Academic TOK

ToK Essay: How to Choose and Explain Real-Life Examples

Finding the right real-life examples for the TOK essay can be difficult and time-consuming. Searching the web mindlessly often leads to no avail! I will share some of my experiences, both the good and bad, to help you easily find the right examples for your essay.

From the top band of the TOK mark scheme: ‘arguments… effectively supported by specific examples.’ – this shows that examples are an important element in the essay! They show the marker that the claims you make are not just theoretically true, but have real-world applications, allowing you to appreciate the interconnectedness between what you learn and the world we live in.

Real-life examples/situations (RLS) are examples that you can find in the real world to support your claims. Generally, you would be using a few key ideas from the RLS to show how your chosen claim is valid. 

A. Choosing a real-life example

You want to find an RLS which well… exemplifies the point that you are making. Certain key ideas in the RLS need to be relevant and of course, fit in with your point. Avoid having an RLS which only mildly covers your claim, where you end up having to ‘force-fit’ them into your essay.

A.1 Searching the web

When you google: ‘History RLS’, the results you are going to get will be from the many TOK websites out there. Most of them are filled with basic examples, probably not relevant to your point. Similarly, there are many over-used and general real-life examples that you should avoid. What you should do instead is to go back to your point and look for key ideas the example should have. For one of my claims on the AOK (area of knowledge) of History, I already had an idea about the type of RLS that I wanted to include and in my case: one with conflicting historical accounts, in which neither could be rejected. Thus I went to google looking for historical events. It took me quite a while but only once I put ‘various narratives’ into the search engine did I finally get somewhere. 

My advice: have an idea about the key points you need in the RLS, then look for specific types of examples rather than just any RLS in the AOK so that it will be more relevant and applicable to support that claim.

A.2 Using examples from your own academic subjects

You take so many subjects other than TOK in the IBDP, do not let all that knowledge go to waste during TOK. Using things you have learnt from other DP subjects is a quick way to find an RLS. Additionally, using your IA or EE experiences as RLSs is possible. Personally, I used the uncertainty results in my Physics IA and Schrodinger’s atomic model (from the HL Physics syllabus) to explain my points. I saved time researching and found it easy to incorporate them into the essay since I already had a good understanding of these RLSs.

My advice: look through your academic work, to see if there are any RLSs you can use for your arguments. Using your own projects as RLSs can even add an element of originality to your essay!

B. Explaining your real-life examples

Firstly, ensure that you fully understand your RLS. Do not choose an RLS that is too complicated and make sure ample research is done. You do not want to be in a situation where you selectively bring in points and ignore others. Very rarely, the worst-case-scenario would be that your examiner is well versed with your topic, and manages to point out flaws in your arguments. 

Next, give a brief overview of the RLS. 1 or 2 sentences would suffice to prevent you from wasting words. Get a friend who has not heard about your RLS to read it. If they can understand the gist of it without being confused, you have done a good job. Adding images can also aid in the marker’s understanding of the RLS. I included an image of Schrodinger’s model to give a visual of the density cloud of electrons. It was difficult to explain this in words, so a visual worked well for me.

After this, link key ideas in your RLS to TOK concepts and your claim. Your RLS should be evidence supporting your claim. It should help the examiner understand that your claim is credible and supported.

Final advice: Keep a log of all the used sources and the dates that you have accessed them in a separate document. Personally, I added an additional column with a brief summary of the points I was using from each source. As such, while doing references, I would know where I had used a source and have all the information necessary.

I hope that you have a better idea about how to search and explain appropriate real-life examples in your essay. It may not be easy finding RLSs, but it’s okay! All students go through it! Just take your time finding examples that are most appropriate and interesting to you!


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