Everything You Need To Know About The National Economics Challenge (NEC)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student holding her books while smiling for the camera.

Everything You Need To Know About The National Economics Challenge (NEC)

The National Economics Challenge provides high school students with an exciting opportunity to explore economics, covering topics like microeconomics, macroeconomics, and current economic events. This article will answer important questions about the NEC competition: What is it all about? What does it involve? How can you prepare for it? Keep reading to find out!

What is the National Economics Challenge?

The National Economics Challenge (NEC) is a prestigious competition sponsored by the Council for Economic Education. It is the only nationwide economics competition specifically for high school students. 

It assesses your understanding of micro and macroeconomic principles, your understanding of the global economy, and, above all, your ability to apply problem-solving and critical thinking skills to real-world challenges. The nonprofit Council for Economic Education, based in New York, organizes the event.

The Council for Economic Education (CEE) created the National Economics Challenge in 2000 to promote student interest in economics, reinforce classroom instruction, and encourage teamwork and school spirit. In 2019, more than 10,000 high school students from the US and 2,300 from China participated. The National Economics Challenge is one of CEE’s key initiatives to focus public attention on the benefits of economic literacy and the need for a high-quality, standards-based economics curriculum in every state.

This is a major event where you’ll compete with students from all 50 states for a chance to reach the National Finals, which includes an all-expense-paid trip to New York City.

What are the two divisions in the National Economics Challenge?

The CEE organizes the NEC into two divisions based on economic coursework, ensuring you’re matched with students who have a similar level of preparation.

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Teams of three to four high school students can participate in one of the two divisions:

  1. David Ricardo Division: For first-time competitors with a maximum of one course in economics. Students are only allowed to participate in this division once.
  2. Adam Smith Division: Open to returning competitors, as well as AP, IB, and honors students. Participants can compete in this division multiple times.

Who is eligible for the National Economics Challenge?

The competition is open to all high school students and offers two divisions. Teams must consist of 3 to 4 members from the same public or private school, community organization/club, or after-school program, and must register on the NEC website. Each team must be accompanied by a coach affiliated with their school, organization, or program.

This means that students from different schools are eligible to be on the same team if they are all part of one of the groups mentioned. Homeschooled high school students may join teams of any of the groups mentioned as well or may start a team with other home-based high school students in their county.

How Does the National Economic Challenge? Structure and Timeline

The NEC includes two qualifying rounds, culminating in the National Finals for each division. Each round follows a distinct format, as described below:

1. State Level

The state-level challenge takes place during the academic year, and each state develops its own format following the NEC guidelines. It can be held on-site or online. The winning team is awarded the state champion and advances to the next round. For instance, in 2022, the New York challenge had 30 questions, which each team member had to answer individually within 35 minutes. The team’s total score was calculated by combining the top three individual scores.

2. National Semi-Finals (Online)

Each state creates a testing environment for hosting the online national semifinals. This round is a 45-minute multiple-choice exam with three consecutive rounds of 15 questions each, without breaks. The first round focuses on Microeconomics, the second on Macroeconomics, and the third on International Economics and Current Events. Each team member answers individually, and the overall team score is calculated by adding the top three individual scores. This year’s semi-finals took place on the 22nd – 26th of April. 

3. National Finals

The National Finals, which occur about a month after the semifinals, invite the highest-scoring teams to New York for a live competition. This is a free event. The Council for Economic Education covers all accommodation and meal expenses for the participants. This year’s finals will be hosted in New York in on June 1-3, 2024. 

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This stage is divided into two rounds:

  1. The Critical Thinking Round: Your team will present a deep but engaging analysis of a current economic issue to a panel of judges. Teams will present their solutions to a panel of judges, who will score and rank them based on several criteria: completeness of response, economic analysis and insight, background knowledge, and presentation. The top four teams from this round will advance to the next stage. Important note: During the competition, using books, notes, calculators, or other support materials—including the Internet—is prohibited. However, the internet may be used solely for creating a shared presentation for the Critical Thinking Round.
  2. The Quiz Bowl: All teams will start this round with a score of zero, and 22 questions will then be asked. If there is a tie for first place, up to three extra questions will be presented. If the tie remains unresolved, rankings from the Virtual Round will serve as the final tiebreaker. Teams advancing to the Finals Quiz Bowl in each division will receive the rules and format of this final round before arrival. Once a winner is declared, the judge’s decision is final, and no appeals are permitted.

4. International Quiz Bowl Round

The National Champion team from the NEC competes in a bonus round, facing off virtually against international students from China in a quiz bowl identical to the previous round.

Each member, as well as one coach from the top four USA teams of the National Economics Challenge, will receive a medal and certificate of their accomplishment as well as a cash prize corresponding to their team’s rank:

  • 1st place: $1,000
  • 2nd place: $500
  • 3rd place: $250
  • 4th place: $200

Frequently Asked Questions about the National Economic Challenge

1. Is the National Economic Challenge prestigious?

Yes, the National Economics Challenge (NEC) is prestigious. It’s known for its challenging competition that promotes economic literacy and critical thinking among high school students. Sponsored by the Council for Economic Education, it attracts participants from across the country and internationally. Excelling in the NEC showcases strong analytical skills and economic knowledge, which can benefit students academically and professionally.

2. What is the prize money for the National Economics Challenge?

Apart from medals and certificates of accomplishment, all top four teams will receive cash prizes from the Council of Economic Education:

  • 1st place: $1,000
  • 2nd place: $500
  • 3rd place: $250
  • 4th place: $200

3. Is there a limit to the number of teams coaches can register to participate in the Economics Challenge competition?

In most states, coaches may register as many teams as they wish to participate in the Economics Challenge competition. Students, however, may participate on only one team.

Students outside the campus

4. Does it cost money to participate in the National Economics Challenge?

No. There is no financial cost to participate in the National Economics Challenge; this competition is sponsored by the Council for Economic Education.

5. Who advances to the Semi-Finals of the National Economics Challenge?

States will be asked to identify one state champion from the David Ricardo division and the Adam Smith division to participate in the National Semi-Finals. How states determine their champion teams will be largely at their discretion, although champion teams must satisfy National eligibility requirements.

State coordinators will need to submit individual teacher and student registration forms to CEE only for the state champions in each division that advance to the National Semi-Finals.

6. Who advances to the National Economics Challenge Finals?

The top four scoring teams, in each division, of the National Semi-Finals advance to the National Finals.

7. How are exams scored?

Team scores for the multiple-choice section of the Semi-Finals and Finals are determined by the aggregate of the top three individual scores. Scoring on individual tests is as follows: +10 points for each correct response, -5 points for each incorrect response, and 0 points for no response.

8. Can students receive their individual scores?

No. It is not possible for teams to receive their individual scores. Team scores will be given to coaches.

9. In which division should my team compete?

There are two divisions: David Ricardo and Adam Smith.

The David Ricardo division includes teams of students currently or previously enrolled in one general economics course (or less) or courses which include introductory economic concepts (social studies, business, personal finance, etc.). The course must be taught by a secondary school teacher. Students who have never taken an economics course are eligible to compete. Students may only participate in the David Ricardo division one time.

The Adam Smith division includes teams of students, currently or previously, enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP Micro, AP Macro, or AP Micro and Macro), International Baccalaureate (pre-IB and IB), honours, two courses, any other advanced courses in economics (including courses taught by a secondary teacher where students earn college credit), or homeschooled.

The course must be taught by a secondary teacher. Any student who has previously participated in the Economics Challenge must compete in the Adam Smith division. Note, if one or more members of a team qualify for Adam Smith, the entire team must compete in the Adam Smith division. Students may participate in the Adam Smith division multiple times.

10. Do students need to be enrolled in or have taken, an economics course to be eligible to participate in the National Economics Challenge?

No. Current or previous enrollment in an economics course is not a requirement to compete in the National Economics Challenge.

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11. Can students who attend the same virtual school constitute a team?

Yes, as long as students satisfy all other eligibility requirements.

How can you prepare for the National Economic Challenge?

The National Economic Challenge is an intense competition that is celebrated by brilliant students and coaches from all over the country. Every year, the bar is raised higher than the last challenges.

Apart from being intellectually gifted, there is one thing you can do to secure the top place in this competition and that is to prepare. In this section, we provide 5 practical steps on how to prepare for the NEC.

1. Master Economic Fundamentals

Develop a strong understanding of important and timely economic principles in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international economics. This foundation is essential in dealing with various questions. Review textbooks, take detailed notes, and use extra resources like online courses or videos to deepen your understanding. This extensive preparation ensures you can analyze problems quickly and accurately.

2. Practice with Previous Questions

Review the question formats and types by reviewing past tests and quizzes. Practicing helps you spot recurring themes while boosting your speed and accuracy. Simulate exam conditions by timing yourself and working as a team to complete questions, helping you find knowledge gaps and areas that need improvement.

3. Collaborate Strategically

Effective teamwork is key. Assign each member a specific focus area that matches their strengths—for instance, one might excel in microeconomics, another in macroeconomics, and another in international economics. Share notes regularly, quiz each other, and offer constructive feedback to build up the team’s overall performance.

4. Analyze Current Economic Events

Keep up with current economic issues both locally and globally. Read reputable news sources, government reports, and economic analyses to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations. Discuss these events with your team and link them to economic principles, which will deepen your understanding and sharpen your critical thinking.

5. Hone Presentation Skills

The competition often requires presenting economic analyses to a panel. Practice expressing your ideas clearly, organizing data visually, and defending your arguments confidently. Record practice sessions to review and refine your delivery so you’re ready to handle questions from judges or competitors.

Final Thoughts

Economics is one of those subjects that usually fall outside of the high school core academic subject areas (English, math, history, science, and foreign language). It’s typically an elective for most high school students and not necessary to graduate high school.

a group of students being instructed by the teacher

In fact, only 22 states require high school students to take a course in economics. The Council for Economic Education (CEE) is working to change that. The CEE’s mission is to teach students about economics and finance so they can make better decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities. Although many students aren’t learning it in the classroom, the CEE has found a way to teach them economics through their annual National Economics Challenge.

The NEC fills a huge gap in high school students’ educations. Some may think economics is just pie charts and statistics, not needed unless you plan to be an economist. However. the students who participate in this competition know this couldn’t be farther from the truth; they are now armed with valuable real-world tools and skills that will be used throughout their lives.

Economics teaches several important concepts that can be used throughout high school, college, and beyond.

  • Decision-making: The study of economics can be summed up as the study of decision-making and how those decisions have an impact. If a student learns how to make good decisions, they can apply those principles as they face decisions such as where to go to school, or when and how to make a major purchase.
  • Resources and Scarcity: At every level, there are choices to be made about how to use resources, because usually there’s not enough money in our budgets to do everything we want. These are decisions made every day and at every level to try to improve lives with the resources we have.
  • Business Concepts: Business is all around us; we work for businesses and pay them every day for their products and services. Whether we work in business or just use their products, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of these business and financial concepts to make smart decisions.
  • Politics, Policies, and Issues: Economic literacy gives people the tools for understanding how the world works. Economics addresses questions and issues around healthcare, investments, trade, immigration, real estate, business, crime, pollution, welfare, and school reform. Everyone benefits from economic literacy.

AdmissionSight believes in strengthening your application and highlighting your talents and skills, to present the best possible candidate to be accepted to your dream school. Putting yourself out there and taking the step to compete in something like the National Economics Challenge will only benefit you, not only in your personal growth but by showing admissions officers your integrity and initiative.


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