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Guide to the TOK Essay
- What is Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?
- What is the Theory of Knowledge Essay?
How is the Theory of Knowledge Essay Scored?
How to structure your theory of knowledge essay.
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB/IBDP) is a rigorous and rewarding internationally based educational program that offers courses in numerous studies, from humanities to chemistry. Students take part in a two-year curriculum that includes external examinations, internal assessments, research papers and community service hours. Essentially, students will have to do a bit of everything, especially with IB’s core, which is CAS, TOK, and the extended essay (EE). Understanding how TOK, IB’s flagship class, is assessed with its essay is important to success in the course overall.
What is Theory Of Knowledge (TOK)?
Theory of Knowledge is IB’s way of introducing a more intuitive way of thinking into classrooms. TOK is at its surface as simple as it sounds: you essentially learn the “what” and “why” of how we learn and understand knowledge. In order to assess students of their skills in TOK, IB uses an essay and a presentation. The essay makes up 67% of your total TOK score, making it the most important task to focus on for getting a high score.
What is the Theory Of Knowledge Essay?
The TOK essay is a 1600 word essay written about topics usually given to students from their teachers from a list of numerous options. It is an essay that promotes arguments and counterarguments for the topic at hand. Understanding your ways of knowing (WOKs) and areas of knowledge (AOKs) is extremely crucial before you even start choosing a topic to write on, as your essay will revolve around and structure itself based on these two concepts. Being able to demonstrate higher-level thinking and using examples to solidify the points you make in your essay is also important. Additionally, you’ll need to reference every source of information that you use, since that is something examiners look for as well.
As said earlier, 67% of your grade is from the essay, and your overall TOK score receives a letter grade using a calculated score out of thirty. Your essay score and presentation score are each out of ten. The grades for your TOK presentation and essay are determined by sending material to the board of IB, from which they designate a grader/examiner to read your essay and grade based on a rubric that determines the level of knowledge you exhibit in your writing.
The following formula should better explain how to find your TOK grade.
(presentation score) + (essay score * 2) = overall score out of 30
The grade boundaries out of 30 that determine your letter grade can vary each year so checking in with your school for the most recent ones is the best course of action, but an example set would be like this:
Once you have a letter grade for IB, your extended essay, which is another part of the core, is also included into a larger grading schema to calculate your core score, which is three additional points required to complete and earn the diploma. The following table details this grade further:
Doing well in the core is important to passing IB and getting three points out of the total 45 attainable points.
There’s a trick that most IB students use in writing the TOK essay, and it boils down to understanding four key components of learning:
- Content : Understanding knowledge issues
- Clarity : Structuring your essay in a legible and clear/easy to read manner
- Creativity : Using your personal ways of thinking and applications of knowledge specific to your understanding of the knowledge issue
- Critical Thinking : Using a counter argument for every argument you have to analyze your own claims constantly
Dividing your actual essay into three main chunks helps, starting with an introduction. Your introduction should be where you state your knowledge question, the central point of your essay, and you should make use of jargon specific to the concept. As the basis of your essay, the introduction should be where you form claims and counterclaims that either support or challenge the knowledge question through heavy analysis and evaluation.
The body of the essay follows the introduction, and it is where most of the conceptual analysis of your knowledge question takes place. Every argument and its counterargument should have a dedicated paragraph of its own, and make sure to not jump back and forth too much throughout the essay. to avoid creating messy transitions for the reader and potentially harming your score. Understanding the essay from the reader’s point of view is important, as it will help you better understand how to structure the body of your essay.
A conclusion in the TOK essay is mainly for finding closure among the numerous arguments that have been taking place thus far in the essay. Make sure to summarize but not repeat previous information entirely to refresh the reader. A conclusion should essentially loop back to the beginning of the essay, the knowledge question. The knowledge question’s answer should be the conclusion and the stopping point of the essay, and by now the answer you provide should be backed by paragraphs of supporting claims and counterclaims. If done right, concluding the essay can be how you earn most of your points.
Starting early is an obvious and effective advantage to students. Aside from TOK, let alone the presentation, IB has substantial work that requires focus and allocated time dedicated to it, such as external examinations and the extended essay. These tasks are equally as important as the TOK essay, so starting your outlining, drafting or even just planning early will set you up for success.
Send Your Drafts to Your Teacher
Your TOK teacher is a great resource for drafting essays and making edits to perfect your final product. Making use of time outside of the classroom to catch your teacher for a quick review of your essay could be a bigger advantage than you realize. Making use of an outside perspective is essential to forming a great essay.
While your final IB grade isn’t as important as you’d think regarding college admissions, understanding how to pass TOK and using the lifelong practices you’ll learn in the class is even more important. TOK creates students who think outside conventional methods, making them excellent candidates in the eyes of college admissions offices. Taking TOK and showing proof of understanding it as well as capability of academic rigor is what colleges are looking for. For more information on how your chances of college admissions might look, use CollegeVine’s admissions calculator !
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
Theory of knowledge
Theory of knowledge (TOK) is assessed through an exhibition and a 1,600 word essay.
It asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.
TOK is part of the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) core, and is mandatory for all students.
Learn more about theory of knowledge . You can also find examples of TOK essay titles and read about how the IB sets deadlines for TOK .
You may also be interested in the other components of the DP core: creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay .
Learn more about TOK in a DP workshop for teachers .
DP subject briefs
Find out about what each subject offers within the Diploma Programme (DP).
Our DP subject briefs—for both standard and higher level—contain information about core requirements, aims and assessment.
- Explore the DP subject briefs
TOK essay rubric
TOK Home > TOK essay guidance > TOK essay rubric
The TOK essay rubric
After understanding the of the basics of the essay, your next step is to grasp how it is evaluated and marked, which is outlined in the ‘assessment instrument’. Your TOK teacher will give you a copy of this, or you can find it online in the 2022 TOK Guide.
Check out our short video explainer for the TOK essay; you can find more explainers about other aspects of the course in our TOK explainer playlist .
The TOK essay assessment strands
The overall assessment objective of the TOK essay is to answer the prescribed essay title in a clear, coherent, and critical way. In order to do this, the assessment ‘instrument’ looks for five different skills that you are expected to demonstrate in your essay.
1. Making links to TOK
The discussion within your TOK essay should be linked very effectively to the areas of knowledge . Typically, TOK essays expect you to discuss two AOKs, which will provide you with the context to explore and answer the prescribed title you’ve chosen.
2. Understanding perspectives
Your TOK essay should show a clear awareness of different points of view, and should offer an evaluation of them. This means considering how different perspective might approach the question in different ways.
3. Offering an effective argument
The arguments within your TOK essay are clear and coherent, and are supported by strong examples. This means expressing your opinions clearly, and supporting them with original and meaningful real-life situations.
4. Keeping discussions relevant
Your essay’s discussions should offer a ‘sustained focus’ on the title. This means that you should be able to pick out any section of your essay, and be able to identify what question it is answering.
5. Considering implications
Your essay needs to not just present and evaluate arguments, it also needs to say why these arguments are significant, and what their implications are.
TOK essay pages
Learn about how the essay is marked, and the skills you are expected to demonstrate in order to succeed. Read more here .
Choosing your TOK essay title
Find out how to evaluate the six prescribed essay titles, and decide on which one will work best for you. Read more here .
The three TOK essay interactions
Learn about the three interactions with your TOK teacher, and what you should be discussing in each one. Read more here .
Writing your TOK essay
Gain a few tips on how to structure your TOK essay, how to articulate your ideas, and ways to justify your claims. Read more here .
Find out about how to fill in the essay PPF, and why this is an important indication of your engagement with TOK. Read more here .
More support for the TOK essay
Make sure that your TOK teacher has given you access to all the documents and online material that support the essay. These include the TOK Subject Guide, the TOK essay rubric, and exemplar TOK essays (found in ‘MyIB’, which is accessible to teachers). Make sure you go through our other pages on writing the TOK essay. You’ll find help on understanding what the is looking for, that works for you, what each of the should focus on, how to an effective TOK essay, and how to fill in your . If your school is a member of theoryofknowledge.net, we have designed a series of lessons on the essay, with two formative assessment tasks. These will familiarize you with the essay rubric, knowledge questions, real-life situations, how to deal with perspectives and implications, and structuring an essay. If you are signed into the site, you can access these lessons here . You can also find out our thoughts on the TOK essay (and the TOK exhibition) in several webinars that we have delivered. The main one is the TOK Assessment 2022 webinar, but we also consider this form of assessment in our free webinars on the 2022 course. You can see these webinars on this page of the site.
FAQs about the TOK essay
How is the tok essay marked.
Your essay is submitted to the IB, and is externally marked by examiners. We discuss the marking rubric (or ‘assessment instrument’) on.
What role do ‘knowledge questions’ play in the TOK essay?
Knowledge questions (KQs) are at the heart of TOK, and you’ll explore them throughout the course. In terms of the essay, the questions you consider about knowledge should all come from the title, and you are not expected to identify any separate KQs.
Where can I view the complete TOK essay rubric?
You can read the whole rubric in the TOK subject guide, on page 48. Your TOK teacher will give you a copy of this.
What makes a TOK essay ‘very good’?
The rubric identifies four key characteristics of a very good (ie 9/10 out of 10) essay. These are: accomplished, lucid, insightful, and convincing. The formative assessment tasks you do for the essay will help you understand what these means.
How to write a TOK essay: webinar
This 80-minute webinar video and presentation gives you a clear, engaging, step-by-step guide to the task, helping you to understand the assessment rubric, choose the right PT, and produce an essay that hits all the assessment targets.
The video is supported by a presentation, and a Q&A debrief answering some of the most common questions asked about writing a TOK essay. Purchase your ticket here .
Get real with TOK by subscribing to the newsletter
Step into the real and unpackaged world by subscribing to our unique monthly TOK newsletter. You’ll receive links to great media sources from all over the world that place the TOK themes and areas of knowledge into an authentic context.
You’ll meet great thinkers and ideas, hone your understanding of key TOK concepts, and build up a library of examples for the essay and exhibition. Subscribe HERE !