From Marc Bellemare, via the Frances Woolley post linked on Monday, here’s a link (PDF) to one man’s view of how to succeed in an economics course. The sheet includes advice on working on problem sets and test preparation, and is, in my mind, very valuable – particularly for students in the courses I teach, such as Intermediate Microeconomics and Game Theory. Here’s a snippet:
The most important piece of advice I was ever given about how to study for an economics test was: “Quit reading the book and start solving problems.”
This seemingly simple statement says it all: beyond a few definitions and formulas that you will need to remember, economics is not about rote learning, it is about technique. This means that in most core courses (e.g., micro, macro, or econometrics), you should only use your textbook when there is something you do not understand or for which you need a refresher.
I encourage my students to solve a selection of (optional) homework assignments, and utilize an online educational tool to provide even more problems that can be practiced. In class, we spend time on technique, such as how to solve an optimization problem with a constraint. The focus on technique in (especially core) economics courses is to provide students with a flexible set of tools which can be applied to a wide spectrum of models and ways of thinking about the world.
So, as a student, the best thing you can do is NOT to memorize how to solve utility maximization with a Cobb-Douglas utility function. It is to understand the techniques used to solve such a problem, understand the implications/interpretations of employing the Cobb-Douglas form, and to solve variations and applications of the problem to deepen your understanding of the model.