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 . 

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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.

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minimum word count for tok essay

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TOK Essay Word Count in 2023

In 2023, one of the significant aspects to consider when writing your Theory of Knowledge essay is the word count. It may seem like a trivial detail, but this element holds great importance and can significantly impact the overall quality of your essay. Staying within the prescribed word limit is crucial for several reasons, so let’s explore why this is a vital requirement.

Firstly, adhering to the recommended word count demonstrates your ability to follow guidelines and showcases your discipline as a writer. This skill is essential not just in TOK essays, but also in academia and professional contexts, where clear communication within specific limitations is highly valued.

Moreover, staying within the word count limit ensures that you effectively convey your ideas and arguments without unnecessary information or rambling. Concise writing allows you to present your thoughts clearly and precisely, enhancing the overall coherence and readability of your essay. It shows you can effectively communicate complex ideas within a confined space.

Another crucial aspect is the fairness and equal opportunity provided to all participants by enforcing a word count limit. If there were no standardized limits, some individuals might write excessively lengthy essays that, due to their sheer volume, could appear more comprehensive or better researched. Limiting essays to an assigned word count ensures that all candidates have an equal chance to showcase their critical thinking abilities without overwhelming or exhausting the reader.

Additionally, word count restrictions necessitate careful thought and planning in terms of the content and structure of your essay . By having to work within a defined limit, you are challenged to prioritize your ideas, select the most compelling arguments, and present them succinctly. This encourages analytical thinking and ensures that only the most relevant and impactful points are included.

In this guide, we will explore strategies to help you manage your TOK essay word count effectively without compromising on the quality or content of your writing. By following these steps, you can expertly navigate within the constraints imposed by the designated word limit and produce a compelling and coherent TOK essay.

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TOK Essay Word Count in 2023

Understand the Requirements

In order to successfully complete your Theory of Knowledge essay, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of the requirements set forth by the International Baccalaureate program. These requirements include the recommended word count, formatting guidelines, and any specific guidelines that may be in place for the year 2023.

The recommended word count for the TOK essay is 1,600 words, with a tolerance of up to 10% above or below that limit (1,400-1,800 words). It is important to note that the word count includes both the main body of the essay and any footnotes or citations you may include.

  • Keep Track of Your Word Count: To ensure you stay within the word limit, it is a good practice to track your word count as you write. Utilize the tools available to you, such as the word count feature in word processing software or online tools specifically designed for this purpose.
  • Formatting Guidelines: Follow the prescribed format provided by your instructor or the IB program. This may include specific font styles and sizes, margin sizes, line spacing, and page numbering. Adhering to these guidelines not only ensures consistency but also demonstrates your ability to follow instructions.

It is important to note that each year, the IB program may introduce specific guidelines or themes relevant to the TOK essay. Stay informed by checking official sources and resources to ensure that your essay aligns with any recently introduced requirements.

Failure to adhere to the specified word count and formatting guidelines can have serious consequences. Incurring penalties such as grade reductions may significantly impact the overall quality of your essay.

Additionally, disregarding the instructions provided by the IB program may result in disqualification of your essay, thus jeopardizing your chances of receiving a diploma. Therefore, make it a priority to thoroughly understand and follow the prescribed requirements, recognizing their importance as the foundation of your essay.

Importance of Conciseness

When it comes to writing your TOK essay, one of the most crucial skills you need to master is conciseness. Why? Because, in this task, you are expected to present complex ideas within a specified word count. And believe it or not, mastering the art of being concise can significantly enhance the quality and impact of your essay.

So how can you achieve conciseness in your writing? Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

  • Be Clear and Precise: Clarity should be your top priority. Avoid using unnecessary words or phrases that could confuse the reader or add no meaningful value to your arguments. Stick to the point and say what you truly mean in a straightforward manner.
  • Avoid Repetitive Language: Repetition can make an essay unnecessarily long without adding depth or substance. Instead of repeating the same ideas or phrases, strive to find alternative ways to express your thoughts. This way, you can conserve valuable word count for expanding your argumentation.
  • Use Strong Vocabulary: Choose your words wisely to communicate your ideas effectively. Strong vocabulary allows you to express complex concepts concisely and precisely. By selecting powerful words, you can reduce the need for excessive clarification or lengthy explanations.

Conciseness not only helps you stay within the given word count but also enables you to make a more impactful impression on your reader by cutting out any unnecessary fluff. It shows your ability to think critically and communicate ideas clearly.

Remember, however, that being concise does not mean sacrificing clarity or depth. Your essays should maintain a balance between brevity and substantive analysis. Ensure that your ideas are sufficiently developed and supported, even within the limited word count.

By mastering conciseness, you will be able to forge a strong connection between your ideas and the reader’s understanding. It lets you communicate your arguments more efficiently, allowing for greater engagement and comprehension.

So, next time you sit down to write your TOK essay, channel your inner conciseness guru. Focus on being clear and precise, avoiding repetitive language, and using a strong vocabulary. The ability to present complex ideas within a limited word count is an invaluable skill that will elevate the quality of your essay, impressing your teachers and earning you the respect of your peers.

Developing an outline:

Before diving into the writing process, it is essential for TOK essay writers to develop a comprehensive outline. An outline acts as a roadmap, guiding you through the various sections of your essay and helping you manage your word count effectively.

  • Introduction: This section sets the stage for your essay. It introduces the key concepts , provides context, and states your thesis statement. Aim to allocate around 10% of your word count for this section, which typically translates to around 150 words in a 1500-word essay.
  • Main Body Paragraphs: The main body paragraphs are where you explore your arguments and present supporting evidence. Begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence and allocate a specific word count to each argument. As a general guideline, allocating around 25-30% of your word count for the main body paragraphs ensures a balanced and thorough analysis.
  • Counter-arguments and Counter-claims: This section provides an opportunity to address alternative perspectives and potential objections to your arguments. Assign a small proportion of your word count, approximately 10%, to explore counter-arguments briefly while leaving room for a robust rebuttal.
  • Conclusion: Concluding your essay effectively is crucial. Allocate around 10% of your word count, approximately 150 words for a 1500-word essay, to summarize your main points and restate your thesis. Make sure to leave a lasting impression on the reader!

Remember that these percentages are rough guidelines, and you may need to make adjustments based on the specific requirements of the prompt or specific instructions for the year 2023.

As you develop your outline, consider the flow and logical progression of your arguments. Ensure that each section seamlessly connects to the next, creating a well-structured and cohesive essay that is easy to follow.

Once you have developed your outline, refer back to it frequently as you write to keep your thoughts organized and prevent veering off track. This will help you stay focused on your main points and avoid exceeding the prescribed word count.

By allocating your word count strategically and adhering to your outline, you will be able to manage your TOK essay within the required constraints while still showcasing your critical thinking skills and knowledge of the topic. Remember to review your outline regularly throughout the writing process to ensure consistency and clarity in your final essay.

Organizing main arguments

When writing a TOK essay, it is important to select strong main arguments or claims and effectively manage their word count. Sorting through various ideas can be a challenging task, but with careful consideration and critical analysis, you can create a well-structured and impactful essay.

The first step in organizing your main arguments is to narrow down your ideas. Begin by brainstorming and making a list of potential arguments that are relevant to the topic at hand. Once you have a comprehensive list, critically evaluate each argument’s relevance, depth, and potential impact.

Consider which arguments have the most solid foundation, supporting evidence, and logical reasoning. Prioritize those arguments that can offer unique insights or provide a fresh perspective on the topic. Remember that quality outweighs quantity – it is better to focus on fewer, stronger arguments rather than overwhelming the reader with numerous weak assertions.

Once you have identified your primary arguments, allocate your word count wisely. Begin by creating an outline for your essay, dividing it into sections like introduction, main body paragraphs, counter-arguments, and counter-claims. Determine how many words you can allocate to each section based on the overall word limit provided.

Within each section, ensure that you have a logical flow of ideas and smooth transitions between arguments. Utilize clear and concise language to present your points effectively. Avoid lengthy explanations or unnecessary background information that can consume valuable word count without adding substantial value to your arguments.

Tips for organizing your main arguments:

  • Narrow down your ideas and prioritize the most impactful arguments.
  • Allocate your word count wisely by creating an outline and setting word count limits for each section.
  • Ensure a logical flow and smooth transitions between arguments.
  • Use clear and concise language to present your arguments effectively.

By carefully selecting and managing your main arguments, you can create a well-structured and coherent TOK essay that effectively addresses the chosen topic. Remember to critically analyze your potential arguments, prioritize quality over quantity, and allocate your word count wisely to maximize the impact of your ideas.

Supporting evidence: Strategies for incorporating evidence

When writing a TOK essay , the inclusion of supporting evidence and examples is crucial for providing validity and depth to your arguments. However, it is equally important to manage your word count effectively, ensuring that your essay remains concise without compromising the strength of your claims. Here are some strategies to help you incorporate relevant evidence while staying within the prescribed word limit.

  • Provide concise summaries: Instead of detailing every aspect of a research study or source, focus on providing concise summaries that capture the key findings or ideas. This allows you to convey the relevance without dedicating excessive word count to redundant details.
  • Cite reliable sources: When incorporating evidence, cite reputable and reliable sources to enhance the credibility of your claims. Be selective in choosing sources that are recognized in the field of study and align with the topic at hand. Remember, substantial evidence from few sources can be more impactful than numerous weak references.
  • Eliminate unnecessary citations or explanations: While a TOK essay demands the support of evidence, make sure to eliminate any unnecessary or redundant citations or explanations. Trim down information that does not directly contribute to your argument or clarification, allowing you to optimize the use of your word count.

By incorporating these techniques, you can effectively balance the need for supporting evidence with the requirement to stay within the prescribed word limit. Remember, it is not about the quantity of evidence, but the quality and relevance of what you provide. Prioritize the most substantial evidence and examples to strengthen your claims and create a well-crafted and thoughtful TOK essay.

Analyzing Counter-Arguments

When writing your TOK essay, it’s crucial to address counter-arguments while staying within the target word count. This allows you to demonstrate your understanding of opposing viewpoints and strengthen your own argument. Here are some methods to navigate this task effectively:

Present concise summaries of opposing viewpoints

Begin by providing brief summaries of the key arguments against your position. Focus on capturing the essence of these counter-arguments without getting into extensive detail. This helps you acknowledge the existence of different perspectives while keeping your essay concise.

Address key concerns briefly

Once you’ve presented the opposing viewpoints, address the most significant concerns raised by these perspectives in a succinct manner. Rather than delving deep into every aspect of these counter-arguments, aim to highlight the essential points briefly. This shows that you have considered alternative perspectives while adhering to your word count limitations.

Strategically acknowledge alternate perspectives

Instead of fully engaging with every counter-argument, strategically acknowledge their presence and relevance. Acknowledging alternate perspectives demonstrates your intellectual integrity and openness to different ideas. However, to stay within the word count limit, focus on providing clear reasons for why your own standpoint is stronger.

Remember, the key is to maintain a balanced approach between addressing counter-arguments and staying within the prescribed word count. By presenting concise summaries of opposing viewpoints, addressing key concerns briefly, and strategically acknowledging, rather than fully engaging with, alternate perspectives, you can effectively analyze counter-arguments while adhering to the target word count.

Revising and Editing: Crafting a Polished TOK Essay

Revising and editing are invaluable steps in the essay writing process. They enable you to refine your ideas, eliminate unnecessary or redundant content, and effectively manage your word count without compromising clarity or quality. To ensure your TOK essay is polished and precise, follow these tips for revising and self-editing:

  • Take a break: After completing your initial draft, step away from your essay for a while. This helps refresh your mind and allows you to approach the revision process with a fresh perspective.
  • Read attentively: When you return to your essay, read it attentively, paying attention to the flow and organization of your ideas. Look for areas where your ideas could be more concise and consider how to express them in a clear and succinct manner.
  • Eliminate repetition: Check for unnecessary repetition or redundancy. Avoid reiterating points unnecessarily as it weighs down the essay and eats into your word count limit. Eliminate any duplication of information or ideas that do not contribute to the overall argument.
  • Clarify your language: Ensure your language is clear, precise, and free from jargon. Strive for simplicity and avoid verbose or convoluted explanations. Use strong vocabulary to convey your ideas effectively within the prescribed word count.
  • Cut unnecessary words or phrases: Review your sentences carefully for any unnecessary words or phrases that do not add value to your argument. Be ruthless in eliminating fluff and filler words to maintain maximum impact.
  • Consider alternative explanations: If you find that you have reached the maximum word count but still have important content to convey, examine whether you can present your ideas in a different, more concise manner. Think of alternative ways to explain complex concepts without sacrificing clarity.
  • Check for coherence and cohesion: Ensure that your essay flows smoothly from one idea to the next. Use transitional phrases or logical connectors to strengthen the connections between different parts of your essay.
  • Proofread meticulously: Thoroughly proofread your essay for any grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. Utilize grammar checkers or online editing tools to identify and rectify any mistakes that may have been overlooked.

By following these tips, you can effectively revise and edit your TOK essay, while eliminating unnecessary content and maintaining the desired word count. Remember, revising and editing are essential practices that help enhance the overall quality of your work and ensure a polished and concise essay.

Summarizing effectively

One of the essential skills in writing a TOK essay is the ability to summarize complex ideas succinctly. Summarizing involves condensing information while maintaining the essence of the original thought. In the limited word count of your essay, it is crucial to prioritize clarity and impact to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

When summarizing, focus on the main points and key arguments rather than going into unnecessary detail. Ask yourself: What is the most crucial aspect I need to convey about this concept or theory? Keep your language clear and concise, avoiding excessive explanation or repetitive phrases. Remember, elegance lies in simplicity.

A well-crafted concluding paragraph can greatly enhance the impact of your essay. This paragraph should summarize your main arguments and provide a definitive ending to your discussion. To make this paragraph effective within the limited word count, highlight the key takeaways from your essay while not simply rehashing the points you made throughout.

To master the art of summarizing, follow these tips:

  • Focus on relevance: When summarizing complex ideas, make sure you are highlighting their relevance to your essay topic and overall argument. Avoid tangents and unnecessary details that could eat up your precious word count.
  • Condense information: Strip away any redundant explanations or repetitive examples. Retain only the essential information needed to convey the main idea. Seek ways to simplify complicated ideas without oversimplifying or distorting their meaning.
  • Highlight significant findings: If your essay incorporates research or case studies, briefly summarize their most significant findings or conclusions. Focus on what is directly relevant to your essay and discard any peripheral details.
  • Leave room for analysis: While summarizing, aim to leave enough space in your word count to provide your own analysis and insights. Simply summarizing without adding your perspective may appear superficial or lacking depth.

Taking the time to refine your summarizing skills and crafting a powerful concluding paragraph will ensure that your TOK essay effectively conveys complex ideas within the prescribed word count . Remember, the goal is to leave a lasting impact on the reader while staying true to the requirements of the essay.

Seek peer feedback

One valuable approach to managing your TOK essay word count is by seeking feedback from your peers or TOK mentors. Their fresh perspective can help identify areas where the content can be reduced, streamlined, or better articulated. Receiving feedback not only gives you another set of eyes on your work but also allows you to gain insights and ideas that you may have missed.

  • Choose your feedback providers wisely: Approach peers or mentors who have a good understanding of the TOK essay requirements and can provide constructive criticism. This can be classmates who are also working on their essays or teachers who are knowledgeable in the subject area.
  • Explain your word count concerns: When seeking feedback, make sure to communicate your concern about meeting the specified word limits. This will help them focus their attention on identifying areas where you can minimize unnecessary content or condense complex ideas without losing clarity.
  • Consider multiple opinions: Seek feedback from more than one person to have a well-rounded perspective. Each person may notice different areas for improvement, allowing you to make the essay even more effective.
  • Actively listen and reflect: When receiving feedback, keep an open mind and be receptive to suggestions. Take the time to process and reflect on the feedback provided before making any changes. Remember that the goal is to improve the overall quality and impact of your essay while staying within the prescribed word count.
  • Take ownership of your work: While feedback can be incredibly valuable, ultimately it is your essay, and you have the final say. Consider the feedback received, but make sure to maintain the integrity of your own ideas and arguments.
  • Revise and iterate: Once you have gathered feedback, revise your essay accordingly. Look for areas where you can eliminate redundant content or rephrase sentences to convey the same meaning in fewer words. Be mindful of maintaining the coherence and clarity of your essay while making necessary modifications.

Seeking peer feedback not only helps you manage your word count more effectively but also allows you to collaborate with others in the learning process. By incorporating diverse perspectives, you can strengthen your arguments, clarify your ideas, and create a more compelling TOK essay.

Utilize technology tools

When it comes to managing your TOK essay word count, technology can be your best friend. There are various technological aids available that can help you optimize both the length and content of your essay.

Firstly, word count trackers can be incredibly useful in keeping track of the number of words you have used. These trackers allow you to monitor your progress and ensure that you stay within the recommended word limit. Simply input your text, and the tracker will give you an accurate word count, helping you make necessary adjustments if needed.

In addition to word count trackers, utilizing online editing tools can also greatly enhance your essay. These tools not only detect and correct basic grammatical errors but also provide suggestions for more concise and efficient writing. By clicking a button, you can receive instant feedback on your text, helping you make it more concise without sacrificing clarity or quality.

Grammar checkers are another valuable technology tool that can be used to optimize your essay’s length. They assist in identifying complex constructions, redundant phrases, or wordy sentences, recommending more appropriate and efficient alternatives. With the click of a button, grammar checkers can help you eliminate unnecessary words and streamline your writing, ensuring you adhere to the prescribed word count.

  • Word count trackers help monitor your progress and ensure you stay within the limit.
  • Online editing tools provide feedback and make suggestions for conciseness.
  • Grammar checkers identify complex or redundant language and recommend better alternatives.

By utilizing these technology tools, you can efficiently manage your word count without compromising the quality or coherence of your essay. They not only allow you to stay within the prescribed limits but also empower you to improve your writing skills and make your arguments more impactful.

In this guide, we have explored the significance of adhering to the prescribed word count for TOK essays in 2023. Staying within the recommended word limit is crucial as it directly impacts the overall quality of your essay and determines how effectively you can communicate your ideas.

We have emphasized the importance of understanding the requirements set for the TOK essay, including the formatting guidelines and specific instructions for the year 2023. Following these guidelines is essential to avoid penalties or disqualification.

Conciseness is a key skill to develop when writing a TOK essay. By being clear, precise, and avoiding repetitive language, you can effectively present complex ideas within the given word count. Using strong vocabulary also helps convey your thoughts in a impactful manner.

Creating a comprehensive outline is crucial for managing your content within the specified word count. Understanding the different sections of an essay and allocating word count to each section will help you stay focused and organized.

When selecting main arguments, prioritize the most impactful ones and critically analyze their relevance and depth. Incorporating relevant evidence and examples without exceeding the word count is achievable by using concise summaries of research studies, citing reliable sources, and eliminating unnecessary citations.

Analyzing counter-arguments requires concise summaries and briefly addressing key concerns, while strategically acknowledging alternate perspectives. The process of revising and editing is vital to ensure your essay remains within the word count, while still maintaining clarity and quality.

To summarize complex ideas effectively, condense information while retaining its essence. Crafting an impactful concluding paragraph within the limited word count ensures a strong and coherent essay.

Seeking feedback from peers or TOK mentors can help identify areas where word count can be reduced or streamlined. Additionally, leveraging technology tools like word count trackers, online editing tools, and grammar checkers can further optimize your essay’s length and content.

In conclusion, adhering to the prescribed word count for TOK essays in 2023 is of utmost significance. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively manage your word count and ultimately create a strong and coherent essay that showcases your critical thinking skills and understanding of Theory of Knowledge.

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What Is The Word Count For A TOK Exhibition (Quick Answer)

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by  Antony W

September 29, 2023

word count tok exhibition

Theory of Knowledge Exhibition requires you to conduct independent research, come up with three objects with real-world context, and write a commentary. But what’s the word count for the ToK Exhibition commentary?

Generally, the ToK Exhibition commentary should be 950 words. Since IB instructs examiners not to assess more words than recommended, stick to the required word count. A rule of thumb to get this right is to distribute words evenly among the three objects.

In this guide, you’ll learn more about the length of the Theory of Knowledge Exhibition.

In particular, we’ll give you a template that you can use to ensure equal distribution of words so that your commentary doesn’t go past the suggested word count.

Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • IB phased out the ToK Presentation from the course and replaced it with the Exhibition assignment.
  • You will still write the Theory of Knowledge Essay , but the assignment guideline for the essay are unchanged.
  • The ToK Exhibition is an individual assignment, with no instance of classroom discussion allowed on the topic.

In addition to looking at the length of the exhibition project, this guide will give you some useful insights to help you better prepare to score full marks for the assignment.

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What is TOK Exhibition?

The TOK Exhibition is a new assessment task introduced to the course to replace the TOK Presentation. It examines how students can apply TOK Concepts learned in the classroom to the real world around them.

Assessed internally and moderated externally, the TOK Exhibition assignment is worth 33% of the final TOK grades.

Although the TOK Exhibition task requires you to do a live presentation of the Exhibition Objects, you won’t earn any marks for the presentation itself.

Your teacher will assess the exhibition file after the oral presentation, which is why it’s important to write the best 950-word commentary. 

TOK Exhibition vs TOK Presentation: What’s the Difference?

Before we go any further with this guide, you should note that the TOK Exhibition isn’t the same as the Theory of Knowledge Presentation.

Notably, the TOK Exhibition focuses on evaluating how IB students can manifest TOK outside their classroom.

It has a different assessment instrument, a unique task, and a different moderation process.

Knowledge and the knower is the core theme of the TOK Exhibition assignment. IB requires that you think of yourself as the knower and link to your learner’s profile .

Also, the IB TOK Exhibition task introduces two optional themes, which are “knowledge and politics” and “knowledge and technology”.

What is the Maximum Word Count for a TOK Exhibition? 

The TOK Exhibition commentary should be 950 words for the entire Internal Assessment.

Keep in mind that IB instructs examiners not to consider word counts past the set limit and instead base their assessment only on the first 950 words. 

Even if you have a lot to write about each of your three objects, it’s important to keep the word limit in mind.

A good approach to keep your assignment close to the word count would be to have an equal distribution of words across the three objects.

Note that the word count in the TOK Exhibition commentary doesn’t include the references used in the assignment.

Also, you must not include appendices and/or extended footnotes in your TOK exhibition.

What’s the Optimal Word Count Distribution for TOK Exhibition?

To write well and with ease, it helps to have a format for your exhibition commentary. Below is an example of a structure you can use:

  • Title: You should copy and paste your chosen IA prompt in this section. Don’t tweak or change word placement. The prompt must appear as is. 
  • Introduction (30 words): Your commentary doesn’t necessarily need an introduction. However, having one can give your readers a clear picture of what it is you intend to explore.
  • Object 1 (290 words): You should explain your first object. In addition to defining the object, you must give its real-world context.
  • Object 2 (290 words): Explain your second object, making sure that, in addition to giving its definition, you mention its real-world context.
  • Object 3 (290 words): You must show the image of your third object and develop its explanation. Also, make sure you explain it real-world context.
  • Conclusion (50 words): In 50 words, give the reader a summary of the objects you used to answer your chosen IA prompt.

You can develop your own structure, but the outline above is a good option to use if you wish to maintain a fair distribution of words across the three objects of your choice.

The explanation for each object must link to the main concept of the prompt. Furthermore, the points you make for each object must be independent of each other.

Your conclusion should comment on the question and demonstrate how TOK manifests itself in the real world based on the objects (or images of the objects) you selected.

Don’t hesitate to vary the word count for each object if you feel there’s a need to do so. Only make sure that your commentary doesn’t exceed the expected word count.

How Long Does It Take to Write a TOK Exhibition?

It’s up to you to decide how much time you want to spend working on your ToK Exhibition.

We recommend that you check how much time you have left and plan yourself accordingly.

Also, try to avoid last minute rush as they don’t often yield the best results.

Final Thoughts

Your ToK Exhibition doesn’t have to be a complex assignment.

As long as you know how to select your objects, link them together, and write a comprehensive commentary, you should score top marks for the assignment.

If you find the task overwhelming or difficult to complete, you can hire our ToK exhibition service and work with an IB expert to help you get the task done.

In addition to helping you prepare the necessary exhibition files, our top writers will help you complete the commentary within 24 hours.  

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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How to Write a TOK Essay

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

This article was co-authored by Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA . Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer based in Canada. Stephanie's writing has appeared in Joyland, Catapult, Pithead Chapel, Cosmonaut's Avenue, and other publications. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Writing from Portland State University. This article has been viewed 249,280 times.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge essay is a 1200–1600 word essay on prescribed topics or titles created by the IB. As the name suggests, your Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay should focus on knowledge issues (what is knowledge? why and how do we know things?) and link to other areas of knowledge as well. About two-thirds of your final TOK grade is determined by your score on your TOK essay.

Choosing Your Essay Title

Step 1 Understand the structure of a TOK essay.

  • Mathematics
  • Natural sciences
  • Human sciences
  • Religious knowledge systems
  • Indigenous knowledge systems

Step 2 Ask your teacher for the prescribed titles for the TOK essay.

  • “Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge.”
  • “When mathematicians, historians and scientists say that they have explained something, are they using the word ‘explain’ in the same way?”

Step 3 Select a title carefully.

  • Do you understand the keywords or concepts in the title? You may not be clear on what a title is asking you to do. Go through the title and highlight any words or concepts you are unsure about. Some titles will use keywords from TOK courses, such as “belief”, “knowledge” “truth”. You may want to check back on your class notes and consider what these words mean in the context of the title.
  • Do you have a strong interest in the title? The title should play to your interests and you should feel you can write about the title with care and diligence. For example, if you are skilled or interested in the arts, you may choose a title like “Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge” and pick the arts as one area of knowledge. Keep in mind, however, you should balance your passion for the title with an objective perspective.
  • Do you have something relevant to say about the title? It’s important that you relate the question to the ideas you have covered in your TOK course, as well as the topics you have studied in class, and your own personal experiences or thoughts. The essay should have an objective tone, but you will still need to inject it with personality, passion, and clarity.

Step 4 Put the title in your own words.

  • For example, in a title like: “When mathematicians, historians and scientists say that they have explained something, are they using the word ‘explain’ in the same way?”, you may rephrase it into two sentences. The title refers to three AOK: mathematics, history, and science. It is then asking you to compare and contrast the way these three AOK use explanation as a way of knowing about a topic or issue.
  • By breaking down the title into short sentences, you now have a clearer picture of what the title is asking you to do and how you might go about answering the title sufficiently.

Structuring the Essay

Step 1 Note the assessment criteria.

  • Understanding the knowledge issues: your essay must be focused on the knowledge issues, link and compare at least two knowledge issues, show relevancy between at least two knowledge issues, and demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the knowledge issues.
  • Knower’s perspective: your essay must demonstrate independent thinking, self-awareness, at least two different perspectives, and several supporting examples.
  • Analysis of the knowledge issues: your essay must show insight and depth, justify your main points, present arguments and counter-arguments, and explore any assumptions and implications of your topic.
  • Organization of ideas: your essay must be well structured, explain key concepts, be factually accurate, and cite references where applicable.

Step 2 Read the essay instructions.

  • You may also be asked “to what extent” or “in what way” a statement is justified. You will then need to present for and against arguments for the statement.
  • If you are asked a direct question, your essay should address to what extent or in what ways you are for and against an argument or position.

Step 3 Brainstorm ideas around the essay title.

  • Start by doing a general, open brainstorm. Write down everything that comes to mind when you think about the title without passing judgement on any of the ideas, or stopping to read over your brainstorm.
  • After five minutes of brainstorming, read over your notes. Identify ideas that relate to each other or that contradict each other. If you are evaluating or assessing a claim in the essay title, create a for column and an against column. Group your brainstorming ideas into either column. Create a third column for grey area ideas, or ambiguities, and place ideas in that column.
  • Note any examples of the ideas that you wrote down. For example, you may be addressing a title like: “When mathematicians, historians and scientists say that they have explained something, are they using the word ‘explain’ in the same way?” You may create a brainstorm for each area of knowledge (mathematics, history, science) in relation to the idea of explaining something. You may then use examples of “something” that can be explained in each AOK: a mathematical equation, a historical moment in a battle or a trial, and a scientific theory.

Step 4 Identify the knowledge issue in the essay title.

  • You should also identify the areas of knowledge you will be discussing in your essay. For example, for a title like: “Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge” you may choose two AOK: the arts and science. You may then compare and contrast the function of “reason” and “imagination” in the arts and in science.

Step 5 Create an outline.

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction. You would provide an explanation and interpretation of the title and identify the key terms in the title. You would also state your thesis and explain or identify a knowledge issue related to the title.
  • Paragraph 2: First Area of Knowledge. For example, the arts. Discuss how the arts answers the title and provide supporting examples. You should also note any counter-arguments against the title or any limitations of the supporting examples.
  • Paragraph 3: Second Area of Knowledge. For example, mathematics. Note how mathematics answers the title and provide supporting examples. You should also note any counter-arguments against the title or any limitations of the supporting examples.
  • Paragraph 4: Third Area of Knowledge (if applicable)
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusion. Summarize your main ideas and restate your thesis. Conclude by answering the title fully, taking into account the counter arguments and limitations of the areas of knowledge.
  • You may also decide to structure your essay based on a main argument and a main counter-argument. Your outline may contain four paragraphs total:
  • Paragraph 1: Introduction and explanation of the knowledge issue.
  • Paragraph 2: Main argument, with justification and one to two supporting examples.
  • Paragraph 3: Main counter-argument, with justification and one to two supporting examples.
  • Paragraph 4: Conclusion.

Step 6 Create a thesis...

  • Some students find it useful to draft their thesis statement once they have finished writing a first draft of the essay. By this point, you will likely have a better sense of the main arguments in the essay and be able to write a clear, concise thesis statement.
  • For example, you may need to create a thesis statement for this title: “Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge.” You have chosen two AOK: the arts and mathematics. Consider how reason and imagination function in the arts and in mathematics, as well as the different ways they function in each AOK. Your thesis may be: “Through reason and imagination play an important role in both mathematics and the arts, the imaginative thoughts of mathematicians must be provable, while the imaginative thoughts of artists need only be reasonable.” [5] X Research source

Writing the Essay

Step 1 Use your essay outline as a guide.

  • You may want to also refer back to your brainstorming notes to identify the supporting examples for your two areas of knowledge, or your main argument and your main counter-argument.

Step 2 Avoid using dictionary definitions in your essay.

  • For example, you may be discussing the use of reason and imagination in the arts. Rather than discuss a familiar artist, like Picasso, or a familiar example of imaginative thinking, like the Sistine Chapel, use supporting examples that feel original and insightful. Though the essay should be objective in nature, it should also feel reflective and personal. Using a supporting example that you feel passionate about, like Pollack’s kinetic movement paintings, or Rodin’s sculptures, will show you have taken the time to explore unique examples.

Step 3 Cite all external sources using MLA style citations.

  • Reference surprising or little known claims, but not well known facts or commonly held opinions. For example: “The sun is the center of the solar system” is a well known fact you will not need to cite. But “Rodin was a traditionally-schooled artist and had a craftsman-like approach to his work” will require a citation as it is maybe a little known fact.
  • Reference any sentences or sections where you are closely following someone else’s train of thought or argument, even in your own words.
  • Reference exact quotes, and use quotation marks.
  • Be consistent with your citations and the way you reference certain sources.

Step 4 Read your essay out loud.

  • As you read your essay out loud, make sure there are no vague or abstract sentences or terms. You want to ensure you use your 1600 word count in a clear and concise way. Every word will count in your TOK essay.
  • Confirm you have addressed knowledge issues in your essay. Your essay should answer the question “How do you know?” and assess the strengths and weaknesses of knowledge claims in at least two areas of knowledge. You should also use arguments and counter-arguments to support your thesis statement, as well as strong supporting examples.

Step 5 Correct any spelling or grammatical errors.

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About This Article

Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA

To write a TOK essay that compares several areas of knowledge, start with an introductory paragraph that explains your title and states your thesis. Then, write 2-3 main body paragraphs, discussing in each a single area of knowledge and how it relates to your title. Try to provide supporting examples in each case, and address any potential counter-arguments, as well. Finally, end your essay with a conclusion that summarizes your main ideas and restates your thesis. When you’re done, check to be sure that you’re within the 1,200-1,600 word limit for the essay. To learn from our English reviewer how to choose an essay title and create your thesis statement, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Good TOK Essay | Steps & Tips


Table of contents

  • Writing Metier

If you’re wondering how to write a TOK essay, then there are a few things that you need to keep in mind for it. What is a TOK essay? A TOK essay is also known as a theory of knowledge essay. It is usually written when doing an IB diploma. The essay is a comparative one that discusses problems using various different sources of knowledge.

You need to be extremely creative to come up with examples from real life as well as different areas of interest. You must be able to write engaging content and you must also be able to present it in a very coherent and naturally flowing way. You must first do your research to come up with content that is very engaging. To present your argument clearly, you must write a well-structured TOK essay and you must also be able to support your arguments with valid evidence.

Attention all IB students! If you’re hoping to earn top marks in your Theory of Knowledge class, you’ll need to put in the effort to complete the Personal Portfolio of Development (PPD) and Personal Portfolio of Experiences (PPF) forms. While it may not be the most thrilling task, it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills and show that you’re more than just a surface-level learner. Plus, no matter what is your IB learner profile , it’ll give you a legitimate reason to put off all your other homework for a while. So go ahead and get started on those forms – your future self (and your TOK supevisor) will thank you.

So, for now, it has become transparent, we know what this TOK essay is and how it tastes. Let’s get deeper into the requirements.

⏩ TOK essay assistance from experts ⏪


General TOK essay Requirements

You must begin with a clear introduction. This is where you establish the mode of contact between the audience and the writer. Here, you must be able to state what you are going to write about. This is in fact the most important part of the essay because you can write your opinion here and can also capture the reader to keep going on.

Then you come to the body of the essay, where you put forth your main arguments. Like planning time for your CUEGIS essay , you should ideally spend more time planning this part, with the main idea being that you put forth your comments in a very well-structured way. Consider your audience and then ideally plan what you are going to write about. When transitioning from one paragraph to the other, make sure that you write in such a way that your ideas automatically flow coherently.

When writing the conclusion of the essay, you are supposed to give the audience closure in terms of being able to summarize all that you have talked about. Here you need to give the audience a full idea of what you tried to explain to them. Your arguments need to be backed up and they also need to be flowing in the right manner. Make sure that you sound convincing when you try to sum up what you were saying.

Like with other IB assignments for example Internal Assessment , when you are done with the essay, it is imperative that you proofread it to check for any errors or contextual mistakes. This is in fact something that is very important to ensure that you are headed in the right direction and that you are summing up your arguments effectively. A g ood TOK essay is one where the writer ideally explains his point of view and also backs it up with evidence to show what he was talking about.

Theory of knowledge Essay Structure

Below you will find an infographic made by our team at that will briefly describe the structure of a TOK essay and an approximate number of words for each section.

tok essay structure infographic

The first thing that you need to do is to choose your title. This is in fact something that is the most important. You must choose a title that you like and that you have enough evidence on. This is important to ensure that you are able to work on it and have enough material to form an entire argument. Next, you need to choose your areas of knowledge. You need to pick two areas of knowledge that you have the most evidence on and check the main concepts of the TOK . Then you need to give arguments and counterarguments on these areas of knowledge that you choose. Ideally, you should be giving examples to support your claims as well.

TOK essay word count

The essay length should be around 1600 words. You might also ask, what is the minimum length of a TOK essay? The minimum word count is 1200 words, and the most you can go up to is 1600 words.


The first paragraph is the introduction where you define the key terms of your topic and you also give a roadmap. Here, you talk about what all you will be discussing here. The idea is to give the reader a fair idea about what you will be hinting at in this essay. The introductory paragraph can be anywhere between 100 to 150 words.

First Development

Next, you can move on to the first development. Here, you explore the first area of knowledge that you have picked and state your claim. Once that is done, you give a topic sentence about what you will include here. Then you give an example here that supports your claim. You explain this example well to show what you meant when you talked about this. You should relate this to the title and see how the two are related to each other.

In the paragraph after that, you can talk about a counterclaim. This is where you counter your own argument by giving an example against what you just said. You also need to make sure that you have enough evidence for this and that you explain all of that well for the reader to be able to ideally understand what you have said. Once you’re done with that, you have to sum up all that you have said here. This is important for you to grab the reader’s attention and make sure that they understood well. In total, these two body paragraphs of the first development section must be around 600 words. This word count is enough for you to be able to explain your point to the reader ideally. You also have to include a work of knowledge here where you can explain how to come to this conclusion or what helped you form this argument ideally.

Second Development

You can then move on to your second development where you touch upon the other area of knowledge. You have to do the same thing here that you did for the first area of knowledge. Here, you have to first talk about your claim, then give evidence about that and then also explain how this example supports your claim. Then you have to give a counterargument doing the exact same thing again. This can again be around 600 words where you can develop your claim and your counterclaim.

Then after that, you can finally write your conclusion where you sum up all of the main points and also make your way back to the knowledge question with which you started off initially. You also talk about the implications and the significance of the arguments that you made. This is something important to ensure that you are working in the right direction. You also shed light on your perspective of the entire situation after which you end your essay. How much you score on your essay depends entirely on how well you have written it and how you have been able to support your points and your arguments. The idea is to ensure that you write with clarity in a way to engage the reader and to make sure that they also understand the point that you are trying to put across to them.

Steps to Write a TOK Essay

If you haven’t written a TOK essay before and are confused about how to write a good one , then here are a few steps that can help you do so. The idea is for you to be able to support your points clearly. That is what affects your chance of scoring well.

Step 1: Title Selection

The first step is for you to look at all the titles and understand what each of them asks you to do. When you choose a title, make sure to understand what all you will have to write in each of them. Remember that you need to write an entire essay on this title, so you need to make sure that the one you choose is the best one and that you can draw comparisons and contrasts in that essay. You need to be clear about what examples you will put in those and how you will write on that. This is one of the most important steps to writing a good essay. You need to be able to support your arguments and you need to be able to make the reader understand what you are trying to.

You can find an article with a list of IB TOK essay titles from the current and previous years:

  • 2023 May TOK Prompts
  • November 2022 Prescribed TOK essay prompts
  • May 2022 TOK essay titles
  • November 2021 ToK Essay titles
  • May 2021 Theory of Knowledge essay prompts

Pick a topic wisely based on the information that is available on it. You shouldn’t just go for a title that you think is simple, but rather one that you are familiar with, and one on which you have information to write. The list is long, so make sure that you spend the most time on this. Understand what each of them requires you to do and then begin writing on it. Once you select the title, write it down in your own words so that you can understand it well. When you break it down into shorter sentences, you will surely be able to work on it well.

Step 2: Understand the Grading Criteria

The main reason why you are writing this essay is that you want to score well. So make sure that you understand the grading criteria. At first, when you read the grading criteria, it might seem confusing to you. But in actuality, it is extremely simple. You just have to give arguments and counterarguments based on the title that you have chosen, as well as the areas of knowledge. There are mainly four areas based on which you are assessed. These are:

Knowledge issues: you need to be well versed with the knowledge issues that you are talking about. You should have at least two knowledge issues, and should ideally also be able to support your point of view on those issues.

Knower’s perspective: you need to also demonstrate enough thinking capability so that you can support your examples well and can convince the reader about what you are saying. For this, you need to be well versed with the topic and you need to have ideas that you can support.

Analyzing knowledge issues: You shouldn’t only be aware of what you are talking about, but should also be able to back your knowledge claims up. You need to be able to justify the key points and should be able to make your ideas work in such a way that they flow very naturally.

Organization of ideas: you need to structure your essay in such a way that your ideas are well structured. You also need to explain all key points in the right way and also add references so that you can show the authenticity of your work as well.

Step 3: Brainstorm

Once you have come up with the right ideas, you need to brainstorm and analyze them so that you know how to form your arguments. Understand the key terms so that you can provide arguments for and against, just as you require. If your essay asks a direct question, then understand how you need to form your argument for that. In the same way, if your essay asks you something indirectly, then first you need to understand what is being said.

Make sure that you put all your ideas and examples down on paper so that you know exactly what is being said and how you need to frame it. Gather all the relevant evidence so you know how to come forth with it and present it clearly. Go over your notes to fully be aware of what you are saying.

Step 4: Create an Outline

Once you have all of your ideas written down, you need to create an outline. Make points about what goes into each paragraph. This way, you will know exactly what you are going to be writing about in your essay. This is mainly the planning stage of the essay and is very important for you so that you can jot down what you want to talk about and then write it correctly. You need to make your thesis statement here as well so that you clearly tell the reader about your stance and what you are going to be talking about over here.

Step 5: Begin Writing

Once you have gone through the planning stage, you need to write your essay. Make sure that you stick to the word count, which should be anywhere between 1200 to 1600 words. Go through your notes and then begin writing, so that you know what you are writing about and so that you don’t go wrong at any point in time.

Using these five steps, you can get just the essay that you want. Even if you are a beginner and are new to writing TOK essays, you will easily be able to do so with these few steps.

If you do not have enough skills or time to do it on your own, you can always buy TOK essays from reliable services like Writing Metier. In such a way you will get assistance from IB experts that can cover any topic for your IB ToK essay.

Tips To Write a Good TOK Essay

If you want to write a passable TOK essay, here are a few tips using which you can write just the type of theory of knowledge essay that you want.

And now let’s talk seriously – a list of tips from expert TOK essay writers from Writing Metier:

  • You need to be very well connected with your areas of knowledge. When you are familiar with your areas of knowledge, you can give the right examples and you can make sure that you write in a way that suits your readers too. When you are familiar with the areas of knowledge, you can write your claims and counterclaims very well too.
  • You also need to make sure that you familiarize yourself with the terminology. When writing a TOK essay, it is important that you understand what you are writing about first so that you can explain the terms better and also be able to come up with operational definitions of what is being talked about. It is crucial that you don’t use definitions from the dictionary. This only makes things harder for you.
  • It is also important that you put aside your personal biases and preferences, which tend to play a huge part when you are writing about something like this. They tend to distort your entire view of the situation and can be really hazardous when writing theory of knowledge essays. You need to be able to look at things from several different perspectives and then apply them in the right way. Do not forget to select the right RLSs and of course connect them with the selected AOKs and WOKs . This is very important for you to be able to write a good TOK essay. You need to be able to analyze things in different ways.
  • When looking for information, make sure that you get the right information. It is ideal that you search for information using several different sources. Not only does that help you cross verify the information, but also helps to make sure that the information that you are getting is supported enough. The best way to do this is to use several different places to look for information. This includes web sources, books, journal articles, and so on.
  • It is always a great idea to learn from what other people have been doing. To write a great TOK essay and to score well on it too, you need to look at essays that have been done by previous students to get a fair idea on how they have been writing. That can really help you understand what has been done and how they have formed their arguments to put forth their point of view. This is one of the most important things for you to do.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to write a good TOK essay. Meanwhile, check another article for those of you searching for tips in writing an IB extended essay .

Final Thoughts

Now that you know all about TOK essays and how they are written, you should be able to write a really great one. Make sure to keep these tips in mind so that you can write just the type of essay that you want and won’t fail your TOK essay . Keep in mind the formatting guidelines and the marking criteria to be able to write a great essay.

Having said that, writing is not easy for everyone. If you still think that writing a TOK essay is something hard, then you can get in touch with us at the Writing Metier and we will be happy to help. We have several writers who are experts at TOK essays. They can write your essay for you and can help you score well as well. Our writers are very hardworking, competent and disciplined and have written numerous essays like these in the past.

Once you hand over your work to our writers, you will not have anything to worry about. All you have to do is place your order with us and give us a deadline for your TOK essay . You also need to tell us if you have any specific instructions that you want the writer to follow and we will make sure that you get your task duly done. Our writers are professionals who are experts in the field of writing.

So if you want to score well on your TOK essay , you should get in touch with us and we will make sure to give you just what you want. When you decide to place an order with us, be assured that you will get your order right at the deadline. We offer plagiarism-free content. Our goal is to make sure that our clients are very satisfied with what we do. Not just that, but we also offer revisions. If you think that there is something that needs to be done again or that something wasn’t done the way that you wanted to, then you can let us know and we will get your order revised for you.

⏩  Get help with your TOK essay from expert writers ⏪

All you have to do is to head over to our website and place your order with us. We will make sure that we give you exactly what you are looking for. Once you place your order with us, your worry is ours and we will make sure that we give your task to a writer who is specialized in this. You can then easily score very well.

Our writers make sure to proofread and check for grammatical errors too. since we have our customers’ best interests as our top priority, we make sure that clients are very satisfied. We go the extra mile to make sure you are happy with what we give you. So what are you waiting for then? Head over to our website and place your order with us. We assure you that you will be delighted with your work!

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Vasyl Kafidoff is a co-founder and CEO at WritingMetier. He is interested in education and how modern technology makes it more accessible. He wants to bring awareness about new learning possibilities as an educational specialist. When Vasy is not working, he’s found behind a drum kit.

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US IB Theory of Knowledge: TOK Essay

  • Knowledge Framework in TOK
  • TOK & The Learner Profile Attributes
  • The Learner Profile Attributes Quiz
  • Areas of Knowledge
  • Optional Themes
  • Knowledge Questions
  • TOK Exhibition
  • TOK Exhibition Prompts
  • TOK Exhibition Rubric
  • Ways of Knowing (Pre 2022)
  • Recommended Reading
  • RSS News Feeds

minimum word count for tok essay

TOK Prescribed Titles

The International Baccalaureate Organization releases six TOK essay titles, twice a year for submission either in May or November. So you need to know which cohort you're submitting with. The essay titles for submission in May are released in the previous September. The essay titles for submission in November are released the previous March.

  • May 2022 topics
  • November 2021 topics
  • May 2021 topics
  • November 2020 topics
  • May 2020 topics
  • November 2019 topics
  • May 2019 topics
  • November 2018 topics
  • May 2018 topics
  • November 2017 topics

"A" example Essays

  • Reason vs Emotion in Ethics
  • Breaking Conventions
  • Context is All
  • Moral Wisdom
  • Valuable Knowledge
  • Experience & Culture

Essay Guidelines

The word count is 1600 words. This includes quotations. You have to write down the number of words when you submit the essay. The examiner will not read past 1600 words. References, maps/charts/illustrations and bibliographies are not included in the word count. You can choose any standard referencing system, but be consistent with the one you chose.

Assessment Criteria: Markscheme from the TOK Guide (as of Class of 2022)


TOK Essay Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions that students and teachers frequently ask about the TOK essay. Read through these questions and the answers to check that you are doing the right thing.

What’s the most important thing to bear in mind?

The first thing is to BE CLEAR! Most students do not even manage to communicate their ideas clearly to the examiner. Regardless of whether or not your answer is stunningly original or crammed with a variety of interesting examples, if it is clear then you will already have a massive head start over the majority of other students from elsewhere in the world. That is why it is absolutely vital to plan in detail – if you have a clear plan you will write a clear essay. If you start the essay without a clear plan then the chances are you will not do very well.

The second thing is to remain focused on the question. It is really easy to lose focus and when you do your score will instantly drop. A slight switch from discussing ‘what we believe is true’ to ‘what is true’ might be enough to make most of your answer irrelevant to the question that you have been asked so you have to be really, really careful here. Always ask yourself whether you are correctly focused on the question.

If my answer is not completely different to everyone else’s will I lose?

Most good essays will offer well balanced, plausible and convincing answer to the knowledge question that has been asked. Clearly there is not an infinite variety of plausible and convincing answers to any question and so you should not expect your answer to be completely different to everyone else’s and nor should you strive to make it bizarrely and outlandishly strange in an attempt to seem original. A good answer will usually point out that x is true in some case cases because of a certain set of reasons, while it is less true in other cases and pretty much completely untrue elsewhere. Students who take very extreme positions tend not to do so well in TOK because, unlike in English where you can usually find some evidence to back up even the most unusual reading, TOK is meant to be firmly grounded in the real world and so, for instance, it is not really that plausible to argue that we can never know anything because that just doesn't fit with how we live our daily lives. Similarly, answers which are overly simply probably won't do that well because most things in TOK just aren’t that clear cut. For example students who claim that Art is completely subjective and that we can never know whether one painting is better than another have trouble when accounting for how the IB award some students Level 7s in art while failing others.

So in this sense your essay might be balanced in the same way as someone else’s but the difference between your essay and everyone else’s should be in exactly how you strike that balance, exactly which discriminations you make and the kinds of evidence that you use to persuade me that your answer is correct. The more convincing your position: the better you will do.

How many examples do I need?

In terms of number of examples there is no set answer. However, in a 1600 word essay you should try to have about 4-6 main body points with one clear example that is central to each one. The best marks will not go to those students who have lots of examples but those who choose examples that support their point really well and then go on to consider the counterclaims against this position (possibly using the same example or a different one) and then respond to this counterclaim (again using the same example or a different one - however three examples in paragraph might be getting a bit too much).

How important is it to talk about myself?

It is important to demonstrate personal engagement, indeed the highest marks will really only be awarded to essays that create a sense that the writer has really engaged and got to grips with the question that they have chosen to answer. However, there are a number of different ways to do this. Using the personal pronoun ‘I’ and talking about something that has happened to you is one way to do this but it will not score highly unless it is a strong example that convincingly supports the point you are trying to make. For example, you will are unlikely to get any points for a personal example about your summer holiday or your Mum’s noodle soup unless it clearly and convincingly supports your answer to the question.

Other ways to demonstrate personal engagement and independent thought are by offering personal definitions of key words and researching original examples that you have come up with yourself rather than the obvious example or the one that everyone else in your class is using because that is the one that the teacher gave you.

Ultimately the best way to demonstrate your personal engagement with the question is through your tone of voice and the sense that you have really ‘got’ what this question is asking and honestly offered your own answer to it. However, this can be hard to identify for an examiner so it is probably best if you try to cover all of the different methods mentioned above in order to come across as a student who is thinking for themselves and relating this question to experiences in their own education.

Should I offer definitions of all the words in my title?

Obviously not – beginning your essay with a list of personal definitions does not make for a very engaging start.   However, there may be some terms in your question title that it is important to define and so you might need to start by doing this. In these case it is best to offer a   brief   personal definition (avoid!), but be careful with going into any more detail than that. Otherwise the best way to show that you understand what the words in the title mean is to continually link back to the key words from the question throughout your essay. Just like in an English essay you would usually do this at the beginning or end of a paragraph but the best students will be able to make the link clear throughout.

One handy trick to bear in mind when thinking about definitions is that, considering different definitions of key words can actually be a good way of incorporating different perspectives into your essay. For example, if your essay question asks you whether progress is equally possible in the sciences and the arts then how you answer that question might depend on how you define progress and a good structure for the essay might be to start by considering one definition of progress (i.e. progress from one perspective) and then go on to contrast this with the answer that we get if we consider a different definition of progress from another perspective.

Is it a good idea to argue that it’s impossible to know anything at all?

Generally no … TOK examiners tend to be quite dismissive of essays that argue either that we can’t know anything at all or that you can have your ‘truth’ and I can have my ‘truth’ and that these truths are both true. The first of these approaches is often called ‘lazy scepticism’ and the second ‘easy relativism’ and you can see that the names imply that these are not particularly impressive positions to adopt. This is not to say that it’s impossible to be sceptical about knowledge and argue that there are problems with it because clearly there are. It’s also not to say that it’s impossible to argue that in some situations the ‘truth’ might actually be different for different people. However, by and large TOK is looking at how we can know things despite the problems we face when acquiring with knowledge or in spite of the different opinions that exist. TOK is in many ways a pragmatic and realistic subject that is trying to move away from creating the impression that we just can't know anything at all. As such, the best essays will admit that the acquisition of knowledge may not be straight-forward, but will go on to consider how we can overcome these obstacles in the successful pursuit of knowledge.

Do I have to cover every AOK and WOK in my essay?

No, you won’t have enough space. However, you should start by considering all of the   AOKs   and   WOKs   when you begin planning your essay and then narrow it down to the 2 or 3   AOKs   or   WOKs   where you can say the most interesting things. Make it clear that this narrowing down is a conscious decision that you have made and you can even briefly explain the reasons why you have made the choice that you have, if you think that it is relevant. Remember that the highest marks will go to the students who explore a few really key ideas in depth rather than those who try to cover everything. Remember also that the best and most original ideas are not necessarily going to be the ones that spring to mind first so try to use   AOKs   or   WOKs   that not everyone else is using – as long as they work.

So how do I know which   AOKs   or   WOKs   would be good ones to pick?

In general, it can be good to compare an AOK where a statement 'x' really applies well and contrast that with one where it doesn't or doesn't seem to. So for example 'All knowledge is subjective' seems to fit well with The Arts and Ethics, but less with Maths and Science so if you just talk about The Arts and Ethics then you are just going to have an essay that keeps saying ... and this is also true in Ethics, and we can see another example of subjectivity in the Arts, etc. It would be much better to say that this is true in the arts because of xyz reasons and not true in Maths because of   abc   reasons.

If you are really confident with TOK you might try inverting an obvious stereotype about an AOK and seeing if you can find examples where that isn’t true. For example, most students’ first reactions are that the Arts are a subjective subject whereas Maths is a subject which contains objective, universal truths. While there is some   truth to this stereotype   it is not true all the time and the best students will be able to explore where that stereotype breaks down and why it breaks down.   For example, while judgement in art is subjective, some truths – e.g. that this picture was painted by   Da   Vinci - are empirical and so we can have objective agreement about them. Additionally, even the subjective truths aren't allowed to be absolutely anything - even my Mum doesn't think that my Primary School paintings are as good as   Da   Vinci's. This kind of subtlety is what marks out the best answers.

In addition, do not make sweeping statements about aspects or areas of knowledge that imply that what you are saying is always and absolutely true without exception. Instead, phrase things in a way that acknowledges the limitations of your own knowledge and experience: for example ‘Accepting for the moment the premise that … then we can say …’

Do I have to use TOK words like ‘Areas of Knowledge’ in my essay?

Yes you do as this will demonstrate a good understanding of the course but be wary of just throwing them in everywhere: judicious and correct use of TOK terminology is better than going over the top. The words that should come up more frequently are the key words from the question to show that you are remaining focused on the question and not getting distracted by anything else.

Do I have to include any Philosophy or Philosophical words?

No   - the IB have made it clear that TOK is not a philosophy course, instead it is meant to be grounded in the real world and your own experiences as a student. As such you should try to avoid including complex philosophical points unless you really understand them and they really are fully relevant to the essay, even then it is often to put these points into your own words rather than quote philosophers because TOK is about you thinking for yourself rather than quoting someone else’s thoughts.

Do I have to research the quotations in the question title?

It is a good idea to know where the quotation came from, who said it and why but you wouldn’t necessarily include any of this in your essay. In fact, the quotation may not really be relevant at all to the essay question as they are sometimes just used to give you a flavor of   the what   the essay is about. For example in the ‘What I Tell You Three Times is True’ question – the number ‘three’ and the fact that this comes from Lewis Carroll are not necessarily as important as the point about repetition and so detailed research into the works of Lewis Carroll will not really help you with this question.

Can I use quotations from famous people to back up my argument?

Students often like starting essays, concluding essays or supporting points with quotations from famous people like Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein. The fact that these people are experts tends to lend an air of credibility to your argument. However, the opinion of someone like Oscar Wilde is only going to be relevant in certain, very specific circumstances, for example, if you are exploring esthetics (the theory about what makes beautiful things beautiful) then it might be worth considering Oscar Wilde’s perspective on this topic as he was an artist… but you have to remember that his view is only one perspective and just because Wilde said it, it doesn’t mean that he has the best or most convincing theory about beauty. You should also remember that, outside of the topic of esthetics, it might not be a such good idea to quote Oscar Wilde at all: his opinions on how to live a good life, for example, can be sharply witty and sound quite appealing ... but we need to remember that he did die penniless and alone in Paris so is he really someone that we want to listen to?

Similarly, Einstein is a hugely important figure in the history of science and it might be worthwhile quoting him if you were exploring the forces that drive or inspire genius. However, again you should bear in mind that Einstein’s personal statement about what inspires him is not necessarily something that is going to be true of all thinkers. On top of that you should remember that it has been almost 100 years since the publication of Einstein’s last great work, the General Theory of Relativity, so if you are looking for an up to date comment on the nature of scientific knowledge then it might be best to look elsewhere.

In general the rule with quotations is that you should only quote from someone when they are an expert in the relevant field and even then you have to bear in mind that their opinion is nothing more than that, an opinion. Just like your opinions have to be backed up with evidence and proof, so do the opinions of experts… just because Einstein said it, it doesn’t mean it’s true until you show me the proof. One danger you should also be aware of if you quote too much is that the expert’s voice can come to replace your own and so you should only quote opinions sparingly. One additional way to prevent the expert’s voice from dominating your essay is to use quotations from them in your counterclaims; if you go on to disagree with the expert then that’s usually a clear indication that you are thinking for yourself.

Finally, be careful where you get your quotation from. ‘’ might be a repository of thousands of fantastic and completely accurate quotations but it doesn’t create a great impression of your ability to select reliable sources so try to find the original source for your quotation and quote that!

Do I need to include different perspectives in my essay?

Definitely, although remember that ‘different perspectives’ can mean a range of different things. One nice way to include different perspectives is by considering the question from the ‘perspective’ of the different   AOKs . So, for example, you might answer the question from the perspective of the sciences and then compare this with the perspective of the arts – this is a particularly nice trick because it also enables you to draw in some comparisons between the   AOKs   at the same time. However, there are other perspectives that you considering and exploring different cultural, political, philosophical, historical and intellectual perspectives or different schools of thought within an AOK can lead to a more interesting and more convincing essay.

Do I have to distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘shared’ knowledge in my essay?

It’s definitely a good idea to consider these ideas in your planning but, as with anything, you should only really include them if they are relevant to your essay. One effective way to include these different kinds of knowledge in your essay is to treat them as different perspectives on the same issue. For example, if you are looking at whether it is possible to make progress in the arts then the answer might be quite different depending on whether I am talking about progress at a personal level (clearly I can get better at drawing) or at a shared / communal level because it’s not entirely clear what it would mean for art overall to get ‘better’. This links nicely with the previous point as a way of considering different perspectives on the same issue and can be a good way of killing two birds with one stone.


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