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Many important economic concepts—for example, deadweight losses, market surplus measures, and concepts preceded by the word “total”—are graphically depicted as areas. Although many students can identify areas like total surplus appropriately in simple circumstances such as when a market is in equilibrium, many struggle to do so when the circumstances are even slightly more complex, such as when a market is not in equilibrium. The reason may be that many students do not understand how these areas are graphically derived. In this commentary, I discuss simple adjustments instructors can make to emphasize the economic meaning of vertical distances and of their summation over quantities so that students can better identify graphical representations of economic concepts even in more complex circumstances.


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