Ultimate Guide to HSC Economics Past Papers

I teach you all the past paper strategy skills needed to ace your next exam.

Aatish Budhwani

Aatish Budhwani

99.75 ATAR and 97 in Economics


Hi there, I’m Aatish and I’m here to help you ace your HSC Economics exam through the effective use of past papers.

You’re probably feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and confused about how to prepare for your exam. You have so much content to cover, so many practice exams to do, and so little time to do it all. Don’t worry, I’ve been there. And I know exactly what you need to do to succeed. That’s why I’ve created this ultimate guide to past papers.

Before we start, let me tell you a little bit about myself (so you know you can trust me). I was ranked 1st internally for Economics at Penrith High School, achieved an HSC mark for Economics of 97/100, and a 99.75 ATAR.

In this guide, you’ll discover:

  1. The most common mistake students make when studying for HSC Economics (and how to avoid it)
  2. The best sources for practice exams (and how to access them)
  3. The most effective way to use these exams (and how to get feedback)

By the end of this guide, you’ll be confident and ready to tackle any HSC Economics question that comes your way!

The Importance of Study Plans

First, let me ask you a question: Do you have a plan when you study for Economics?

If you answered no, you’re making a HUGE mistake.


Because studying without a plan is like driving without a map. You might get somewhere eventually, but you’re wasting valuable time and energy. You need to be efficient. That’s why the first step to using past papers effectively is to create a study plan that will help you organise your time, prioritise your tasks, and stay motivated throughout your preparation.

The Sacred Syllabus

So how do you make a plan? Luckily, everything you need to know (seriously, everything) is inside the HSC Economics syllabus that you can freely access online, here. It outlines the course objectives, outcomes, content, skills, and assessment requirements - so basically everything there is to know.

The syllabus is divided into four topics:

  • Topic 1: The Global Economy
  • Topic 2: Australia’s Place in the Global Economy
  • Topic 3: Economic Issues
  • Topic 4: Economic Policies and Management

Each topic has several dot points that specify the content and skills you need to learn and apply. For a deeper dive into specific Economics Syllabus Topics, click here!

Traffic Lights Systems

So, your first step to making a killer study plan is to review this syllabus and assess your current level of understanding and performance for every dot point, under each topic.

As a guide, you can use the traffic light system, a learning strategy which involves sorting through topics and categorising them into three types/colours:

  • Green: You are confident with this dot point and can explain it clearly with relevant examples and statistics.
  • Yellow: You are somewhat confident with this dot point but need some revision or clarification.
  • Red: You are not confident with this dot point and need more learning or practice.

This is hugely effective, as it lets you prioritise the urgent (red) items, and immediately target weak areas. You can even use a spreadsheet or a table to record your ratings for each dot point.

Here’s a snippet of how this could look:

By doing this, you can identify your weak areas from the course and focus on them when you complete practice exams.

Accessing Past Papers

When studying for the HSC Economics course, you can source these from a variety of places, including:

  • NESA official past exams: These have been used by NESA from 2011 to the present year. They’re the most reliable and relevant sources because they reflect the current syllabus and exam standards. They also come with marking guidelines and notes from the marking centre which give insights on how to answer the questions effectively.
  • Trial papers: These have been created by schools or other organisations, to simulate the real HSC exams in October-November. Trial papers are great because they expose you to different styles of questions and difficulty levels. Your school often provides some, and there are also some available online, such as here. Also, Project Academy gives their students access to hundreds of trial papers across various schools and subjects – if this interests you, be sure to enquire here. I recommend you prioritise your own school’s past trial papers when studying for internal exams (such as trials), as it gives amazing insight into the style and difficulty level of questions your school tends to ask, and the marking guidelines your teachers tend to follow. But for externals, you should use a combination of these sources to get a comprehensive and balanced practice.

Past Papers Master List

To keep things all in one place for you, here’s a master list with all of NESA’s past HSC Economics past papers from 2011 to date, complete with the answers and assessed topics! Be sure to bookmark this tab for easy access.

2022 Paper and 2022 Answers

2021 Paper and 2021 Answers

2020 Paper and 2020 Answers

2019 Paper and 2019 Answers

2018 Paper and 2018 Answers

2017 Paper and 2017 Answers

2016 Paper and 2016 Answers

2015 Paper and 2015 Answers

2014 Paper and 2014 Answers

2013 Paper and 2013 Answers

2012 Paper and 2012 Answers

2011 Paper and 2011 Answers

Completing Past Papers

How often should I do past papers?

It depends on the person, but as a general rule of thumb, you should aim to do at least one past paper per week leading up to your exams. This will help you maintain consistency, review the syllabus content regularly, and improve your exam technique gradually. You should also keep up to date with relevant statistics and trends to be used in your responses.

How do I approach a past paper?

Very importantly, these should be completed under timed conditions. This DOES NOT mean you have to complete the whole 3-hour paper in one sitting, but you should try to at least set a time limit for each section. For example:

  • MCQs = 10 minutes
  • SAQs = 1 hour
  • Essays = 55 minutes each

If you are attempting every section in one sitting, you might be wondering “what order should I complete these in sections?“. Again, this depends on the person. However, in my experience, the optimal approach is to go in order. This is because the multiple choice and short answers can often give you some good ideas of what you could talk about in your essays.

What do I do after completing a past paper?

Remember, completing practice exams is not enough. After completing a paper, you must ensure it is marked and that you review the questions you got wrong. This can be done through a few ways:

  1. Self-Mark: The simplest way to mark your work is to do it yourself using the marking criteria. However, often the marking criteria can be a bit broad which can make it difficult for you to see the flaws in your own work.

  2. Peer-Mark: Alternatively, you can ask your like-minded peers to mark your work against the marking criteria, or compare your solutions. This can be more beneficial as they are likely to pick up on certain strengths or weaknesses that you cannot see in your own work.

  3. Tutor-Marked: However, one of the most beneficial ways is to get your responses marked by an experienced tutor who scored highly in Economics, such as our state-ranking Project tutors. By enrolling as a student, you will have unlimited access to tutors which are more than happy to look through any of your responses and give detailed feedback!

As you get closer and closer to your trial and HSC exams, it can be highly time-consuming completing many practice exams. Instead, I would skim through a few of them and for every question, brainstorm answers with my peers. For example, let’s consider the question below:

HSC Economics 2022 Paper

This question is 4 marks, which means you would likely write about 2 main impacts of the increased quota on the economy (i.e., 1 positive and 1 negative). However, while brainstorming, I would suggest you try come up with as many different impacts as you can think of. This is beneficial as it prepares you for questions that may ask you to discuss a specific impact.

For example, possible impacts I would brainstorm include:

  • Increased variety of goods and services (positive)
  • Increased import competition —> reduced domestic employment (negative)
  • Lower price for consumers (positive)
  • Increases misallocation of resources away from efficient work practices/industries and towards inefficient work practices/industries (negative)

If you are struggling with how to answer specific multiple-choice, short-answer, or essay questions, you can check out some tips in another great article I wrote here.

Ultimately, by following these tips, you’ll be able to complete past exam papers effectively for HSC Economics and ace your exams. Hopefully this helped, and keep your eyes peeled for more Project Academy study guides. In the meantime, check out our other blog articles here.

Until next time!


How can I avoid boredom or burnout from doing past papers?

It can be boring or exhausting if you do them too often or too repetitively. To avoid getting bored or burnt out, you should vary the types and sources of past papers you do. You could also mix and match different sections or questions from different exams to create your own customised practice tests. You should also take breaks between past paper sessions and reward yourself for your efforts. You should also balance your past paper practice with other study activities such as revising your study notes, watching videos, reading articles, or discussing with peers.

Should I memorise my essays?

I would always recommend staying away from memorising, and instead focusing on understanding different paragraph ideas and links. This is because HSC exam questions will often combine multiple concepts together in questions to test if you can truly understand how they are related and how they affect each other. Therefore, if you rely on memorisation, you might end up writing something that is irrelevant, incomplete, or inaccurate. That’s not a good look for your marks! Instead, you should aim to have a clear and flexible understanding of the main ideas and arguments in each topic, and how they connect to the syllabus outcomes and key terms. You should also have a clear understanding of current statistics and trends. This way, you can adapt your paragraphs to any question and show the marker that you know your stuff. Plus, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress from trying to cram everything into your brain. Trust me, it’s not worth it!

How can I manage my time effectively during the exam?

Time management is crucial for doing well in the exam. You don’t want to run out of time or rush through your answers. You should strategically plan for how much time you will spend on each section or question. You should also practice doing exams under timed conditions and stick to your plan. You should also check the clock regularly and adjust your pace accordingly. If you get stuck on a question, don’t spend too much time on it. Move on to the next one and come back to it later if you have time.

How can I get feedback for my past paper answers?

The best way to get feedback for your past paper answers is to ask a teacher. You can also compare your answers with the marking guidelines or sample answers provided by NESA or other sources. Alternatively, join peer/study groups with other students in your cohort and mark each others’ responses. Finally, the Economics program at Project Academy offers unlimited marking and feedback, as well as access to some of NSW’s state-ranking Economics students from the past. If you’re interested in receiving Economics tutoring and comprehensive support, be sure to enquire here.

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