Exeter Economics Club Prevails

The economics team triumphed at the Harvard Pre-Collegiate Economics Competition (HPEC) last week, making it to the quarterfinals and securing a 2nd place overall ranking in the written exam against 30 teams from across the country.

Team members Vivian Chen, Brandon Kaplowitz, Connor Soltas, and Zach Young, had just two weeks to prepare for the match.   They had been planning to participate in the Yale Junior Fed Challenge when it was cancelled in February.   The decision to participate in the HPEC was made in March.

At Harvard, the team completed a 90-minute multiple choice exam, which determined bracket placement for a round-robin that tested macroeconomic and microeconomic problem-solving skills and knowledge of current economic topics. The team buzzed in, answering questions that ranged in nature from the factual (“Who’s the chairman of the U.S. Central Bank”?)  to ones that required more in-depth reasoning, such as finding the price and quantity of a market good given a graph of supply and demand.

Kaplowitz said that participating in the competition helped to further his knowledge of economics. “I’ve always been really interested in economics, and I felt like this competition would be a good way of becoming more knowledgeable about the subject and gaining more mastery over it,” he said.

The team initially faced the challenge of having to adapt to a vastly different testing style. While the Fed Challenge was more research based, and involved the “minutia of monetary policy,” Soltas said, the HPEC followed a quiz-bowl style. Unlike the Fed Challenge, the HPEC focused on “straight theory rather than application,” he said.

Despite being short on time, the team was determined to succeed. Over the course of a week, adviser Giorgio Secondi led an accelerated course in microeconomics, a field unfamiliar to the team members.


On the day of the competition, Kaplowitz said, the team’s dynamic was instrumental to its success.

“Zach would be the one that buzzed in, Connor knew a bunch of facts as well as Zach, and Vivian and I did a lot of the calculation work and theoretical applications. It ended out balancing out really well,” he said.

Secondi agreed, commenting on the way that the group complements each other. “All are superb students with a genuine passion for Economics, but each of them comes at the discipline from a slightly different angle,” he said.

Still, the team found the format challenging. “We did have a lot of pitfalls early on where we would miss an opportunity to buzz in, or we would buzz in and disagree on an answer, but after that round, we improved and were able to work quite efficiently.”

Chen expressed similar sentiments. “We have really strong-voiced people on the team, but in the end, it all worked out as a functional unit,” she said. “I thought we did fairly well despite our loss in the quiz bowl round because we didn’t specifically train for that format. Our general command of economics knowledge was solid.”

The team members appreciated the opportunity to expand the scope of their economics knowledge.

“I enjoyed my macroeconomics class, and since Exeter doesn’t offer really advanced economics courses, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to reach beyond what is taught in Exeter’s economics courses,” Chen said.

Soltas felt similarly. “My takeaway was that Exonians are really good at cramming difficult, theoretical knowledge in a short amount of time,” he said. “It was a fun way to put to use knowledge developed for another purpose.”

Secondi said that he is “not a big fan of competitions,” but still saw the value in competing, just like his students. “I always worry that the focus becomes winning instead of learning, but I realize that the prospect of competing can motivate some students to learn more,” he said. “Ultimately, though, for me, competitions are just another opportunity to learn and have fun.”


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