Academic TOK

Overview: TOK Essay

Warning: The TOK syllabus is changing! If you are taking IB exams in 2022 or later, you will do a 'TOK Exhibition', a different internal assessment to the TOK Presentation.

The Theory of Knowledge Essay revolves around one of 6 Prescribed Titles given by the IBO. It has a 1,600 word limit and is marked out of 10. All essays are marked by external examiners, and it accounts for ⅔ of your final TOK grade.

The essay requires the completion of the TOK – Planning and Progress Form (TKPPF). The TKPPF will not be marked, but is mandatory for you to complete it. It consists of 3 rows to log in your first, second, and third interaction with your TOK teacher. You will input reflections and comments, to be submitted alongside your final essay.

Important Terms to Address in a TOK Essay

Knowledge Question (KQ)
  • The KQ will be the main focus of your essay, introduced at the beginning. An example would be, “To what extent is the development of present knowledge wholly dependent on past knowledge?” Ideally, the KQ would incorporate the main focus of your title, and it’s best to leave the question open-ended so as to better define your conclusion later in the essay. (Tip: Be especially careful in directing the flow of your essay so it best matches your prescribed title for highest potential marks!)
  • An assertion that you make to answer your KQ.
Counter claim
  • A separate assertion you make to introduce a different perspective to your claim (Personal Tip: Many students confuse the counterclaim as the binary opposite of the claim. While that may be true in some cases, some teachers recommend simply providing an alternate view using alternate justifications)
  • Your body paragraphs will be made up of developments, which incorporates 2 chosen AOKs. Usually, the essay follows the general structure of:
  • Introduction → AOK1 Claim → AOK1 Counterclaim → AOK2 Claim → AOK2 Counterclaim → Conclusion
  • Structuring your paragraphs may also follow this general logical structure:
  • Key Point (Claim/Counterclaim) → Example (RLS) → Explanation
Real Life Situation (RLS) and Personal Engagement
  • To support each claim/counterclaim, you would need real-life situations (RLS) to develop/support them. Typically, the student takes an RLS from the chosen AOK for that development. For example, a student may claim, “The construction of present knowledge is dependent on the foundation of past knowledge in biology”, using the AOK of natural sciences. An RLS that may be applicable to this development would be the Singer-Nicolson Fluid Mosaic Model (describing the phospholipid bilayer of our cell membranes) that corrected the flaws of the preceding Davson-Danielli model. 
  • To get the higher marks, many teachers recommend incorporating your personal experiences to further justify your developments. Examples would include your assignments as an IB student, your personal experience at home, etc.
Ways of Knowing (WOKs)
  • The WOKs also have to be integrated in your essay as another essential TOK framework. They serve as guiding points to dissect your knowledge question and construct a good essay. Many teachers recommend picking 2-3 WOKs to use in supporting your developments.
Defining the Terms
  • It is also important to clearly define the terminology in your essay, especially terms in the PT. Some words in the PT can have multiple meanings, therefore it is important to define the terms you are using to ensure that the examiner is on the same page as you are. 
Implications and Significance
  • Typically written in the conclusion
  • Answers the question, “Why is it important to know this?”
  • You could also introduce a limitation (i.e. How could you have approached the PT differently? What more is there to explore?)

Overall Tips

Though some TOK concepts may seem quite abstract, you need to communicate your ideas clearly to the examiner. Thus, it is important to plan in detail and regularly consult with your teacher. The Extended Essay is usually externally marked, so I found it really beneficial to look at past sample essays that had high scores (typically 8/10 and above). However, most TOK essays are different due to varying RLSs, AOKs, and writing style, thus a sample essay may not reflect the ideal essay according to your prescribed title. Good luck! 🙂

Here is my overview of Theory of Knowledge.

Here’s my overview of the TOK Presentation.

1 comment

  1. hello! im a may 2022 candidate, and i was wondering whether tok reflections are mandatory. my teachers havent explained anything about them and i cant find information online. i already have the essay done and im scared i wont get the diploma just because we werent told about them. thanks!

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