How To Handle IB Theory Of Knowledge (TOK) Essay: Ultimate Guide

theory of knowledge essay writing tips

IB (International Baccalaureate) requires students in the Diploma program to complete among other courses, Theory of Knowledge. This course is mandatory.

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TOK has two deliverables:

  1. TOK Exhibition which carries 33% of the entire TOK score, and
  2. TOK Essay which carries 67% of the score.

The latter is the special discussion for this blog, where you will get to know:

  • Basic instructions for the Essay
  • Topics covered 
  • Procedures of completing the essay
  • Sample TOK Essay prompts (questions)
  • Expert tips to ace the Essay

Let’s begin by understanding the idea and objectives of Theory of Knowledge.

It’s okay to skip this section if you already know much about this subject.

What is Theory of Knowledge and why is it important?

The idea of the IB Diploma program is to prepare students for higher education; by introducing concepts in advance, and aligning specialties to your preferred major in university.

At the helm of IB studies is the Theory of Knowledge, a 100-hrs course that defines and explains thought processes, knowledge acquisition, and spheres of information.

Thus, the following are the objectives of TOK from a student’s perspective:

  • Usher the student into the world of philosophy – TOK is sometimes used interchangeably with philosophy of knowledge (epistemology). You get introduced to philosophy starting from the field of knowledge.
  • Give education more meaning – you get to understand the processes of knowledge acquisition, and get to appreciate the importance of knowledge in the world.
  • Instill critical thinking – theories and themes covered in TOK are thought-provoking and healthy for your brain’s development.
  • Acquire knowledge acquisition skills – TOK teaches the ways of knowing, which once mastered uplift the student’s learning skills to higher levels.

Schools are meant to make you more informed than other world-dwellers. IB states the TOK’s objective as to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.

Themes/topics covered in Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge is segmented into three themes; Areas of Knowledge, Ways of Knowing, and the Knower.

Areas of Knowledge

These are, in the simplest form, disciplines in which knowledge is based. They are eight:

  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Human Sciences
  • History
  • The Arts
  • Ethics
  • Religious Knowledge Systems
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indeed, these are wide areas of knowledge. In TOK, you do not study the subtopics and details of these disciplines but rather the theories domiciled in these Areas of Knowledge.

Ways of Knowing

The how. You study modes of knowledge acquisition, which are preliminarily unchanged since long. Look at them below:

  • Language
  • Sense Perception
  • Emotion
  • Reason/Logic
  • Imagination
  • Faith
  • Intuition
  • Memory

This is the part which gets more interesting, according to me. The segment also carries the bulk of TOK studies, and even the assessments require comprehensive understanding of the Ways of Knowing.

Knower and Knowledge

These, too, are components of the theory of knowledge that cannot be left out. TOK explores the nature of knowledge affecting its acquisition, and the nature of the knower to inhibit learning.

TOK inculcates a myriad of concepts, including evidence, truth, certainty, justification, interpretation, perspective, objectivity, culture, and many more.

The Essay you write has to cover the three themes of knowledge.

How to write a Theory of Knowledge Essay

Theory of Knowledge has no exams for assessment at the end of the IB Diploma. TOK assessments are done through the Exhibition and Essay. 

The TOK Essay is marginally short – strictly under 1,600 words –  which translates to about 6 pages. This is unlike the Extended Essay which is quite longer. 

Thus, you are expected to keep everything short and to the point. TOK may have somewhat technical terms and you may be tempted to explain too much. Endeavor to exhibit an understanding of TOK concepts without necessarily explaining yourself too much. 

The use of examples and practical illustrations will drive clarity and understandability of your essay. Further, you ought to justify your arguments with practical instances and literary evidence from sources you have widely investigated. Theory of Knowledge assessment is sometimes compared to a legal presentation; the fate of your argument lies ultimately on the amount of evidence you present.

Being an essay like any other, TOK has a specific structure to go by:

  1. Essay Prompt

Normally, IB issues a list of essay prompts from where you select your preferred topic. These (prompts) are just questions to be answered by the essay. 

Examples of TOK Essay prompts

New prompts are issued every year for each class. Consider the past prompts below:

  1. In the production of knowledge, traditions of areas of knowledge offer correctives for ways of knowing.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
  2. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.”
  3. We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.
  4. Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.
  5. How can we know when to trust our emotions in the pursuit of knowledge?” Consider history and one other area of knowledge in your response.
  6. Suspension of disbelief is essential in drama and art, but does it also have a place in the pursuit of knowledge?” Consider the nature and purpose of arts and sciences in your response.

You can practice with the above prompts for your revision but remember they vary from year to year. 

theory of knowledge in class

  1. Introduction/Claim

You already have the essay prompt, but before getting down on your essay, you will first select at least two Areas of Knowledge (AOK). Well, some prompts indicate the provided AOKs, so you get to pick the AOKs only when they are not provided.

Return to the sample essays above, and notice how the instructions vary from requiring you to select both AOKs, IB providing you one AOK, or even all the AOKs.

The introduction basically sets the stage for your argument. Set off from a singular claim. Consider prompt example 2 above, where the claim could be as follows:

Claim: Questions, as tools of inquiry, are intrinsically influenced by the perspectives and biases of those who pose them, challenging the notion of neutrality. This influence is particularly evident in Religious Knowledge Systems and Ethics (Areas of Knowledge), highlighting the role of subjectivity in shaping the questions we ask and the knowledge we seek.

You can also introduce your objects at this stage.

The introduction should not be more than 200 words.

  1. Body

The body section gives justification for the Claim you made in the introduction as a perspective of the essay prompt. Remember, the claim does not have to conform to the prompt, as you have the liberty to disagree.

Your body should be divided into paragraphs, each paragraph explaining a unique idea. Simply come up with a list of ideas you think could be perfect justification. Assign each idea a paragraph, exhausting information as much as possible.

This section is also the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the various concepts in Theory of Knowledge. Explore various knowledge issues to deep lengths, ensuring your ideas are coherent and flow together.

Before the end of your paper, check if you have captured the following in your body;

Knowledge claims – assertions perceived either as scientific facts, ethical values, religious beliefs, or recorded historical events. Knowledge claims bear some degree of justification.

Assumptions – these are conditions, the “givens” that confine your reasoning. Not everything you accept should be primarily a fact. For instance, you may make prior conclusions based on cultural ideology, personal experiences, and geographical locations. These are assumptions that are very personal to your agreement. They would change in a different setting.

Justifications – these are the grounds for accepting a claim or the support for making one. Justification could be done in various ways; reasoning, evidence, memory, expert testimony, and faith. The latter is considered weakest in the order of justification.

Implications – accepting or successfully verifying a claim subsequently translates in approving several other claims. After presenting the claim in the better part of your body, articulate the implications of your line of thought as a result of your justification.

The body should be about 1200 words. You are now left with 200 words which you can throw in right at the next segment, the conclusion.

  1. Conclusion

Your TOK Essay is now drawing to a close. Everything you presented in the body has to be shown but in a summary. Walk the reader/assessor right from the introduction where you stated your knowledge claim, the justifications for the claim, assumptions, and finally implications of your claim and its justification. 

The conclusion should not be more than two paragraphs, as per standard guidelines. 

Theory of Knowledge is arguably one of the most technical subjects in the IB Diploma program. I do not mean to dash your spirits. I am frankly giving you a heads up – you will be required to read extensively. The concepts involved in Theory of Knowledge are complex enough to mess you up when you get down to your essay. However, if you think you need any help we will be there to lend a hand. 


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