TOK Tips: The Essay

Timothy Hoffmann

The TOK essay, which is externally assessed, can be quite tricky to master, but the following advice will hopefully help you get around it.

Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a unique component of the IB. It is like no other subject, making students think and reflect in ways they never have before, which might be why it manages to confuse so many students. One of the TOK assessment components is an externally-assessed essay. This essay can be quite tricky to master, but the following advice will hopefully help you get around it.

Break down the prescribed titles

You will start by choosing one of the six prescribed titles sent by the IB. Choosing the right title for you is vital, so take your time reading through them. Break down each title: what is it asking for?  Which Areas of Knowledge (AOKs) and Ways of Knowing (WOKs) do you have to use? Doing this will help you realise that maybe you have no idea about how to write a 1,600 word essay on the title you initially thought was perfect for you. Breaking down the title is a great way of knowing which title you can answer best, so make sure you take your time choosing.

Outline

As with all IB essays, you will need to do an outline to plan all your ideas. Once you’ve broken down your title, think about the Knowledge Questions (KQs) you want to address as well as the WOKs and AOKs you will address. From there, think about the arguments you want to make – this will help you identify your thesis and shape your body paragraphs. Make sure you think of counterarguments and limitations to your claims, as it is crucial that you provide these.

Evidence and own examples

Once you have your arguments, look for evidence if you don’t have so already. Examples from your own life are a good starting point, but combine them with factual evidence, as you don’t want to make generalisations based solely on your personal experiences. When selecting evidence, make sure you vary your sources: the news, the Internet, books, and so on. Make sure your evidence is relevant to your argument, and don’t use cliches or overused examples – your examiner will be marking loads of essays, so if they see you’re writing the same as everyone else, your essay will look weaker. Last but not least, as you find evidence you might find something that gives you a new claim or discredits the ones you already have… and that’s alright! Keep an open mind and adapt your arguments to your findings, or use them as counterclaims.

Drafts

Drafts are vital in a TOK essay. You will not, I repeat, will not, get it right the first time. Finish your first draft ahead of time so you can leave it for a few days before going back to it. Seeing it with fresh eyes will let you see your weak points and come up with new ideas. Also, your teacher is only allowed to check your essay once, but that does not mean you cannot make all the drafts you need. You can even ask a friend or family member to read it and give you feedback, which will help you realise if all your arguments make sense and are clear to the reader.

Remember that your essay is two-thirds of your total TOK grade, so make sure you check out our post on the TOK oral presentation too!

Further Reading