There are many valuable approaches to studying economics, and we encourage you to build on your past experiences and work to develop new strengths. In this section, we provide some general advice that may be helpful to you as you take economics courses at Amherst.

Keep in mind that there are many resources available to you as you study:

  • Office hours with the professor

  • Help sessions or TA sessions

  • The Moss Quantitative Center

  • Dean of Students office – individual tutors for those at risk of failing

  • Study Groups


Some general advice about good studying habits:

  • Schedule your time carefully.

  • Studying is a full-contact endeavor! Do problem sets, ask yourself questions, and engage actively with the material. It is not a spectator sport.

  • Read actively. Try to ask yourself questions as you read, jot a few notes in the margin, stop to explain the concepts and put them in context. Keep yourself engaged and thinking as you read.

  • Read ahead. You will get more out of your classes.

  • Think ahead. Don’t try to do problem sets at the last minute, or write a paper in two hours. Take some time with it. Enjoy it, and learn from it. Pause briefly to try to get the larger picture.

  • Read your returned work carefully, look at the places where you may have faltered, help yourself understand them and ask the professor, TA, etc. for help. These are learning experiences – use them as such.

  • Get study partners, and talk about the class material. Explain things to each other.

  • Talk to professors, ask questions. It is great to see students do the problem set or reading, mark down questions that are unclear to them, and come to talk to the professor about it. Students who do this do well in their classes, whatever their comfort level with the material.

  • Be flexible. There are so many resources available – if one doesn’t work just try out another! Do not get discouraged, something will work, and there are many people on campus interested in helping.


Some advice about the particular demands of studying economics:

  • Keep up. Especially in courses with weekly problem sets, make sure you keep up. Do not fall behind. Organize your time so that you can stay on schedule.

  • Pursue multiple modes of understanding. Economic ideas can often be understood mathematically, intuitively, or graphically – try to cultivate all three modes.

  • Do problems. Economics professors often assign problem sets or practical exercises to help students learn analytical material. Realize that these problem sets are essential. They may only count for a small fraction of the grade, but it is a mistake to use that as an excuse to allocate little time to them. Doing problem sets, assimilating the material, asking for help with the problems, talking to others about them – these are the heart of learning economics. This is particularly true of the core theory courses.

  • Read actively. A good strategy is to go through a chapter and try to explain any figure, table, or equation to yourself – the theory behind it, its implications, any assumptions,what it really means, how it relates to problems, etc. Explain it aloud. Work with a partner to explain it to each other. It is amazing how something can seem obvious when you just read through it, but then be very confusing when you have to explain it to yourself or someone else. Figures presented in economics courses usually embody more than one insight. Scrutinize them! Try to reproduce them from scratch. If you see a pattern in the economic analysis, don’t just memorize it – investigate why and how it happens.

  • Build on your past work. When an assignment is returned to you, take some time to look at it carefully with the solutions, and learn from the experience. Even write downsuggestions for your own future work. These will help focus your studying later on.

  • Prepare early and thoroughly for exams. Review the material, making review notes if that is useful. Write out key definitions and concepts, and know them. Draw figures, and understand them. Explain the material to yourself. Then try to do problems, possibly categorizing them into types. You can do new problems from the book or review materials, or just re-do problem set problems. Understand the types of problems, the approach, what purpose they serve. Think about the issues, just play around with the ideas and become comfortable with them. Ask for help with any questions that come up in your studying. If there is a pre-exam help session, you can go to it even if you don’t have questions, just to hear the discussion generated by others’ questions. When you think you’re close to ready, take an old exam for practice (do this under exam conditions), and use that as another learning experience.

  • Ask for help!