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Varun Srinivasan
4 IB Guides

Ultimate Guide to the IB Economics SL Exam

What’s Covered:


When it comes to high school curriculum options, few are considered as academically rigorous and rewarding as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, or IBDP for short. Considered comparable to the APs in the United States, and perhaps even more valuable abroad, it’s definitely a challenging set of classes, and traversing the difficult exams that come with IBDP can be a herculean task in itself. 


Luckily, this blog is going to help break down one of IBDP’s most popular subjects, Economics SL, and make its exam a bit more approachable for you.


IB HL vs SL: What’s the Difference?


There are two variations in all IB classes: higher level (HL) and standard level (SL). The biggest difference between these two variations can mostly be attributed to levels of difficulty. HL requires students to study more coursework during the two years of IB, which hence means more content to prepare for an exam. For economics, the course is offered in both SL and HL variants, but for this blog we’ll just be focusing on the SL variant.


It’s usually better to opt for an SL variant if the class you’re taking isn’t too closely related with your aim for a college major, or any plan that you have for further education. This way, you reserve one of the slots for HL classes for something that does align more with your further education goals.


How Do SL Papers/Exams Work?


The exam for IB Economics SL is divided into two papers:


  • Paper 1: 40% of total grade with 1 hour and 30 minutes of time
  • Paper 2: 40% of total grade with 1 hour and 30 minutes of time


Paper 1 is an essay paper divided into two sections, A and B. Section A, the microeconomics part, contains two questions with numerous subsections/sub questions, but you only need to pick one to answer. Section B is about macroeconomics, and also has two questions with only one needing to be answered. 


As mentioned earlier, paper 1 is an essay paper, and questions are usually based on case studies and provided prompts. It’s important to be well-equipped with knowledge of news and world economies because IB can use these as sources of data/information for their exams. 


Paper 2 is a data response test, which is also divided into sections A and B. Section A will purely focus on international economics and markets and will have you pick one question from two options. Section B is about developmental economics and will usually contain questions pertaining to a more “discussion” formatted writing response. It might require you to evaluate the decisions of an economist, or something along an analytical nature. 


How are the IB Economics SL Papers/Exams Scored?


Paper 1 will have 50 attainable points and 40% of your total grade in the class. Paper 2 has 40 attainable points and worth another 40% of your grade. Each question is graded based on a rubric/mark scheme. These mark schemes are made in coordination with the exam, which is good news for you! This means that when you study for exams by practicing previous papers (the best way to prepare for IB exams by the way!) you can check your answers with the IB rubrics too. They not only show you the right answer, but all the work that IB likes to see in order to arrive at that answer. Past papers and mark schemes can always be found at schools, so please check in with your teachers for these resources! 


As mentioned earlier, exams only make up 80% of your total grade in IB Economics SL, which means there’s an extra 20% leftover. This 20% consists of internal assessments. Internal assessments are essentially assignments and tasks graded at school instead of by IB themselves, and they can range from midterms to homework. 


In order to calculate your total grade in the class, IB uses a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being the worst and 7 being the best (a 4 is a passing grade). They also use grade boundaries, such as the one below, to calculate your grade in this scale:



By totalling your internal assessment grades and paper scores, you get a total sum of points. Divide this by the total number of attainable points, and you are given a percentage. Based on the “final” column, you can note where your percentage falls from 0 to 100, and which number from 1 to 7 it correlates to! This is how your grade is calculated.


This process is repeated for 6 subjects in IB’s overarching grading system, for a total of 42 attainable subject points. 


Final Tips


IB exams are hard, but hopefully some simple tips can make it just a little more manageable for you!


Read More

What sets apart Economics from other IB classes is how much information relevant to modern times and sources of media is involved in the exams. You’re not just going to be using information and data provided in the exam, but also whatever you go into the exam with! Read up on global affairs and international economics more often, and the earlier you start the better! This exam favors the prepared and well-informed.




There’s going to be a lot of menial and long arithmetic involved in some economics equations, and this is so much easier with a good calculator. But it’s important to remember that a calculator isn’t enough to make up for good arithmetic practice and studying! Here are some calculators that are great for IB Economics, and all verified to use by IBO:


  • Ti84 plus (all models)
  • Ti Nspire (non-CAS models) with the 84 faceplate
  • Ti83 plus
  • Casio CFX 9850 Plus
  • Casio FX 9950 Plus


How Does the IB Economics SL Exam Affect My College Chances?


In short, it doesn’t. This is because colleges and universities don’t really care about your scores as much as they care about taking the class itself. Taking a difficult class like Economics SL shows determination and the ability to handle rigorous academic work, furthermore proven by the duration of the course (two years). 


Along with classes, there are so many factors that are involved with college admissions. So, it can be hard to get a rough idea of what your admissions chances look like. Thankfully, CollegeVine’s admissions calculator makes this so much easier. It’s an innovative tool that uses your GPA, courses, extracurriculars and more as metrics to provide your unique chances of getting into an institute of your selection.

Short Bio
Varun is a junior at Arizona State University, Tempe. He aims to share his knowledge of college admissions and the IB Diploma Program with high school students. In his free time, he can be found making music or trying a new recipe!