Procedures and Philosophy Regarding the Problem Sets


  1. Overview of the Procedures Pertaining to the Problem Sets

    The problem sets are due before the relevant material is discussed in class. Consequently, you have to labor through the material before it is reviewed in class and figure out how to apply it. Often figuring out the relevance of the reading to the problems is challenging. It requires being quite familiar with the concepts introduced in the reading, which will generally require multiple readings of the assigned portions of the text. Since the readings are not lengthy, it is feasible for you to read the assigned portions of the text multiple times. In each successive reading you should push yourself harder to understand the relevant arguments and details of the graphs and figures. Even after multiple readings, it still may not be clear how to approach some of the problems. In such instances, you have a choice. You can either record your thinking on the problem and why you are having difficulty proceeding or you can consult the suggestions on the web under the category on the home page denoted as "Suggestions for Completing the Problem Sets." These two strategies are not mutually exclusive—doing both would show special effort. Since the problem sets are assigned before the material is discussed in class, they are graded solely on the basis of effort. Thus, showing extra effort is likely to earn you a better grade. Problem sets are generally graded as either 100 for an excellent effort, 85 for a good effort, 70 for a satisfactory effort, and 0 for an unsatisfactory effort. You will be assigned an overall grade for effort of either 100, 85, 70, or 0 based on your grades on the problem sets, and this effort grade will constitute 15% of your final grade.


    The material covered on each problem set is reviewed one week after you hand it in. This provides a week for me to cover the relevant material in class. In general, I will cover the relevant material in the context of class experiments and applications. Thus, I will not generally be reviewing how the assigned material is used to solve the problems on the problem sets. In some instances, the review of the relevant material may not be completed by the time you review the problem set from the prior week. This is not a problem because you have detailed solutions to the problem sets corresponding to new material (new material is covered in problem sets 1-7) and you will be given the answers in discussion section to the problems on the three review problem sets, Mixed Bags I, II, and III. You are expected to review the solutions to problem sets 1-7 carefully between the date the problem sets are due and the following week when they are reviewed in discussion section. There are also seven "quizzes" numbered 1-7 corresponding to problem sets 1-7. You hand these in when you hand in the respective problem set. Each quiz contains one problem with five parts. The problem is similar to one of the problems on that week’s problem set. You are expected to read carefully the solution to the problem paralleling the quiz so that you can complete the quiz. You will be given the solution to the quiz in the class in which you hand it in. It will also be posted on the web under the category on the home page, "Solutions to Quizzes."


    When the material in a problem set is covered in discussion section in the week after you have handed it in, you will have an opportunity to ask questions about anything that confused you. You should be prepared with questions. In the weeks in which problem sets 1-7 are reviewed, the teaching assistants will not go over the answers to individual problems since you already have detailed solutions to the problems. Rather, the teaching assistants will develop new problems that are analogous to the more difficult problems on the problem set you will be reviewing. These will be solved interactively with the class. In the last 15 minutes of these discussion section, a minitest will be administered. The minitest generally resembles the prior week’s quiz, so it will be very important to understand the material on the quiz. The minitest will be graded on the basis of accuracy from 0 to 100, and your average grade on the seven minitests over the semester will constitute 15% of your overall grade. In the weeks in which you review Mixed Bags I, II, and III, which contain questions from past exams, the answers to the questions will be provided and no minitest will be administered.


  3. Synthesis

    So let’s review procedures regarding the seven problem sets, 1-7, covering new material. You read the relevant material multiple times before it is covered in class. Then you try to do challenging problems and a quiz before the material is covered in class. Some of the problems are daunting, but you can consult the suggestions for how to do the problems or even peek at the solutions (but don’t copy any answers and do all calculations yourself). After you have completed the problems but before you have completed the quiz, you read the solutions to the problem sets carefully. You use your understanding of the problem sets to answer the quiz. You hand in the problem set and quiz in discussion section and get the solution to the quiz. Your problem set and quiz is graded based on the effort you demonstrated. A week later in discussion section you review the material on the problem set and quiz. In the intervening week I will have covered in lecture some or all of the main concepts on the problem set in the context of experiments and applications. The teaching assistants will further exercise your understanding of the material in discussion section by posing and solving with you new problems that are similar to the ones you answered in the prior week. At the end of the discussion section, you will be given a minitest resembling the quiz you completed the prior week. You will be given solutions to all minitests after you take them that will also be posted on the web under the category on the home page, "Solutions to Minitests."


    In many respects, the problem sets, quizzes, and minitests are like taking a course within a course in which a lot of responsibility is placed directly on you, without intervention from me. You are given suggestions and solutions and are expected to labor through the material on your own. The material will be reviewed by the teaching assistants, who I train each week, but it will not be directly reviewed by me in lecture nor will the teaching assistants go over solutions to problems which you already have. I will cover the material in class, but in the context of new settings, whether they be experiments or applications. You will be tested on the material in the problem sets in the minitests in discussion section. You will also be responsible for the problem sets, along with the material covered in class, on the term exams. If you have difficulty with the material covered in the problem sets, you are expected to make appointments to see your teaching assistants outside of class. You can reach them by email on the Andrew system or by telephone. Names and phone numbers are recorded on the web under the category on the home page, "Teaching Assistants."


  5. Philosophy Regarding the Procedures Pertaining to the Problem Sets


So why have I constructed the course in this fashion, which is a question frequently posed to me, particularly by students who are frustrated having to do the problem sets before I review the relevant material in class. I am also frequently asked why I don’t directly cover the material on the problem sets in lecture. The answer to both questions is that I want to use the lectures to stimulate your interest in economics, and the best way I can do this is by showing you how the basic concepts can be used to explain your actual behavior in class experiments and by applying the basic concepts to important social problems. If I had to review the basic concepts in class I would not have much time left to breathe life into them and to demonstrate the range of questions that you can analyze with them. Having you grapple with the concepts before I have discussed them enables me to be more ambitious in class. The problem sets force you to develop a level of mastery that I can exploit in class to cover a range of topics that hopefully will stimulate you to want to study economics further.


Every experiment and application also provides an opportunity to go over the concepts again that you will be grappling with on the problem sets. In many instances, the experiments and applications will help you understand the material better. It may not seem like it sometimes, but I will cover all the important concepts raised on the problem sets in lecture, and I will cover them more deeply than they are covered on the problem sets. Thus, in the end I will cover all the material in lecture, just in a different format than on the problem sets. I will test your understanding of the material covered in lecture on the term exams, which constitute 70% of your grade. This will provide a test of how comprehensively you have labored over the problem sets and how diligently you have attended lecture and worked through the material covered there.


If you have problems with the material over the course of the semester, you should see either your teaching assistant or me. The teaching assistants should be able to help you concerning the material on the problem sets. If they cannot help you on class material, then come directly to me, either during my office hours or other times when it is convenient for you. I generally discourage posing questions by email because it is too cumbersome a way of communicating about the concepts, but I am generally available in my office should you want to pose questions to me directly. I will also be running extra weekly review sessions for students who the teaching assistants identify as having difficulty, so I will seek you out directly if you are having difficulty. I will also set up appointments with the students who fall in the bottom part of the grade distribution after each exam in order to help them improve on subsequent exams.


I anticipate that you will find the format of the course challenging. If you persevere, I am confident you will be rewarded.