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How to review for econ / stats / calculus placement tests.


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ETA: It wouldn't let me post with tons of links, but I've tried to be super clear about names so you can find through Google. Sorry about that!


Hello my anxious brethren — I don't mean to stress anyone more by talking about calculus while we're all also chewing our nails down waiting for decisions / funding / life things to sort themselves. But, I haven't been in school for five years, so focusing on content review has been calming for me. I thought I'd share what I've found effective (especially since I went through many useless resources first).


Justification: Some of the programs I applied to offer placement tests in microecon, statistics, and calculus (although, Michigan's Ford School is the only one I remember requiring straight-up calculus... Is this common? Maybe ignore the calc bit then if you're not interested in the Ford School). 


Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting or advocating that anyone should learn any content before starting school. That would be silly. I don't believe anyone is at a disadvantage if they take all of these courses as part of their MPP/MPA. In many cases, it might even be smart to take all of these courses again b/c the versions taught in policy school will include PP-relevant content that wouldn't have been covered in an undergrad class in the same area. That said, if you do want to review, maybe even as a way to see if you want to take a placement test, this is what I've found helpful. 


  • Microeconomics
    • MIT's Open Courseware has a bunch of micrecon choices, but "14.01 SC Principles of Microeconomics" from Fall 2011 is tops and includes video lectures (that you can also find through iTunes). Also, not gonna lie, the professor for this one is extremely handsome (and I say this as a not-straight lady)! He's also a genuinely good lecturer.
    • Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy - http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/economics/14-03-microeconomic-theory-and-public-policy-fall-2010/lecture-notes/ This one is slightly more advanced, but I personally found reading the notes (no videos here, alas) more useful than the above. I'd feel much more comfortable placing out of a micro class in an MPP program if I understood this content — not just like "this is a demand curve" — since even an intro econ course in an MPP program will include policy-relevant content.
  • Statistics
    • I found a couple of university courses with videos, but, after sitting through many painful minutes from each, I can't recommend any of them. Instead, I'd recommend CMU's Open Learning Initiative course in statistics if you want hardcore review from the beginning: https://oli.cmu.edu/learn-with-oli/see-our-free-open-courses/
    • If you're independently wealthy with $150 just itching to be spent, this textbook seemed to show up a lot in syllabi across several MPP programs: Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences by Agresti and Finlay (fourth edition). I haven't read it, so I can't speak for whether it's any good. 
    • I actually didn't find anything really useful for stats review -- stuff was either "this is a distribution," which is way too basic for my needs, or it was very high level, applied stats stuff for other disciplines that isn't useful for PP. 
  • Econometrics
    • Many months ago I found a used copy of Peter Kennedy's A Guide to Econometrics fourth edition (it's currently on the sixth) for $5 at a used-book store. It was the best $5 I ever spent, and I'm sure the sixth edition is even more awesome. It's a plain-language (which is to say, not equations; this does not mean "easy," unfortunately) explanation of the intuition behind much of econometrics. 
    • Mostly Harmless Econometrics (new on amazon.com for $24, so not cheap) was, when I initially bought it a year ago, way above my head. But if you're good with statistics, this was an awesome in-depth dive into econometrics in a way relevant to actual research. In my job I've read a bunch of research where the policy takeaway is much less convincing once you understand how shady their methods were, so it's good to learn methods in an applied way, even if you don't want to carry out research yourself.
  • Calculus
    • At first I tried going through my old Calc 3 textbook from college. Yikes, don't do that! Fairly certain vectors in 3D are not going to be a part of many PP curricula (unless you want to do linear-algebra-based econometrics, in which case, you're so far ahead of the curve that I should be getting your advice, not the other way 'round). 
    • Instead, I'm using Calculus: An Intuitive and Physical Approach by Morris Kline — it's from 1977, and published by Dover (meaning CHEAP). But man, is it awesome. It doesn't explicitly prove limits; actually, it doesn't formally prove much, but hey, you're not going for a Master's in math, so you don't need that anyway.  I highly recommend this book if you remember how to do the Chain Rule and such, but forget the intuition behind it. 
    • MIT's Open Courseware has tons of calc options — I watched some of the lectures from "18.01 Single Variable Calculus" as taught in Fall 2006 for areas I felt weakest in, and it was a nice refresher. 

Alright, that's a lot of stuff. I hope some of it can be useful to you all! Please feel free to PM me if you have questions.


Question for you now: If anyone knows of good resources for learning advanced Excel (e.g. VBA, array functions other than regression), please do share them! 

Edited by MollyB
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