TOK IA Hints and Tips: The exhibition

TOK IA Hints and Tips: The exhibition

Bianca Pellet has been teaching English language, English literature, and TOK since 2008, after attending the University of Exeter (Classics and English) and the University of Oxford (Linguistics). She has worked in both international and state schools in the UK, the Netherlands, and France. She now works as a full-time private tutor, examiner, and educational writer, producing bespoke educational materials for Kognity, Academic Minds, and others. Her book, A-Z of TOK, will be published by Elemi Education in 2021.

This year’s TOK course is a first for students and teachers alike. The new syllabus (for those starting their course in 2020) has brought with it a number of changes, from new core and optional themes to – perhaps most importantly and scarily – the TOK exhibition, instead of the presentation that students used to have to do. This FAQ takes you through all you need to know – and gives you hints and tips along the way as well.

Exhibition? I thought it was a presentation?!

If you’re finishing your course this year (2021), having started in 2019, then yes, TOK is still assessed through a presentation, as well as the essay. For those who started TOK in the already imperilled year of 2020, then the exhibition is for you.

What is the exhibition exactly?

You need to show how TOK applies to the real world – and in the exhibition you do this through 3 objects you have chosen yourself. These objects should relate to a prompt from the list given out by the IB.

OK. So apart from the objects, what else is the exhibition based on?

The IB also recommends that you base it on a theme you have studied in class – so, don’t centre your exhibition around the theme of indigenous societies if you haven’t actually studied this.

An actual exhibition? 

It could be a real-life exhibition in your school, yes, with objects displayed and people (other students, teachers, parents) coming to look at them. Or it could be an online exhibition on a class blog or website.

Just 3 objects? Sounds easy.

Not quite. Each object also needs to come with a commentary explaining it – like in a real museum.

How long does each commentary need to be?

In total, the 3 commentaries together should be no more than 950 words – so you could aim for just over 300 words per commentary.

Do references count as part of the 950 words? And where do I get references from, anyway?

No, references don’t count as part of the 950 words. Scroll down for an example of a possible reference. This could be included as a footnote or appendix to your commentary. References can come from all manner of places: try an online research repository such as JSTOR, for example (often schools or even individual teachers have access to these, either as subscribers – in the first instance – or as alumni of the universities they attended).

What sort of thing do I have to say in the commentary?

This will depend on the prompt you have chosen – but you should consider how your chosen object links to the prompt, and how it links to the other 2 objects in your exhibition, as well as how it links to a theme or themes that you have studied.

For example?

Let’s say I have chosen prompt 30: What role does imagination play in producing knowledge about the world?

And let’s say one of my objects is my favourite novel – David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens.

What role does imagination play, in David Copperfield, in producing knowledge about the world?

This prompt links to the theme of language, so I might also want to ask myself how language and imagination interact in order to achieve this.

In addition, we have to ask ourselves more specifically how this prompt relates to the novel.

Novels are built on imagination, so how far does David Copperfield reflect a production of knowledge about the world?

David Copperfield is perhaps the most autobiographical of Dickens’s novels, so maybe it clarifies his own knowledge about the world – but this is not the same way as producing it. The act of imagining while reading may, however, produce new knowledge for us – the readers – about the world, through our reading. This is not the same as, say, a picture of my baby cousin’s toy car – which, when playing with it, is an opportunity to use imagination to solidify, rather than produce, knowledge.

Do I have to link each of my objects to the other 2 objects?

No. You only have to link each object to your chosen prompt. Obviously you can link objects to other objects if you really want to, but there might be better ways to bulk up your word count.

So a novel, a photo of a toy car…what else could count as an object?

Pretty much anything. So tweets, pieces of art, video clips, news articles, items from the real world (such as a baseball or a vacuum cleaner) you name it. If you can link it to your chosen prompt, you can use it.

TOK the exhibition object toy car

So can I just download pictures of random items from the internet? 

No. They should be specific and, ideally, have a personal connection to you. Notice that I chose “my baby cousin’s toy car” above, not just a random picture of a toy car from the internet.

Can I create an object solely for the purposes of the exhibition?

I hate to keep saying it, but no. Your exhibition can contain things you have created (such as a poem), but these should have existed before the exhibition.

But how will the IB know if I created it solely for the exhibition?

This is all getting a bit meta. But just be honest with yourself. And truthfully, they probably will know if you are not adequately able to express in your commentary about the history of the object/where it came from in the first place.

OK, so what about the prompts? Where do I get these from? And how many do I have to choose from?

There are 35 – and they’re located in the back of the TOK guide issued to teachers (but also freely downloadable as a PDF online). Chances are, though, your teacher will give them to you directly.

How do I know which prompt to choose?

Ahh, that old chestnut…”how do I know?” Now you’re a real epistemologist! Good question. The prompts are very open and designed to work for all areas of knowledge; for example, prompt 14 “Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?” would work as well for those who have studied the optional theme of technology as for those who have studied knowledge in relation to indigenous communities. So when looking at each prompt, see if it reminds you of anything you have studied in class, or encountered in your day-to-day life. If it’s relatable to you, there’s more of a chance that you’ll stick with it and see the exhibition through.

Do I need to put the prompt on my final document?

Yes – the prompt should serve as the title, coming before your pictures/screenshots of your 3 objects, and of course the all-important commentary.

Can I change the wording of the prompt I have chosen?

No – the prompts must be used exactly as they are. If you change the prompt in any way, you could risk being awarded zero.

Ouch. Can I work in a group?

No – the exhibition must be entirely your own work. You also can’t use any of the same objects as another person in your class.

What if I changed my objects and didn’t tell my teacher?

Please don’t do this.

How much of my TOK course is the exhibition worth?

It’s worth 1/3 of the course, and is marked out of 10.

What do I need to do to get 10 marks?

You need to show which 3 objects you have chosen and how they relate to your chosen prompt in the real world. You should explain why each object is important to the exhibition, and make sure you give appropriate evidence to support your ideas – so in relation to the earlier point about imagination and the novel, I might want to quote from Ole Martin Skilleas’s article, “Knowledge and Imagination in Fiction and Autobiography”, which was published in the academic journal Metaphilosophy in 2006.

Your ideas also need to be persuasive and precise.

What if I only use 2 objects?

Then it’s 6 out of 10 for you. Maximum.

So how long do I have to do this?

TOK teachers have to give 8 hours of class time for you to work on the exhibition. But naturally, as with most assignments, you will probably need to spend time on it out of class as well.

Can I have feedback from my teacher before I submit my final version?

Yes. You can have one set of feedback from your teacher. This can be oral or written – but your teacher is not allowed to edit your draft directly, as this would contravene the IB’s academic honesty policy.

What is academic honesty again?

Just to remind you, academic honesty means you don’t copy from anyone else (this is plagiarism) or have anyone significantly help you by writing your work with or for you (this is collusion). You also don’t steal direct phrases, or put other people’s ideas into your own words, without citing the source (listing where you got the resource from, whether you put this in a footnote, bibliography, or within the text itself).

So apart from being all my own work, what should my final version look like?

To recap, it should contain:

  • your chosen prompt as a title
  • photographs or screenshots of your 3 objects (and/or link, if one of your objects is a video)
  • the commentary on all 3 objects, linking them to the theme studied, to the prompt, and to each other
  • any references that you have included

It should also be saved in a .pdf, .doc or .docx format, no .pages, .pub, .odt, or anything else, please.

TOK the exhibition saving your file

Also, there should be no identifying information (such as your name or candidate number) in the file name, or indeed in the document itself. You could save it in the following format to make it easy for yourself and your teachers:

(initials)(E…for exhibition, obviously)(year of assessment)(prompt number).pdf (or whatever file format you have chosen)

So my sample exhibition above would have the following file name:


Who marks this thing anyway?

The exhibition is internally assessed, so your teacher marks it to start with. The IB then moderates it to check that all the marks are fair, by looking at the best, lowest and middling responses from your class. If they decide that the marks are too generous or too harsh, then they can change the marks of the class to reflect this.

And then onto the TOK essay? Eeep…

Yes. But don”t worry – Elite IB is here to help you every step of the way.