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Student Fury Over 'impossible' Economics Exam

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-31057005

_80674721_sheffieldeconomics.jpg

Final year economics students at Sheffield University are furious after an exam this week contained questions they found "impossible".

The paper, on the economics of cities, contained compulsory questions on topics they had never been taught, say the students.

More than 90% of those who took the exam have now signed an online petition demanding the university investigate.

The university said all questions were based on topics taught in the course.

But, in a tweet, one candidate complained: "Question three may as well have been in Chinese."

O dear.

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Hmmm. Isn't basic school maths a prerequisite for university economics?

Yes but in this case you would need to know how a "coordination cost" is defined to construct the equations. If you google it it doesn't seem to be a standard term.

Edit: But if you really didn't know, you could just guess that net output per person was output per person minus the coordination cost per person and then answer the question accordingly. I spent some time fairly recently tutoring A-level students and I found they weren't really willing to give things a go, they wanted to be sure they were going to get it exactly right. I wonder if they have somehow absorbed the idea that mistakes and imperfection are not tolerated.

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Kind of explains the mess we're in.

The failure of some students to answer an exam question explains the tripling of house prices that happened when they were at primary school?

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Good old econometrics

Mostly b*llocks, particularly when applied to the historical past.

Economists are like chefs who claim to understand the chemical processes behind the preparation of food but still end up burning the cakes

Like politicians the most important requirement of the job is

The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.

Winston Churchill

Anyway maybe the students should have adopted for a course in the Classics where they could have studied the ancient arts of augury and haruspicy which probably have an equivalent success rate and are probably more fun.

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I don't know textbook economics, but reckon I'd make a decent attempt at that question. It doesn't look impossible.

We did have impossible exam questions. Amazing as the lecturer has to submit solutions and they're meant to be double checked, yet key information can still be omitted. I've also marked degree exams where the lecturer's specimen solution was wrong.

Amazingly students didn't complain about exams with impossible questions, yet when they got courses where the exam required thinking rather than regurgitation, complaints flooded in.

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I don't know textbook economics, but reckon I'd make a decent attempt at that question. It doesn't look impossible.

We did have impossible exam questions. Amazing as the lecturer has to submit solutions and they're meant to be double checked, yet key information can still be omitted. I've also marked degree exams where the lecturer's specimen solution was wrong.

Amazingly students didn't complain about exams with impossible questions, yet when they got courses where the exam required thinking rather than regurgitation, complaints flooded in.

But what is the point of producing estimates of city size based just on model a couple of inputs.

Urban development is a driven by Geography and History as well as economics. It is often specific

"Knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place" is not easily aggregated and is often ignored by professional economists.

Friedrich Hayek

The students might have better spent their time questioning the real worth of the economic theory they are being taught rather than just moaning about the difficulty of the question. Of course, their howls of protest do rather give away their true attitude to their university studies which is basically that they expect to learn to parrot back enough of the various received wisdoms they are taught to get a degree

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Yes but in this case you would need to know how a "coordination cost" is defined to construct the equations. If you google it it doesn't seem to be a standard term.

Sorry, but these students must be pretty stupid. This is not difficult maths, and the rest of the question is about qualitative explanations and actually so is the math, its only asking for a graph against a variable N. I am sure they could have made a good stab at it.

For the maths bit I'd kick off with something like this for the general case and then show the assumptions that simply things:

Total Output = Big Sigma (Lim-> k=1, i) [ { Nk x sigma Nk^0.5] - { Nkx Gamma Nk^2} ]

where i represent the number of cities. The examiners also allow a massive simplification as N1 = N2 = N3 .........Ni

So we can pretty much just rip N out of the equation as a common factor, and kill the Big Sigma of by taking i out as a factor. (basically iN give the total population)

Total Output = iN x [ { sigma N^0.5] - { Gamma x N^2} ]

=> Output per person is then found by dividing through by iN.

Output per person = {sigma N^0.5] - { Gamma x N^2}

To optimise this just differentiate the above and find the minima/maxima.

Seriously - could have done this at A-level.

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Yes this is asking for regurgitation of learned patterns isn't it? I have some university maths and couldn't begin to draw that graph. Too many unknown variables.

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Yes this is asking for regurgitation of learned patterns isn't it? I have some university maths and couldn't begin to draw that graph. Too many unknown variables.

But if you read my rather brisk example above, its basically a graph of y = ax0.5-bx2 or otherwise written y = a(sqrt(x)) - bx2

where in general a is large compared to b, although this doesn't impact the general shape, it does of course impact the scale and sense of the curve.

But an equation of that form will start by rising as it is dominated by the ax0.5 , but eventually the -bx2 starts to dominate and so the curve then fall - ultimately there is an optimal number of people per City, which is this high point of the curve where dy/dx = 0 or in the case above d(output)/dN = 0

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But if you read my rather brisk example above, its basically a graph of y = ax0.5-bx2 or otherwise written y = a(sqrt(x)) - bx2

where in general a is large compared to b, although this doesn't impact the general shape, it does of course impact the scale and sense of the curve.

But an equation of that form will start by rising as it is dominated by the ax0.5 , but eventually the -bx2 starts to dominate and so the curve then fall - ultimately there is an optimal number of people per City, which is this high point of the curve where dy/dx = 0 or in the case above d(output)/dN = 0

Pretty much what I would have guessed, but I would have been stuck for an explanation of why the exponent was >1 in part (a).

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The answer is some sort of "lawnmower tax" for those in appartments! :huh:

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Pretty much what I would have guessed, but I would have been stuck for an explanation of why the exponent was >1 in part (a).

The tragedy is that this would have been within the reach of top performers at O-Level maths. I did GCSEs, but was one of the first years to do them, so we were pretty much drilled on past O-level papers and standards - a pleasant surprise when the exams were actually easier than what we'd be schooled in.

For a decent A-level student this should be a walk in the park as there is only one equation to set up and it doesn't involve any derivatives in the formation. I recall undertaking simultaneous partial differential equations and third order PDEs at A-level, this was substantially tougher than the above.

The problem is that that exams have got easier every year since, with the exception of the recent Gove effect. So no wonder we are turning out graduates without the skills to compete.

Should people of such limited ability be allowed to get into positions where they might control economics or the economy?

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Yes, make exams easier, so no thinking is required. We don't want students doing that, as it is a handicap, when it comes to employment.

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So they had a smartphone on them and decided to take pics rather than cheat on the exam.

They wouldn't make it in finance anyway.

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Should people of such limited ability be allowed to get into positions where they might control economics or the economy?

Don't worry too much, those are all reserved for the alumni of the top public schools.

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Don't worry too much, those are all reserved for the alumni of the top public schools.

Some mate of mine that I shared a house with at University, went to a "Public School", He won the Physics prize for getting a D.

I got an A, but I didn't get a prize! Still he was heir to a brewery, and is still making smashing beer to this day!

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They are buying their degree though

The university will get less money unless it satisfies its customers

The commercialisation of Academia annoys me. This is a subject for the other thread! :blink:

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I did O level maths (1959) and could not have even approached this complexity.

However, A level Maths was full of calculus.

Unfortunately for me, that was in 1961 and now, I can't remember a thing!

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I did O level maths (1959) and could not have even approached this complexity.

However, A level Maths was full of calculus.

Unfortunately for me, that was in 1961 and now, I can't remember a thing!

You are much older than I thought! :blink: I guess some people are?

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