What are the differences of IB economics and AP economics

Comparative Guide to IB Economics and AP Economics: Course Structure, Content, and Exam Breakdown

Both IB and AP Economics courses provide a framework for understanding college or university-level introductory Economics courses. They are similar in design and share content, with IB being more in-depth and exploratory into the areas of Economic Development, reaching over two years of study. The assessment, however, is different in design.
The required skills for the AP Microeconomics and Macroeconomics exam are as follows:

Understanding the Structure and Timing of AP Multiple-Choice and Free-Response Sections

Both AP Exams are 2 hours and 10 minutes long and both have two sections. Section 1 includes 60 multiple-choice questions and section 2 has 3 “free-response” questions. A four-function calculator is allowed in both sections of the exam.

The multiple-choice (section 1) allows 70 minutes to complete 60 questions, so keeping pace is crucial. This section is also weighted as ⅔ of the final grade.

Content Distribution in AP Microeconomics

While the approach to the IB exam is to cover the entire course content without placing specific emphasis on any one topic (except for paper 3, which is exclusive to HL material), the strategy for the AP Macroeconomics exam is notably different. In the AP exam, the multiple-choice questions are broken down as follows:

UnitsTopicsAP Exam Weight (%)
Basic economics conceptsScarcity, Opportunity Cost and the Production Possibilities Curve (PPC), Comparative Advantage and Gains
from Trade, Demand, Supply, Market Equilibrium, Disequilibrium and Changes in Equilibrium
Economic Indicators and the Business CycleThe Circular Flow and GDP, Limitations of GDP, Unemployment, Price Indices and Inflation, Costs of Inflation, Real v. Nominal GDP,
Business Cycles
Income and price determination
Aggregate Demand (AD), Multipliers, Short-Run Aggregate Supply (SRAS), Long-Run Aggregate Supply (LRAS),
Equilibrium in the Aggregate Demand– Aggregate Supply (AD–AS) Model,
Changes in the AD–AS Model in the Short Run, Long-Run Self-Adjustment, Fiscal Policy, Automatic Stabilizers
Financial SectorsFinancial Assets, Nominal v. Real Interest Rates, Definition, Measurement, and Functions of Money,
Banking and the Expansion of the Money Supply,The Money Market, Monetary Policy, The Loanable Funds Market
Long Run consequences of Stabilization PoliciesFiscal and Monetary Policy Actions in the Short Run, The Phillips Curve, Money Growth and Inflation,
Government Deficits and the National Debt, Crowding Out, Economic Growth,
Public Policy and Economic Growth
Open Economy International Trade and FinanceBalance of Payments Accounts, Exchange Rates, The Foreign Exchange Market,
Effect of Changes in Policies and Economic Conditions on the Foreign,
Exchange Market, Changes in the Foreign Exchange Market and Net Exports,
Real Interest Rates and International Capital Flows

the breakdown for AP microeconomics multiple choice questions are as follows:

UnitsTopicsAP Exam Weight (%)
Basic economics conceptsScarcity, Resource allocation and economic systems, Production possibilities curve, Comparative Advantage and trade,
Cost-benefit analysis,
Marginal analysis and consumer choice
Supply and
Demand, Supply, Price elasticity of demand, Price elasticity of supply, Other elasticities,
Market equilibrium and consumer and producer surplus,
Market Disequilibrium and Changes in Equilibrium,
The effects of Government interventions in markets, International trade and public policy
Production, cost and the perfect competition modelThe Production Function, Short-Run Production Costs, Long-Run Production Costs, Types of profit, Profit maximization,
Firms short-run decisions to produce and long-run decisions to enter or exit a market, Perfect competition
Imperfect CompetitionIntroduction to imperfectly competitive market, monopoly, price discrimination, Monopolistic competition,
Oligopoly and Game Theory
Factor marketsIntroduction to factor markets, Changes in factor demand and factor supply,
Profit-maximizing behavior in perfectly competitive factor markets,
Monopsonistic markets
Market failure and the role of governmentSocially efficient and inefficient market outcomes, Externalities, Public and private goods,
The effect of government interventions in different market structures, inequalities

The “free-response” (section 2) consists of 3 questions (2 short and 1 long) assessing all four skill categories and is ⅓ of the final grade. You have 50 minutes to complete section 2. 

1. Make assertions about economic concepts, principles, models, outcomes, and/or effects: assessing skills in categories 1, 2, and 3 is 10-20% of the free response section.

 2. Explain economic concepts, principles, models, outcomes and/or effects: assessing skills in categories 1, 2, and 3 is 25–35% of the free-response section.

3. Perform numerical analysis: assessing the ability to make assertions that require numerical analysis or to perform calculations. Skills in categories 1, 2, or 3 account for 10–25% of points in the free-response section.

4. Create graphs or visual representations: This task represents 30–50% of the overall points in the free-response section. It requires students to accurately diagram an economic model or market, demonstrate an understanding of a specific economic scenario via the diagram, and depict the impact of changes in the economic situation on the graph.

The first question in section 2 carries 50% of the total marks for this section, equating to 10 marks. The subsequent second and third questions each hold a weightage of 25% of the total section marks, amounting to 5 marks each.
The AP exams have a 10-minute reading time for section 2, while IB exams all have a 5-minute reading time at the beginning of each exam session.

Insights into the Structure and Content of IB Economics Exams

The IB course covers more content and includes Economic Development. For this reason, it is not advisable for AP students to sit in the IB exam. However, an IB student can sit the AP microeconomics and macroeconomics exams.

The required skills for the IB Economics Exams (HL & SL) are based on the following assessment objectives (Similarities can be seen between the two courses):

Assessment Objective Paper 1 – SL and HL Paper 2 – SL and HL Paper 3 – HL only Internal Assessment SL and HL
Part a b
AO1 – Knowledge and understanding Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
AO2- Application and analysis Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
AO3- Synthesis and evaluation No Yes Yes Yes Yes
AO4 – use and application of appropriate skills Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Assessment Objective Paper 1 – SL and HL Paper 2 – SL and HL
Part a/b -
AO1 – Knowledge and understanding Yes Yes
AO2- Application and analysis Yes Yes
AO3- Synthesis and evaluation Yes Yes
AO4 – use and application of appropriate skills Yes Yes
Assessment Objective Paper 3 – HL only Internal Assessment SL and HL
AO1 – Knowledge and understanding Yes Yes
AO2- Application and analysis Yes Yes
AO3- Synthesis and evaluation Yes Yes
AO4 – use and application of appropriate skills Yes Yes

Calculators are permitted for papers 2 and 3 only. Only HL students will write paper 3, usually right after Paper 1 or 2. (in 2023, it follows HL Paper 1).

In Paper 1, you will have 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete a single question. This question consists of two parts, namely parts a and b. You will have a choice of three questions, each focusing on one of the syllabus units: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and The Global Economy. From these options, you will select and respond to one question that aligns with your preparation and interests. Part A is out of 10 marks and doesn’t require AO3, while part b is 15 marks and will require synthesis and evaluation along with the use of a real-world example.

Paper 2 is 1 hr and 45 mins and requires the candidate to answer 1 of the 2 case studies presented. The case is marked out of 40; 15 marks are from part g, an essay question requiring students to analyze the case for synthesis and evaluation (A04). Fully labeled diagrams are heavily assessed in this paper with questions c,d,e, and f.

Paper 3 is 1hr and 45 mins and requires the candidate to answer both (2) questions fully. Each question is 30 marks, and 10 of these marks require a recommendation where the candidate presents an advisable course of action with appropriate supporting evidence/reasoning concerning a given situation, problem, or issue. Two compulsory questions make paper 3 out of 60 marks total.

While all assessment objectives are met for each paper, Paper 1 is distinctly more of a short answer/essay exam, while Papers 2 and 3 focus more on calculations and diagrams (AO4). Each exam, however, has an extended writing task; both questions a) and b) on Paper 1 are in essay format, while question g) on Paper 2 is in essay format. These essay-like questions have standard assessment criteria that should be reviewed. Nevertheless, there are similarities in format.

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