Fresher's reading list for Economics

The most important preparation you can do is make sure you are fluent in the mathematics and statistics you have learned at school before you arrive. Everything else will be taught with the assumption of little or no prior knowledge. However, a working knowledge of British politics since 1945 is assumed. Students arriving from outside the UK, or even within it, may find it helpful to brush up on this.

Mathematics and Statistics

In terms of mathematics and statistics, the Faculty of Economics has put together some materials for you to work through before you arrive. The College has also put together some additional exercises for you to complete. We will send you these materials by email in early September so please keep an eye out for them, including in your junk folder. You are expected to complete the exercises in these materials before lectures start in October. We will meet early in the term to discuss how you got on with these exercises and discuss any problem areas.

The key topics are:


  • Algebra and number (functions, laws of indices, fractions, re-arranging equations, solving uni- and bi-variate equations, pairs of simultaneous linear equations, quadratic equations, quadratic and linear inequalities, set notation and basic facts, definition of integers/rational numbers/real numbers);
  • Lines and graphs (graphs of linear and quadratic equations, simple coordinate geometry, equation and gradient of a straight line, natural logarithm and exponential functions, absolute value/modulus function, definition of a function, domain and range of function, inverse of function, composite functions, limits and continuity, addition/subtraction/scalar product of vectors);
  • Sequences and series (arithmetic and geometric progressions);
  • Differentiation of univariate functions (differentiating polynomials, 1/x, exponential and natural logarithm functions; geometric interpretation of derivative [gradient of tangent]; rate of change interpretation of derivative; stationary points and their classification [minima/maxima/saddle points]; product, chain and quotient rules);
  • Integration (integrating polynomials, 1/x, f’(x)/f(x), exponential function, f(ax+b); geometric interpretation of integral [area under graph]; definite and indefinite integrals; integrals as antiderivatives [the reverse of differentiation]; integration by parts and by substitution).


  • Sample statistics (definition of a statistic, mean, variance, correlation, etc);
  • Sampling issues;
  • Probability theory (probabilities of events, Venn diagrams, conditional probability, Bayes theorem, probability distributions/densities/mass functions, how to calculate expected value/variance/etc from a probability density/mass function);
  • The normal distribution (how to use the tables, how to standardise, etc);
  • Hypothesis testing (especially the logic behind hypothesis testing).

For the mathematics exercises, you will find ‘Essential Mathematics for Economic Analysis’ [EMEA] by Sydsaeter and Hammond (chapters 1-3) very helpful. This knowledge will be assumed when lectures start. The 5th edition (with Strom and Carvajal) is the most recent, but the 3rd or 4th editions are both just as useful for preparing for the course and the course itself.

Usually, there is no need to purchase course texts in Economics: the College and Faculty libraries have plenty of copies between them and many readings are now online. However, you may wish to make an exception and buy a copy of EMEA so you can work through Chapters 1-3 before you arrive. Used copies of the 3rd and 4th editions are available relatively cheaply online. In any case, the College has a study materials grant scheme: you can claim up to £300 for books and other study materials over the course of your degree. You will be able to claim the cost of the book back once you arrive.

In addition, there are many websites offering free revision materials for A-level (or similar) maths, e.g.

The same is true for A-level (or similar) statistics, e.g. Alternatively, you could consult A-level/equivalent textbooks such as the Edexcel books (Edexcel AS and A level Mathematics Statistics and Mechanics – Year 1 and Year 2). These are relatively inexpensive online, and are also eligible for the study grant scheme. 

British politics

For those wishing to strengthen their knowledge of post-World War 2 British politics, Professor Vernon Bogdanor’s Gresham College lectures on significant general elections since World War 2 are excellent. They give an accessible and easy-to-follow summary of British politics since 1945. These lectures are freely available online, as are the transcripts and slide shows. Note: Gresham College lectures are delivered by leading academics at UK universities and are aimed at members of the general public, rather than undergraduates or academics.

The main course textbook is ‘Governing Britain Since 1945’ by Nigel Knight. There is no need to buy the book: Dr Knight is the course lecturer and his course notes follow the book closely. The Faculty and College libraries have plenty of copies of the book, too.

Core course texts

Other than revising maths and stats and possibly British politics, there is no need to read ahead on or revise anything else. The other courses will be taught assuming little or no prior knowledge. For those who are very keen and wish to read ahead, a selection of the key course texts is below.

Paper 1 - Microeconomics

  • Varian (2010): Intermediate Microeconomics, 8th edition [or 9th edition (2014)].

Paper 2 – Macroeconomics        

  • Mankiw and Taylor (2014): Macroeconomics, European Edition, 2nd                Edition

Paper 3 – Quantitative Methods

  • Sydsaeter and Hammond (2012): Essential Mathematics for Economic Analysis (4th edition), Prentice Hall.

Paper 4 – Political and Sociological Aspects of Economics

  • [UK politics] Knight (2006): Governing Britain Since 1945
  • [Economics as a political subject] Chang (2014): Economics: The User’s Guide, chapter 11
  • [Institutions] Acemoglu and Robinson (2013): Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.

Paper 5 – British Economic History

  • [Industrial Revoluation] Floud, Humphries and Johnson (2014): The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain. Volume 1.
  • [Interwar] Solomou (1996): Themes in Macroeconomic History: the UK Economy 1919‐1939.