Academic TOK

How to Write a TOK Essay

For each examination session, IBO releases a set of 6 questions and you will need to write an essay (1600 word limit) answering one of the prompts. It will be marked by an external examiner out of 10 and constitutes ⅔ of your TOK grade. With such a high weightage, it can seem like a daunting task, but in this article, I will cover some of the basics of how you can plan and write your TOK essay. 

The five steps in the process:

  1. Question analysis
  2. Plan
  3. Develop arguments
  4. Find examples
  5. Write

1. Question analysis

To analyse the questions, think about why the examiner would ask such questions and identify the keywords. You can then use your own words to rephrase the questions and explain the keywords in a TOK context. This will help you fully understand the questions and not go off-topic when you begin the actual planning. 

By doing this, you would get a good grasp of all the questions and be able to select the prompt you are most comfortable with. Having selected the question you want to answer, you can think about which AOKs would be most appropriate.

2. Plan

In this step, you want to think about possible answers to the prompt. 

Write about 4 statements that answer the question (these will act as your topic sentences in the actual essay). These “answers” should directly answer the prompt and should include both claims and counterclaims. This will ensure that you have varied perspectives, which is a criterion of the marking scheme. 

Next, you will order these “answers” such that the essay will flow and be coherent (also part of the marking criteria). One common method students take is to tackle claims and counterclaims systematically by AOK, covering one AOK before moving on to the next. However, you can decide the order as you see fit. 

3. Develop arguments

Now you will build your case by explaining what you meant in the topic sentences. Use general ideas in the context of the AOK (not using real-life examples just yet), incorporating TOK concepts that you have learnt such as bias, certainty, reliability, etc. 

While explaining your point, also bring up weaknesses in prior arguments, but be wary not to directly contradict them. If you directly refute an earlier claim, it may seem to the examiner that the earlier argument was not good as you have invalidated it.

4. Find examples

Before writing, you want to find suitable examples for each of your points. Ensure that they are well-researched and fit in well with your points. The originality of examples is not necessary, however, it can be helpful in making the essay a more interesting read.

Check that your examples are succinct as you do not want to waste too many words. It is also good to imagine that this is the first time the marker is seeing your example, so it should still be easily understood. You can ask a friend who has never seen your example to read it. If they are able to understand what you are trying to say without asking further questions, then the example is fulfilling its purpose in the essay.

Something you can do is to use examples that you already know from your own IB journey. This can include your EE, IA experiences, or even content from other academic subjects. Not only will this save you time in researching, but you will also have a full understanding of the examples so it would be easier for you to write about them.

5. Write

Use the question analysis from Step 1 to form your introduction, including a hook if possible and defining keywords. 

Use the topic sentences, arguments, and examples from Steps 2 to 4 to form the body of the TOK essay. 

Conclude by summarising your points and adding in any final thoughts. Link back to the question and introduction if necessary.

Additional tips

  • Formatting: Footnote and reference according to what the IBO or your school stipulates
  • Images: Though not necessary, including images can be helpful in explaining your examples. This is more relevant to certain AOKs like the natural sciences. 
  • Simple language: Use simple English and be clear in explanations—there is no need to be sophisticated.
  • Get to the point: Do not try to impress the examiner with your TOK knowledge by adding complex ideas if you do not understand them. Stick to concepts that you understand and answer the prompt directly.

Finally, start early! You are given quite a long period to write the TOK essay so take time to think about it. Taking breaks when you hit a wall is really helpful in refreshing your brain and allowing you time to reconsider your ideas with a clear mind. Though TOK may seem rather abstract, it can really be very interesting. All the best in your TOK journey!

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