H3 Game Theory & Competition: a Strategic Preview

By Valerie Tang (13S06F)

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.

For Year 5 students who have done well in their Promotional Exams and are keen to further their knowledge beyond the H2 syllabus, the H3 programmes offer a wonderful opportunity for them to widen their horizons. However, with plenty of H3 subjects being available, one can feel overwhelmed when making a choice.

One particular option that has caught a lot of interest amongst students is the Economics H3 subject of Game Theory and Competition. With 60 candidates from RI in 2011, it is the second most popular H3 subject in RI.

This course is taught by Professor Winston T.H. Koh from Singapore Management University (SMU). As its name suggests, the course covers the basic concepts of game theory and how these principles can be applied to market competition and other economic areas.

During a briefing session at SMU on 10 October, Professor Koh went through what students will learn. He introduced first-player-win and second-player-win games, which are two-player turn-based games in which the respective players can force a win if they play perfectly (that is, if they understand the strategy and make no mistakes). At the end of his demonstration, he jokingly suggested that we can play these games with our cousins to ensure our victory (before they realise the trick, at least).

At first glance, it sounds as if the course teaches students how to be strategic masterminds. According to Tan Teck Wei (12A01B), one of the students who took the course this year, game theory is very applicable to daily life. “If you end up working at a firm one day, game theory could provide an understanding as to how your competitors might act and whether lowering prices can deter new competition,” he said.

But that is not all. He explains that game theory may also, in fact, be useful in sports as one can “calculate where players should put their penalty kicks or throw their pitches based entirely on empirical data”.

So, is this course for you?

How do I know if the workload will be too heavy for me?

This is the most common concern students have about taking H3 subjects. In Teck Wei’s experience, the workload is “manageable with hard work” and “the course textbook provides you with all the information needed to cover all the bases even if you miss a lecture or two.”

Fortunately, you may not need to worry about missing lectures too much. There are lectures on three days students can sign up for: Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays. This arrangement is flexible so if you are unable to attend your Friday lecture, you can go for the Saturday lesson instead (as long as it does not become a habit, of course).

Another thing to take note of is that the final examination takes place quite early (this year’s was in June) and this can be seen as either a good or bad thing. On the upside, you will not need to worry about your H3 when the A Levels looms near. Conversely, the course can get fast-paced if you are unable to manage it.

One way to ascertain whether you will be able to cope with this is to think about all your schoolwork, CCA duties and other obligations in a regular week and imagine adding another subject to the mix. Also, if you know that you will be busy preparing for sports competitions or the Singapore Youth Festival next year, you may want to consider these commitments as well especially since the final examination takes place earlier in the year.

How interesting will this course be? Is the teacher going to be engaging?

If you find game theory interesting in itself, you should not have a problem with this.

As Teck Wei puts it, “If you’re genuinely interested in what it is you’re studying, absorbing all the new information and concepts becomes quite fascinating… because there are so many real-world applications integrated in the way we study [game theory], it becomes a lot easier to relate [to].”

Also, the teacher for the course seems like a colourful figure. “Professor Koh is an interesting lecturer, quite humorous, and definitely an interesting person to listen to in class.” Teck Wei said when asked about his H3 teacher.

How do I know if I’m good enough at Economics for this?

This is the general rule of thumb:

  1. If you do not offer H2 Economics in the first place, do not even think about it.
  2. If you have been continuously struggling in all or most of your subjects, you should be focusing on your H2 studies instead of applying for H3.
  3. If you have been continuously struggling in Economics, you may want to consider taking a H3 in another subject if any at all.
  4. If you declare your intention to apply for this H3 and your Economics tutor has no objections, you are probably fine.

However, strictly speaking, if you’re absolutely clueless about “Firms and How They Operate”, you may want to consider applying for another H3 Economics subject since Game Theory and Competition builds on this chapter.

Fortunately, you do not have to be scoring consistent As for H2 Economics in order to do well in game theory because it is “sufficiently distinct from the H2 syllabus”.

“[Game theory] has its own terminology, basic theories, and applications, and as such, can be considered almost a field of study in itself,” Teck Wei explained.

Is it true that game theory involves a lot of Mathematics? What if I’m bad with numbers?

You will be taught mathematical formulas and will have to use concepts such as Integration for game theory. So yes, numbers are involved, but unless you have been consistently failing your Mathematics exams, you shouldn’t be too worried.

Professor Koh suggested that if you did well in your O Level Additional Mathematics, you should be fine. He even had students who did not take H2 Mathematics in his course before.

Teck Wei gives an additional assurance. “One needs a functionary base of mathematics – algebra, some calculus, ensuring [that] you are not number-phobic. The skills themselves are fairly straightforward – manipulation of algebraic symbols or using a calculator. Most of it is not hard-core math or memorising complex formula.”

What is the assessment in the course like? Is project work involved?

Your class participation, mid-term exam results and final exam results will be taken into account for your final grade.

While the university version of this subject includes project work, you will not be doing this at the H3H3 level. According to Professor Koh, this is because students in the course come from different junior colleges.  Hence, there will be difficulties in coordinating any form of coursework.

How well do students usually do in this course?

Professor Koh revealed that quite a few students are able to get Distinctions and a large number will achieve Merits. Of course, like any other subject, there will be people who just Pass or do badly.

In 2011, 38.3% of RI’s candidates scored a Distinction.

Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, your success is determined by your own effort.

“It comes down to putting in the graft, as always, to get that grade you want.” Teck Wei says.

Will I be able to use the predicted grade for this H3 in my scholarship applications?

Professor Koh told us that the answer is an unfortunate no.

The problem is that the final exam takes place early in the year so by the time you start asking Professor Koh for predicted grades, he will already know your actual results. As it is impossible to foretell the outcome of something that has already happened, you will not be able get your predicted grades.

Also, because of MOE’s policies, you will be unable to access your actual grades until the release of the A Level results. Hence, you will have to rely on your other subjects for scholarship applications.

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All in all, as long as manageability is not an issue, H3 Game Theory and Competition appears to be enjoyable for students. “Game theory is generally an open ended tool,” says Teck Wei, “and if you think there’s a way you can use it in the real world, you probably are right!”

3 thoughts on “H3 Game Theory & Competition: a Strategic Preview”

  1. i wish someone had written something similar to this during my time. maybe it’s just me but i absolutely detested the course. the lecturer was really monotonous most of the time and there were times when i was completely lost. thank god for the textbook though. it’s an absolute lifesaver. i think the biggest disparity between game theory h3 and h2 is that not everything is spelt out clearly. there really is no clear indication what is going to be tested or not and you dont really know what the lecturer is looking out for in answers. and trust me the differentiation we had to do was pretty tough. oh well.

    1. Agreed. Ambiguity is a pretty big problem.

      The content is manageable enough as long as you have good logic/reasoning skills. While the prof said Math wasn’t really a prerequisite, having a strong Math foundation is definitely beneficial. (I mean, in a class full of smart people, do you really want to have any weaknesses?)

      The only practice you can get is from the textbook practice questions and past year papers. Prof Koh doesn’t believe in giving “model” answers; the textbook has answers but there is no general structure or pointers for content one can follow when answering questions.

      For regular, multi-part diagram/example-oriented questions, this is not a problem. But when there’s a 30 mark essay in a 100 mark test, I didn’t have any idea as to what they wanted. The length/content/structure of the essay was totally left up to the student so there was no indication of whether I’d actually done the essay properly or not.

  2. I studied at the last minute (the day before) and got a Dist. Seems like you only need a bit of creativity when solving problems. Anyway, no one ever speaks up so class participation is not really impt.

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