The Economics of Studying (warning graphs are included)

It’s (almost) finals season. And do you know what that means?  I will be drawing many (maybe too many) supply and demand graphs. I would tell you an economics joke right now, but I know the demand for one is very low!

Economics is all about efficiency and maximizing utility. Below are a few principles from a young budding Economist on how to study for your finals (or any exam).

People face trade-offs

You have to give up something in order to get something else. We live in a world full of scarce resources (i.e. time). Using this principle, I like to think about the most efficient way to allocate my scarce resource of time. For example, the time I spend at Swem Library online shopping on Madewell’s website instead of studying, I face the trade-off of not being prepared for my quiz.

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility

For every additional hour you spend studying, there will be decreased utility (or benefit) from each extra hour that you spend studying. For example, the first 3 hours I spend studying for Global History will provide me with a great amount of utility. But for the 4th hour that I spend studying, I will not be gaining as much benefit. Why? At hour #1 I know nothing about Global History; my first hour of studying derives me great benefit. But by hour #4, I already know a lot about global history. Therefore an additional hour of studying will not give me as much benefit than in hour #1. It might be helpful to spread your work out. Study for your Global History class for 2 hours and then study for your Linguistics class for another hour.

As X (hours spent studying) increases, the marginal utility (benefit) gets smaller

Rational people think on the margin

When deciding whether to stay up an extra hour studying or to go to bed, I like to think on the margin. This means that I evaluate whether the marginal benefit of an extra hour studying or the marginal benefit of an extra hour of sleep will derive greater benefit (or happiness) for me. Usually, an extra hour of sleep gives me more happiness. Rested Amanda=Happy Amanda.


  1. You will face the trade-off between studying, and other activities like online shopping or watching Netflix!
  2. The more time you spend studying, the less benefits you will receive (but you should still study).
  3. Think on the margin!

Here is an encouragement graph for you! Good luck and happy studying, Tribe!

Categories: Academics, Student Blogs

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