Academic TOK

How to select effective objects for the TOK exhibition?

The TOK exhibition is an internal assessment where you are required to choose three objects that all connect to one of the 35 IA prompts provided by the IB. You will create a written commentary for each one, explaining how it connects to the IA prompt and how the IA prompt manifests in the real world. This is a chance to take what you’ve been learning in TOK and apply it to the real world and your personal interests. For a lot of my classmates and I, choosing our objects was the most difficult part. We didn’t understand what we could use as objects, or what objects would be good to use. In previous years, students were required to create and present a presentation that followed a central knowledge question and a real-life situation. Students graduating in May 2022 and beyond are required to do the exhibition. As a student in the first IB class to do the exhibition, I’m in a unique position to share my experiences, so here are some tips for choosing your objects for the TOK exhibition:

1. Choose objects that fit with your knowledge question

There are 35 different IA prompts to choose from, and you can probably connect any object to at least one of them. However, it is better to select your prompt first and then choose your objects. That way, you have objects that make sense with your prompt. As an example, for the prompt “Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?” you might choose a Native American tapestry and discuss how that style of weaving belongs to that specific tribe. For the prompt “What role does imagination play in producing knowledge about the world?” you would not want to choose an object you cannot directly connect to imagination, like a chair or a tree. It’s good to think outside the box with the TOK exhibition, but don’t make things too hard for yourself. 

2. Choose objects that stay within the same TOK theme

When planning your exhibition, select either the core theme or one of the five optional themes (knowledge and language, technology, politics, religion, or indigenous societies) to base your objects around. You are not required to stay within that theme, but it will help you narrow doesn’t your objects and create an overarching message throughout the exhibition. Within your chosen theme, try to branch out into different areas of knowing (history, the human sciences, the natural sciences, the arts, and mathematics). For example, let’s say I choose knowledge and language as my theme. For my three objects, I could choose a letter written during WWI (history), my copy of Pride and Prejudice (the arts), and a line of binary code (the natural sciences). You can cover a wide range of AOKs while staying within a theme, which allows you to branch out and consider different angles of your prompt.

3. Choose objects that are personal to you and your interests

Remember: the exhibition is all about how TOK manifests in the real world. Make connections to your personal life whenever possible! I used a drawing I made in IB Art as one of my objects, and discussed how my knowledge of drawing techniques and the subject matter allowed me to create the drawing. One of my classmates is a swimmer, and he chose a stopwatch as one of his objects. Another one of my classmates used one of her mother’s kimonos as an object. You’ll be able to do much more in-depth thinking if you choose objects that you’re interested in. Have fun with it!

Here are some things you should not use as objects:

1. Generic objects

Your objects need to be specific and have a particular context in the world. A generic stock image of an apple won’t work. A good rule to use is: if the object can be replaced with another one just like it, it isn’t specific enough. If you want to use a pen as an object, you need to ask yourself why you want to use that particular pen instead of a different one. 

2. Objects that you do not have any interest in or connection to

It’s difficult to be invested in something you aren’t interested in, and you’re going to be spending a lot of time working on your exhibition. The exhibition is a chance to connect TOK concepts directly to your life. Choose something that you will enjoy writing about that makes you want to consider perspectives. 

3. Objects you created specifically for the exhibition

If you want to use one of your own creations as an object, you need to have made it on your own time. If you want to use an essay you wrote for IB English, that’s okay – just as long as you didn’t write it solely to be used in the exhibition. 

4. Objects you cannot properly cite

The IBP places a strong emphasis on academic integrity, and the last thing you want is to improperly cite an object. If information is missing, or you cannot credit the author/creator, consider choosing a different object. If your object is very old and the time period or creator is unclear, there are other ways to cite it. Check out the Owl Purdue website for more information on MLA citations, APA citations, and more. Even if you are using a photo you took or an object you own, you should mention that in your exhibition.

The TOK exhibition doesn’t need to be a source of stress in your life, but you should still take your object selection seriously. It’s the most important part of the exhibition, and it sets you up for success later on. The good news is that it’s the most difficult part – once you select your objects, all you have to do is write your commentary! As long as you follow these tips, you’ll be sure to get a good score. Good luck! 


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