Elena is a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a Business Economics major. She did the IBDP in Indonesia and was a May 2020 graduate. We hope this interview about TOK can help students who are struggling with TOK and can give those scared of starting TOK the reassurance that this course isn’t as hard as it seems.
Question: In general, did you enjoy TOK? What was your favourite part of the course?
Answer: To be honest I didn’t really enjoy my TOK class since my teacher couldn’t really explain the concepts well. As a subject, however, I found TOK to be really interesting. I think my favourite part of the course is the fact that we could explore whatever we wanted to and see how TOK concepts are manifested in that particular situation. I also thought the discussions about TOK were really interesting since it’s really open-ended in comparison to other IB subjects.
Question: Did you often find yourself connecting your subjects and TOK together? Was it helpful in any way?
Answer: Definitely. For example in my TOK essay, I used the 2 AOK’s of the Human Sciences and Natural Sciences. I took Biology and Economics as my subjects in the IB, and I utilised examples within those subjects and connected them to TOK in that essay.
Question: During TOK class, did you participate a lot in TOK discussions? Do you have any tips for students struggling to participate more in those discussions?
Answer: I actually had a really quiet class of about 15 people. A lot of people weren’t really engaged in the TOK discussions, but I thought that when we had discussions, they were quite interesting. For students struggling, try to follow along with the class as much as you can. Even if you don’t really have a concrete point, you should still try to speak up as much as you can to build confidence. As the year progresses, you will definitely get more experience with the subject and can contribute more. Although I at first was scared to speak out, I realised voicing out my opinions on the topic can help the discussion lead to further points, and this can help you get better versed with how TOK works.
Question: How was your experience with the TOK presentation?
Answer: So for the TOK presentation, we picked one RLS (real-life situation) and expanded upon it. Mine was a bit unconventional because it was in the form of a roleplay rather than a standard presentation. My teacher recommended this because it would be easier to showcase different perspectives. To those reading this, however, you should focus on whatever your teacher tells you to do since they’re the ones grading it.
My TOK presentation was about the Flat Earth Theory, and it was quite easy to show the two different sides in the roleplay. I guess my greatest difficulty in the TOK presentation was about the structure of it since my TOK teacher and supervisor said different things on how to structure the presentation. To combat this problem, I just used the Cambridge TOK textbook to help me structure it. I know some people find TOK textbooks useless, but personally I found it quite helpful.
Question: How was your experience with the TOK essay?
Answer: It took me several drafts to get the hang of it. At first, it was really confusing because my teacher didn’t really explain the structure so I had to ask other TOK teachers who were examiners at my school. My biggest tip would definitely be to focus on the prescribed title because I know a lot of people misinterpret it and go off the topic. I really recommend to stay focused on it and make several outlines and drafts of your TOK essay. Actually, I ended up switching prescribed titles midway which was fine since I had a couple months to work on it. If you do end up switching prescribed titles, try not to do it too late so have enough time to work on it. Also, make sure you look at the rubrics for the TOK essay and ensure you have everything in place to score well on your essay.
Question: Now that you’re a university student, do you think TOK has helped you out in university?
Answer: TOK has helped me think of the ways I acquire knowledge in university. For example, I unconsciously group the knowledge I gained in university into categories (like shared knowledge, tacit knowledge, et cetera). Otherwise, I think IB in general really helped me in terms of writing, essay formatting, and citations which are important skills for university.
Question: What is the biggest tip you’d give to incoming IB students scared of TOK?
Answer: First of all, it’s okay to be scared of the TOK. It seems really ambiguous and hard to grasp at first, but my biggest tip would be to try to engage in your TOK class as much as possible. You have so many resources to help you in TOK, whether in school through your teachers or online (like this article from us about the TOK essay). For the TOK assessments (i.e. the exhibition and essay), there are several guides online where they unpack each prescribed title or prompt and that has been really helpful. That being said, try to take these guides with a grain of salt, as these unpacking often confine you to only specific sets of ideas.
I know the first few months of IB can be really confusing; in fact, it took me about a year in IB to get used to it. To give you some reassurance, my grades weren’t really that good at first. However, as I became more acclimated to the IB, my grades ended up improving as I became more proactive in class.
Question: To end this interview out on a funny note, what’s your favourite TOK meme?
Answer: This one!