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IB TOK Essay Guide (Updated 2020)

Learn how to write an impeccable TOK essay by understanding the fundamental concepts of the subject.

KSHIPRA UNIYAL
11 OCT 2020
ib tok essay

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How to write a TOK Essay? Well to answer that you must familiarise yourself with what a TOK Essay is really about.

Here are the things you will learn after reading this article:

(Feel free to skip to the topic of your interest by clicking on the hyperlink ;))

 

  1. Purpose of TOK 

  2. Assessment of TOK

  3. The GamePlan

  4. Execution of the GamePlan

  5. Planning for TOK essay

  6. Structure of TOK essay

 

Before you start reading this article, Amanda has some awesome TOK tips for you!

 

 

 

Theory of Knowledge is one of the most meta subjects that IB offers. Despite its complexity, TOK helps in providing a base for holistic learning and allows students to have a multidisciplinary experience. 

To understand TOK is to understand the essence of IB; a task which most people consider to be unattainable.

But not for you! Thank your lucky stars which made you land on NailIB. How exactly will NailIB help you, well, to nail International Baccalaureate is something that we will talk about later. For now, let us focus on cracking your TOK essay, shall we?

 

TOK demonstrates the ways in which students can apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility.

 

 

Big words, huh? 

 

 

Now that we know that Theory of Knowledge is something we cannot just slide through, let’s understand how can we conquer this battle all guns blazing.

 

 

1. Purpose of TOK

 

 

TOK essay’s primary objective is to answer the why behind our studies. It makes one aware of the real-life implications of their subjects. The students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions and appreciate the diversity of different perspectives. All in all, it helps the students find their unique perception which is a prerequisite for excelling in IB TOK essay.

 

 

2. Assessment of TOK

 

 

Before we dive into our gameplan, let’s overview the rules of the game.

There are two assessment tasks in the TOK: an essay and a presentation. While a presentation encourages students to explore a real-life situation through the lens of TOK, an essay is written on the basis of the various questions provided by the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

 

  • The presentation is to assess a student’s ability to apply TOK thinking to a real-life situation whereas IB TOK essay is more conceptual.
  • The essay is externally assessed by IB and must be on any one of the prescribed TOK essay titles issued by the IB for each examination session.
  • Word limit of a TOK essay is 1600 words (excludes extended notes, footnotes, bibliography).

 

Now that we have unleashed the game, let’s move ahead towards the gameplan of acing both, your presentation and your essay.

 

 

3. The GamePlan

 

 

One of the fundamental tasks of TOK is to examine different areas of knowledge and find out their similarities and differences.

 

The TOK essay requires the students to investigate two Areas of Knowledge (AOK) and two Ways of Knowing (WOK). AOKs and WOKs are investigated via questions such as:

 

 

1) How do we know what we know? (WOK)

2) What counts as evidence for X? (AOK)

3) How do we judge which is the best model of Y? (WOK)

4) What does theory Z mean in the real world? (AOK + WOK)

 

 

The aforementioned are Knowledge Questions which help combine the Areas of Knowledge and the Ways of Knowing that they are using. This eliminates the superficial way of learning and makes an individual sensitive to the nature of the information. Our acquisition of Knowledge can be broadly divided into Shared Knowledge and Personal Knowledge.

 

 

TOK Basics Snapshot

Shared knowledge: What WE know
It is the product of more than one individual. Although individuals contribute to it, shared knowledge does not solely depend upon the contributions of a particular individual—there are possibilities for others to check and amend individual contributions and add to the body of knowledge that already exists.


Personal knowledge: What I know
It is essentially dependent on the experiences of a particular individual. Also known as procedural knowledge, it is gained through experience, practice and personal involvement and is intimately bound up with the particular local circumstances of the individual such as biography, interests, values, and so on.

 

 

4. Execution of the Gameplan

 

 

The best hack to ace TOK essay is to develop a habit of making connections between the construction of knowledge, its acquisition and its relevance in the real world. 

 

After that one needs to develop an interest in understanding the difference between diversity and cultural perspectives and personal assumptions.

 

One also needs to critically reflect on their own beliefs and assumptions, leading to more thoughtful, responsible and purposeful lives.

 

Yes, this is what you signed up for. It may sound a little intimidating but once you get the hang of it you will be able to see the matrix and understand this beautiful world a little better. 

 

 

5. Planning For TOK Essay

 

 

Understand that to provide the best version of your writing, it will take you more than one or two drafts. First and foremost, you need to pick your essay topic diligently. Try to choose an essay topic that best interests you. The topic should also allow you to explore the Areas of Knowledge towards which you are naturally inclined. Here are a few sample questions:

 

 

a) 'Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.' To what extend do you agree with this statement?

b) With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape their personal knowledge.

c) How can we know if knowledge is produced more through 'Passive Observation' or 'Active-Experiment' within the Human and Natural-sciences under a Mathematical-Perspective?

d) "The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives". Assess the validity of this statement.

 

 

 

Great things take time. It took me more than a couple of weeks to finalize this TOK essay guide. It is completely okay if the first few drafts may not look pleasing or award-winning to you. You will require sharpening your perspective towards the topic each time you polish your draft. Your writing journey from a dull draft to a masterpiece will be a whole process that you will have to be patient with. Have faith in yourself and proceed stepwise.

 

You need to consider the opinions of others who have devoted hours of research and a lifetime of dedicated studying the topic that surrounds your writing. Unravelling the realms of your mind palace is so Sherlock but let’s not deny the fact that at times, Watson is the one whose expertise helps Sherlock through pretty difficult times. I mean even Batman needs a Robin. In support of my awesome sauce examples, the point I am trying to make is that finding support for our claims and counterclaims through research is a good thing.

 

Use real-life examples to support your claims and counterclaims. These examples need to be documented researched examples like studies, experiments, articles, presentations by well-known people, etc. Examples that stem from your diploma subjects are highly encouraged, but those will need to be supported by research as well.   

 

It is suggested that you choose a title, stick to it, tackle it and not be afraid. Do not change your mind unless there is a good reason. Also, try choosing Areas of knowledge that you truly enjoy. You know slaying a known devil is much easier than an unknown one. Allot a TIMELINE to your essay. Start with creating an outline of your essay. This will help you to track your progress and accomplish your goals

 

 

You can use tools like Trello to organize your ideas and plan your TOK essay.

 

TOK Basics Snapshot

Areas of Knowledge (AOKs): TOK distinguishes between eight areas of knowledge. They are mathematics, the natural sciences, the human sciences, the arts, history, ethics, religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems. It is suggested that students study and explore six of these eight.

Ways of knowing (WOKs): TOK identifies eight specific WOKs- language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition, and memory. It is suggested that studying four of these eight in-depth would be appropriate. WOKs underlie the methodology of the areas of knowledge and provide a basis for personal knowledge.

 

 

6. Structure of TOK essay

 

 

Moving ahead, let us discuss the structure of your TOK essay.

 

Your essay will consist of 4 broad segregations:

 

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

 

 

Before breaking down further on the pillars, keep the following in mind:

 

 

  • Please note what the TOK essay title is asking you. (Read it a couple of times. We highly recommend that you brainstorm ideas with your TOK coordinator)
  • Make sure you understand the command term and the question it is asking.
  • What kind of knowledge is being elicited?
  • When choosing your areas of knowledge (AoK) and ways of knowing (WoK) make sure that you are able to draw contrasts and comparisons, that is, you are able to find evidence that supports as well as challenges your claims.
  • Identify key terms in your TOK essay title. Make sure you define them. Your essay will gravitate around them. Key terms/words in your titles are your essay anchors. Your response should be built around them.
  • Your writing skills come in handy while you work on your IB TOK essay. Like any other essay make sure you have proper thesis statements and topic sentences to guide the evaluator through your work.
  • Respect the TOK essay title. Rephrasing the topic is not encouraged. Your main job is to address the title.

 

 

INTRODUCTION


Introduce your topic accurately and state your thesis statement for the essay carefully.  A thesis statement is like a teaser to your entire essay wherein you define your key terms and introduce your interpretation of the question. Make sure that you do not reword the prescribed title in your thesis. Instead, it needs to, as the word says, INTRODUCE your readers to what your essay is about. A strong introduction allows the reader to deduce what knowledge question(s) you are trying to answer.

 

So, in a nutshell:

 

  • Write interesting things about the given TOK essay title.
  • Define key terms
  • Narrow in on the particularly interesting aspect
  • State your thesis statement. This will be your short answer to your given title if you don't know how to write a killer thesis statement check out this blog from SparkNotes.
  • State your Roadmap. This will help the readers in understanding the direction of your essay.

 

BODY

 

The body can be mainly divided into 3 segments. 

 

 

Body (1st Segment):

 

 

  • AoK Claim: Here you investigate your first Area of Knowledge and draw parallels between your AoK and the question. This is done by stating your claim. Claims can be general in nature and need not reference a particular area of knowledge. They help you shape your essay and investigate the question further. 
  • Evidence: Example of a real-life situation, describe thoroughly and accurately, which supports your stated claim. (AoK)
  • Counter-Claim: State your counter-claim: like claims, those can be general and need not reference a particular area of knowledge. Counterclaim helps you show the other side the coin and gives your essay a holistic nature. 
  • Evidence: A referenced real-life situation/example. Describe thoroughly and accurately, show how this supports your counterclaim (AoK ).
  • Don’t forget to weave in your WoKs: You need to take into account the source of your knowledge. Here you can also investigate if your nature of acquiring the knowledge has, in any way, affected it. It is good practice to question if your knowledge would be different had it been acquired through a different source/method
  • Mini-conclusion: Here you analyze your examples in reference to your claims and counterclaims. You must connect to your thesis statement and the prescribed title. How does your proposed argument, in this particular part of the body, connect to the prescribed title and the knowledge questions you are trying to answer?

 

 

Body (2): Follow the above process for your second AOK.

 

 

Body (3):

 

 

  • Use this part of your essay to compare and contrast your varying AoKs. You need to connect them to your thesis and your prescribed title clearly showing how your arguments respond to the PT.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

Your conclusion section will make your essay come together. It is the glue that will make your essay stick together. Herein, you need to

 

 

  • Reiterate your thesis (initial response).
  • Use your mini conclusions to write a final conclusion.
  • Tell the reader what the significance is for knowing what we know in this particular PT.
  • Discuss implications as well.
  • Offer another perspective, how will the perspective of a different person affect the claims/counterclaims you make in the essay?
  • Don’t forget to make the end strong.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

We recommend all the ib students use the citation machine (It's FREE) to organize or generate a bibliography for your TOK essay. Please go through this extensive guide provided by the IB before you start working on your citations.

 

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If you are still struggling heaps with your TOK essay feel free to subscribe to our tok notes bundles or get access to more than 500+ IBDP notes and past papers here.

Nail IB is your virtual companion that helps you hustle through your diploma and provide you with the right resources at the right time. To know more about acing IB, click here.

 

 

I hope this article will become the foundation for figuring out how to write a TOK Essay. 

 

Remember to have faith in yourself.

 

I hope you NAIL your TOK essay!

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Quoting the great Napolean Hill
"Whatever the mind of a man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

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