) and 2 case study question in the other (totaling 60 marks, each worth 30 marks).
In the past, H1 students did 2 CSQs (totaling 60-marks) and 1 essay (totaling 85 marks) in 3 hours. Now they have to do 5 additional marks (90 marks vs 85 mar
ks) in the same time. Some argue that this is because they don't have to do an essay question anymore (which is worth 25 marks, and usually come in two parts of 10 marks and 15 marks respectively). However, given that questions in the CSQ can go up to 15 marks a question (normally at least 12 marks for the longer questions), it is arguable as to whether students really do not have to do an essay anymore. What is clear however is that the additional 5 marks without any increase in time, increases the pressure in what is already a very time-scarce paper.
Advantage: H2 Economics
2. The Difference in Content Covered
One of the most major differences in terms of content covered by the H1 and H2 syllabus, is that the H1 syllabus does not cover Theory of the Firm/Market Structures, arguably the longest and most complex chapter in H2 Economics. This is a major driver for many students considering taking H1 over H2 Economics, especially since Theory of the Firm/Market Structures is a chapter that most H2 Economics students hate with a passion for the numerous diagrams and often, counter-intuitive theories.
However, on closer inspection, the advantage isn't that clear. This is because in H2 Economics, although students have to do 3 essays in the essay paper, they actually have a choice of 6. The only requirement is that they do at least one microeconomics and one macroeconomic question, and they are free to choose the last question from the remaining four. What this means is that technically it is possible to avoid market structure as a topic without even having to "spot" questions. While this means that the student will have fewer options in choosing their microeconomics essays, it is certainly an "avoidable" topic.
The caveat is that no such option exists for the CSQ paper, and students could be compelled to do Theory of the Firm/Market Structure questions. But given that cases are often a mix of chapters, and the highest marks in a question is 10, the burden of studying the chapter might not be that great after all. Ultimately, the student has to weigh whether he or she can manage basic proficiency required to overcome such questions in the CSQ paper. While challenging, the fact that CSQ mirrors a comprehension paper, means that there is lesser burden on hard memorization and regurgitation to produce an essay from scratch.
Advantage: H1 Economics (but marginally, in my opinion)
3. Essays vs Case Studies
This is a divisive one. Some students find it easier to deal with essays as they have more "freedom" to express their answers, and are not confined to a rigid context as in the CSQ paper. On the other hand, some students wilt under the pressure of writing an essay from scratch, with nothing more than the few lines provided in the question. Such students will find the "assistance" provided by the case materials in the CSQ paper exceptionally useful in helping to jolt their memory and zero-in on the relevant points that have to be made, rather than having to regurgitate in full. Nonetheless, the need to comprehend the context and offer precise answers (rather than pure regurgitation), remains a major challenge for many students.
Essay is weighted as 60% in the H2 paper (although its 75 marks out of a total of 135 marks raw), and is the key determinant in your final grade, relative to CSQ at just 40%. Thus your proficiency in writing essays (regurgitate, provide your own structure) vs comprehending cases (comprehension ability, stringing relevant case materials to form arguments, precision in answers) is a major determinant in whether you should be taking H1 or H2 Economics. If having to write 4 pages to answer one 25-mark essay question scares you (yup that is how much the "A" kids are going to be writing), H1 is probably your better bet, because on a word-count-to-mark basis, H1/case studies is certainly less demanding
Ultimately, the H1 vs H2 debate isn't a simple one to figure out and should be contemplated relative to the other H1 subjects that may be offered to you. Prior to the 2018 syllabus change, there is probably a slight advantage to taking H1 Economics due to the more favorable exam format. The one essay that students had to do tend to be from a very narrow range of possible questions (and it was two choose one!). However that edge has been considerably blunted by the removal of the essay and increasing the total marks to 90 with no increase in timing.
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