A Third-Grade Economics Quiz

We have blogged a few times about financial and economic illiteracy in the U.S., particularly among young people.

So it’s nice to see a counterexample.

A blog reader named Christopher Galen has sent us his daughter Grace‘s third-grade economics quiz. Yes, that’s right: a third-grade economics quiz. She goes to a public school in Fairfax County, Virginia.

“She actually did better than I thought she might,” her father writes, “especially the essay question. This is not the gifted-and-talented program; this is standard operating procedure for 8-year-olds in her school. When I saw the study guide that provided the basis for the subsequent test, I have to say I was stunned by what to me (and I’ve had econ in college, plus having read Freakonomics!) seemed like fairly advanced concepts to absorb, e.g. opportunity costs, the differences between goods and services, buyers and consumers, and capital resources vs. natural resources.”

It is interesting that Grace missed the multiple-choice question about opportunity cost (No. 5), but nailed it in the essay. Good work, Grace.


Therisa Rogers

Very good work, Grace! In my classroom, 36/40 is an A, and I also think that your Dad is deservedly proud of you.

Now let's see all of the adult college graduates do as well as you did - I don't think they can.


Wow, good work Grace!! If we can teach these principles early on, the next generation will be well-equipped to deal with their finances!

Jim Farmer

Impressive indeed. I also like the fact that the teacher gave credit for #11 because it was vaguely worded. So many teachers, from kindergarten to college, are too stubborn and egotistical to admit when their wrong.

Jordan B

A big thank you to the teacher/education system that put this together. We should all be encouraging our children to learn more about economics now so they can make better informed decisions later in life. Nice work on the quiz Grace!

Tyler Silver

Wow this quiz looks pretty hard!
Good job Grace!

Nicolas A. Barriga

Only in the US.... She marked down "air conditioning" as "Need" :)


Nice test for a 3rd grader. I have a 3rd grader and I don't thinke she has done much related to econ. I think it just shows that kids can learn anything and when they learn it doesn't really matter. The only caveat is they might need to have some foundation in some areas.

Chris P

There are communities that exist without clothes, therefore clothes are a want.


one thing cought my eye. a child classifying AC as a need. we're all doomed.


@ #6 Nicolas, have you ever spent a summer in DC?

AC is a 'Need' down here. I can promise you that. We even have 'Code Red' days in the summer when the government suggests that elderly and very young children stay indoors because of the poor air quality.

Gracie, I got your back on that one!


"Only in the US.... She marked down "air conditioning" as "Need" :)"

... er ... today in northern Mexico (that's also northern hemisphere) the temperature will get to 28c / 82f and we will not NEED air conditioning ... in April it will start to regularly hit 40c / 104f by July it will stay at 40c / 104f for hours during the day and our flat concrete roof tops will heat up to 70-80c / 158-176f.

Aircon NEEDED! Not only in the USA!


Just out of curiosity, when do the students learn about financial management subjects such as setting and keeping a budget, savings, debt, investing, et alia?


@6: You've never lived in Fairfax County during the summer, I see. Air conditioning is as close to a need as a want can get in NOVA during July!

Christopher Galen

This is Grace's Dad, who submitted the quiz to Freakonomics. Thanks for the kudos; she will be gratified. RE comment #6 about A/C being a need, not want...well, we live in the south, and obviously the growth of the Sun Belt is directly linked to climate control. That's probably a Freakonomics topic for another day.
More to the point, I'm glad she considers a Playstation to be a want...if she had answered N, we'd really be in trouble on a number of levels!


"Only in the US.... She marked down "air conditioning" as "Need" :)"

The test previously refers to "air" as a need. She may not have properly separated "air" from "air conditioning". Or she may just consider it a need as you suggest. The question has some things at the far end of wants and the far end of needs. I can see air condition being somewhere in the middle to an 8 year old.

I think the whole idea of "needs" vs "wants" can be sketchy. Purpose matters.

Katie Cunningham

Funny. I now recall taking a test like this, though it wasn't called ecomonics at the time. It was just wrapped up in our Social Studies unit (at the time, teachers didn't like to 'title' what we were learning for some reason).

Though we're 20 years apart, Grace and I are academic neighbors, though. Fairfax is just 20 minutes from my alma mater :)


Good job, Grace!

And, congratulations to the school's curriculum to include economic literacy. I have to wonder, though, at the test itself: several of the questions are poorly worded, many of the possible answers use the wrong form of the word (eg. 13: both "services" and "basic needs" should have been offered in the singular to match the correct answer and the sentence's structure), and the essay question is a gramatical mess (better would be "give a personal example of some choice you hade to make, and state what your opportunity cost was"; it's still somewhat awkward, but it's grammatically correct).

Whoever wrote the test needs to go back to 3rd grade English.

James Curran

@Nicolas... During heatwaves in Texas, people are told to "stay inside in the air conditioning" to avoid heat stroke, which I think officially makes it a need (ever wonder why the northern half of the country had a population explosion in the 19th secntury, and the southern half in the 20th? Because you could always put on a heavier coat)


Very reassuring. Also depressing that the adult who composed the quiz has such problems with grammar: witness question 7 - none of the answers result in a correct sentence.

tony stella

Air conditioning can be thought of as a need, witness the revolution in the economy of the southern US after the widespread availability of air conditioning. Previously, except for cheap/slave labor, things shut down in the summer months. You cannot accomplish skilled labor in certain climates without air conditioning. Even in the middle east people developed methods of air conditioning thousands of years ago: qanats combined with wind towers.