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11/09/2020  •  12 min read

Making Sense of the New IBDP Economics Guide

If you are an IBDP Economics teacher looking for extra support with the new syllabus, we would like to invite you to join our free ‘Economics Bootcamp’ from Sept 15th-17th. With 7 sessions hosted by experts (Steve Vorster, the author of this blog post being one of them!) you are sure to find something to suit you. Follow this link for more information and to reserve your spot. 


Making Sense of the New IBDP Economics Guide

After three IBO Curriculum Reviews (2015, 2017 and 2019), the new Economics Guide landed on our desks in February. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it is the old guide with a few tweaks. It is much more than that. After 2015, each review revealed minor but significant changes and the final guide has a few surprises in it too. Do you feel ready to teach it? Do you feel you have an understanding of how it is different from the previous guide? Do you know how your teaching strategies may need to change to better prepare your students? If not, then read on and hopefully your questions will be answered. 


What is the rationale that underpins the new guide?

Broadly speaking, there are two main drivers which underpin the creation of the new guide. Firstly, the 2008 financial crisis prompted severe criticism of how economics teaching has remained unchanged for the best part of fifty years. The models and theories have not been updated, as is the case in many other disciplines. As the 2015 review stated, “It has brought about a situation where economics, firstly, has distanced itself from a rich understanding of human motivation, behaviour and community in favour of an approximation of behaviour based on a set of simplified and sometimes incorrect assumptions and methodologies more concerned with internal consistency than real world accordance.” (2015, 6)

Secondly, there is a desire to produce a more critically thoughtful DP Economics student whose learning journey is holistic (as opposed to topical) and to deliver the curriculum in a way that gets students engaging more strongly with complex real world issues. 


students smiling during lesson


How is this reflected in the new guide?

The addition of Introductory Economics as an official unit has created a starting point that places more emphasis on the fallibility of economic models and the assumptions that underlie them. Students are immediately introduced to the evolution of economic thought and the idea of pluralism in the twenty-first century. The ideas contained within environmental and behavioural economics are also built into this unit (see Aparna Jha’s blog on behavioural economics). If teachers grab hold of these big ideas and ground them in complex real world issues from the outset, each idea becomes a thread that is woven into the syllabus and reappears consistently at different points in each of the following three units. 


It will be easy to introduce these themes, but our challenge as teachers will be to help students use them as a framework to build their critical thinking, irrespective of what topic they are studying. For example, when teaching the Economics of Inequality in the new Macro unit 3.4, connections can be made to the pluralism of ideas for dealing with poverty, and comparisons can be made using real world economic data. This approach also pushes towards a more intentional inquiry and problem based learning style, which helps to produce holistic learning opportunities for our students.


What are the new concepts all about?

Nine explicit concepts have been added to the course: well-being, interdependence, sustainability, equity, choice, intervention, change, efficiency and scarcity. It is highly likely that you have previously included discussion about some of these overarching ideas, especially when referring to the degree of government intervention or the relationship between equity and efficiency. Choice also lends itself well to discussions on the price mechanism, scarcity and opportunity cost. In some textbooks, a few of the concepts were previously presented as broad economic themes that ran through the course and could be touched on at different points – but they were not examinable. These nine concepts are now explicitly examined in the Internal Assessment Portfolio and are worth 9/45 marks, but they are not examined in any of the other components. This has led to some debate in the teaching community and, for some, has generated a degree of scepticism about their place in the guide. So this begs the question: how can you use these concepts effectively and leverage them for your students’ benefit?


What are the benefits of concept based teaching and learning (CBTL)?

Being able to make connections between topics (inflation) and concepts (equity) often requires a higher level of metacognition. So if we help students to develop this skill, then we will be developing their ability to think critically, and this is where the real value of CBTL is found. Previously, our students’ economic evaluation consisted of a consideration of advantages and disadvantages, long run and short run effects, stakeholder impacts etc. Going beyond this by consistently considering the connections to several concepts can truly enhance the ability to synthesise and engage in a deeper way with real world issues. This kind of thinking will strengthen students’ responses in all of the essay components, including the new policy response paper, and help them to score better on the evaluation criteria.

The IBO Teacher Support material includes several examples of specific strategies that can be used for CBTL. They are modified for use in economics from the book Concept-Based Inquiry in Action: Strategies to Promote Transferable Understanding (2018). Teachers from UWCSEA in Singapore trialled them for two years and found them to be very effective in further developing engagement, metacognition and critical thinking. The book is full of practical ideas that are easily transferable for use in our classrooms.


Unit 1

Introduction to Economics

✅Included as an examinable unit

✅ Introduces historical development of economic thinking

✅ Introduces new models like The Circular Economy

✅ Introduces behavioural economics

✅ Introduces the nine concepts

Unit 2


✅ Behavioural economics is further developed

❌ Cross price elasticity is removed

✅ AO3 level for common access resources and asymmetric information, as opposed to the previous AO2 level

✅ Income inequality as market failure added

✅ Market failure due to market power includes some key topics from the previously taught Theory of the Firm unit

❌ The following is removed from Theory of the Firm content: production theory and calculations; shutdown theory; price discrimination; shift from SR to LR in perfect competition; comparison between profit and revenue maximisation

Unit 3


✅ Alternative methods of well-being

❌ Reasons for downward sloping AD curve removed

✅ Changes in institutions added as a factor that shifts LRAS

✅ Inequality and poverty now its own longer subunit (3.4)

✅ HL topic on debt added at the end of macroeconomic objectives

❌ Fiscal policy tax calculations removed

✅ Monetary Policy now includes fractional banking

✅ Minimum wage diagrams added to supply side policy

Unit 4

The Global Economy

✅ All of the International Economics content still present

✅ 8 subunits from


Overall, it feels that more content has been added than taken away, which goes against what many teachers have been asking for: less content and more of an inquiry based approach. The inquiry based approach has been added, but inquiry takes longer than traditional content delivery, so it will be absolutely fundamental for us to place the inquiry pieces at strategic points where students can benefit the most. Perhaps it also makes more sense to use guided inquiry as opposed to open inquiry (see the Teacher Support Material for more detail on that).


How different are the assessment components?

Having read several other posts that suggest there are relatively few changes to the assessment model, I feel that there are nuances in it that make it fundamentally different. The two obvious changes are the inclusion of the concepts into the IA commentaries and the different structure of Paper 3, which is now a Policy Paper. The nuances can be found in the changes to student choice for each paper, as well as the changes to the structure of the mark bands. For example, in Paper 1, students are no longer awarded marks for providing a real life example for the 10 mark essay question, but they are for the 15 mark essay. The number of mark bands has also increased from four to five, which makes it harder to understand what level our students are writing at. How do we judge the difference between these two statements: 


1) A real world example is identified and developed…

2) A real world example is identified and fully developed…


Digging into these nuances should, sometimes significantly, change the way that we prepare our students and develop their skills for each component.


Final thoughts

Working out the balance between content delivery, inquiry based learning and the development of our students’ exam skills is going to be a bit of a juggling act. You are not alone in this! The rationale for the changes is a compelling one and will benefit our students. They will graduate with a deeper connection to twenty-first century issues and be able to think more critically about possible solutions. However, the way the guide has been put together leaves some leeway as to how much you choose to engage with it. The threads flow through the guide but it is up to us to weave the story.


As a final thought, consider introducing your students to the following economists and suggest they follow them on Twitter: Mariana Mazzucato, Ann Pettifor, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Krugman, and Kate Raworth


Wishing you all the very best as you set out to teach the new guide.


Join Our IBDP Economics Bootcamp!

This blog post is written in conjunction with a webinar session Steve is hosting this week (Sept 15th-17th), all about the new syllabus. Follow this link to Kognity’s Economics Bootcamp for more information and to book your spot for free. Hope to see you there!



Anonymous. 2015. DP Economics Curriculum Review: First summary report to teachers. International Baccalaureate Organisation.

Marschall, C. and French, R., 2018. Concept-Based Inquiry In Action. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.[/bg_collapse]