Guide to the National Economics Challenge (NEC)

national economics challenge
The National Economics Challenge is an exciting opportunity for high school students interested in economics, from microeconomics and macroeconomics to current economic events. What is the NEC competition about, what does it entail, how do I prepare for the competition, all these questions will be answered in this article!

What will be covered in the article?

1. What is the National Economics Challenge?

The National Economics Challenge is hosted by the Council for Economic Education, a long-standing organization committed to equipping K-12 students with knowledge and tools of personal finance and economics. National Economics Challenge is the only annual economic competition for high school students. The competition tests students about their knowledge of the world economy, specifically microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international and current events. In 2019, more than 10,000 high school students participated in 45 states nationwide. 

2. How does the NEC competition work? ​
Two Main Divisions

Three to four high school students form a team to participate in either of the two divisions: 

  • David Ricardo: For first-time competitors with no more than one course in economics. Students can only participate in the David Ricardo division only once. 
  • Adam Smith: For returning competitors, AP, IB, and honors students (as well as any returning competitors). Students can compete in this division multiple times. 

For Middle School Students:

  • Milton Friedman: This division is for middle school students offered in some state-level competitions. These students don’t compete beyond the state level and the top teams win state prizes.
Competition Process

The process begins with state-level competitions. Each state sets its own rules for competitions. In 2022, most states are having the challenge virtually due to the continuing pandemic. For example, the 2022 state-level competition in New York consists of 30 questions that must be answered in 35 minutes. Each student works individually. The team composite score is the sum of the top 3 scores on each team. 

The winning team from each state moves onto the National Semi-Finals, which will be held as an online test in 2022. The top eight scoring teams will compete at the National Finals. The finals include critical thinking round and quiz bowl, where students present and answer questions from economists and financial professionals. 

At the National Finals, there are three rounds of competition within each division: Round 1 – Microeconomics, Round 2 – Macroeconomics, and Round 3 – International Economics and Current Events. Each round lasts 20 minutes, with 15 multiple-choice questions. Members will compete individually, and the team score in each round is the sum of the top three individual scores. 

The 4th round is the Critical Thinking Round where students work as a team to develop a solution and analysis to a current economic problem. Students will be judged on: completeness of response, financial analysis and insight, background knowledge, and presentation.

The 5th and final round of the National Finals is the Quiz bowl, where students decide one spokesperson, who will present the team’s answer to the judge’s questions on a sheet of paper. There are a total of 22 questions, with discussion time around 30 seconds each. 


Each state has a different deadline for registration and state final. Please refer to the main website to learn more about the deadline for your state. The National Semifinals is from April 24-28, 2023 and the National Finals is from May 20 to 22, 2023. 


To participate in the competition, students must be currently enrolled in qualifying public high school, private high school, or home-based high school courses at some time during the current academic year.


In the national finals, the winning team receives medals and certificates of accomplishment, as well as cash prizes for each team member: 

1st place: $1,000 

2nd place: $500 

3rd place: $250 

3. How can I study for the contest?

There are various resources for students who want to prepare for the competition:

Study Material by Council for Economic Education

The study material collection created by CEE covers various topics within economics, from microeconomics like how you pay for college to macroeconomics like globalization. The lessons normally last around 30-60 minutes, and there are 42 lessons in total. 

Sample Test

Below are the sample tests provided by CEE to test your skill and knowledge in economics. Even though the test is 10 years old, students can use this test as a foundational test for any knowledge gaps and potential areas of improvement. In addition to the archived test, students can also register an account for practice tests on Ready Assessment

National Economics Challenge Prep

Description: The 30-hour National Economics Challenge preparation course prepares students new to Economics by introducing Micro, Macro, and International Economics theories, concepts, and vocabulary. Teaching methodology includes lectures, assignments, videos, case studies, activities, quizzes, and tests to prepare students for participation in the 2022 NEC David Ricardo Division (DR) entry-level team competition as well as advanced-level high school and undergraduate college-level courses in Economics.

Class schedule: 30 hours total

Introduction to Economics

Description: This course will help students to interpret economic news and economic data profoundly. At the same time, students will learn to form their own insights on economic issues. This course will provide a solid foundation for students who wish to study advanced economics in the future.

Class schedule: 10 classes total, 90 minutes each class

Economic Research

Description: Students will use college-level economic theory and models to analyze the financial impact on the global economy. The economic tutor will provide students with the models and tools necessary to write an economic research paper. The economic research project encourages students to integrate their acquired knowledge of economic theory, phenomenon, data, and policy.

Class schedule: 15 classes total, 90 minutes each class


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